DETROIT — The snow, the slush, the ice. In a word, winter has been brutal.
But for every person who shakes an angry fist at the sky when the flurries fall, there’s a happy ski-resort operator in metro Detroit reaching out to embrace our incessant winter.
The cold, ideal snow conditions and Olympic fever has created a boom time on powdery hills around the area.
“We’re OK with the cold snap,” said Pat Deibel, snow sports director at Clarkston, Mich.’s Pine Knob Ski and Snowboard Resort, which is owned by the same company, JFK Investment, that owns Mt. Holly Ski and Snowboard Resort. “We can live with that.”
Gail Winterhalter, operations manager at Alpine Valley in White Lake, said her resort has a snow base of about 56 inches after averaging 30-40 inches the past two years.
“It’s been great,” she said. “I mean, we haven’t had a winter like this since I was a kid, back in the ’80s and sooner, that we had winter and had this much snow.
“We’ve been struggling the last few years … with homemade snow. And this year we haven’t had to make a whole lot. At the beginning of the season we did. But we’ve had the natural snowfall now. So we’re just rolling right along.”
At Mt. Brighton, general manager Taylor Ogilvie has had good feedback from his customers about snow conditions. And it hasn’t hurt to have a good winter season coincide with the Sochi Games.
“The Olympics always create a little bit of buzz, especially and obviously for us,” he said. “The Winter Olympics (boost) interest in ski racing and also with the addition of slope-style skiing in the Olympics this year for people in the terrain parks, for sure.”
At Alpine Valley, the Olympics were never far from view on the televisions scattered throughout the resort. After all, two of Alpine Valley’s snowboarders, Danny Davis of Highland and Karly Shorr of Milford, competed in the Games.
“This is their home resort, so that was kind of fun,” Winterhalter said. “Yeah, they had them on the (TVs) in the bar and the offices. All the TVs they have here, they had them on.”
All the resort operators know there’s no business like snow business when conditions are ideal. And this season, conditions have been almost dreamlike.
Early snowfall let Pine Knob open for business Nov. 13, which is about two weeks earlier than its typical Thanksgiving start. And the constant snowfall and cold have helped all the resorts cut down on labor and electricity costs for making snow.
“That’s nice when we have that natural snow and we don’t have to spend that money making snow,” Deibel said. “We made a little bit of snow and we have great snow-making capacity, but we haven’t had to use it.”
Besides all the practical benefits of ideal weather, Winterhalter said snow itself tends to work as a resort’s best advertising.
“I think just seeing snow in their front yards psychologically just tells them to come out,” she said. “If you don’t have snow in your front yard, it’s not as busy. But when we get a fresh snow and people see it, then we’re swamped.”
With more snow on the way, it looks like business isn’t about to slow down. And, if you believe Winterhalter, it’s either time to shake your fist at the sky again or wrap your hand in a glove and grab some ski poles.
“I think we’re going to have a decent season, a long season, longer than normal,” she said. “It all depends on the weather, but it looks like it’s going to be a little bit longer of a season.”