Mountain Blog

Some Accumulation Possible
Nancy Story - Sunday, April 02, 2017


 If this winter had a name, it’d be “Some Accumulation Possible.” More often, the snow arrived from snowguns than from snow clouds.                                    

The entire sesason behaved like March. Every month took on March’s mercurial temperament, with teeter-tottering temperatures, unpredictable antics and scanty snow clouds. While storms materialized to the west, east and south of us, our northern Michigan neighborhood kept waiting for a decent powder day. The season debuted on Dec. 10, after a foot of white hope fell in the first week of December to set up a decent slope base. Our chairlift bullwheels began turning daily on Dec. 16th – and the next day, we had what would be our biggest storm of the season, when 10” of snow fell, with another 5-6” falling before Christmas. New Year’s Eve dusted us with about 2-3”, so we had enough snow bridging the holiday season to be 100% open on Dec. 27th.  December would later prove to be our biggest snow month of this winter, with about 34” total.

January’s first snow came on the 5th, dropping about three inches. It spit snow a few inches at a time for a week before sputtering out entirely. We had twelve days without snow (yet an avalanche of overcast) before another 3” fell on the 26th, and again on Jan. 30th.  All told, about 30” fell in what should have been our best month for furious flakefests.  

February trickled in one inch at a time. After two inches fell on the 5th, we had ten days without natural snowfall before another inch drifted down on Feb. 16.  Then it was a seven-day dry spell before five inches fluffed up the slopes over Feb. 24-26 – leaving us with a total of about a foot of snow for February. March was of little assistance, bringing in five inches on March 2nd, followed by a dry spell until March 13-15. The last time measurable snow fell on these Buck Hills was  March 15th – making it a month-long snowfall total of about 7-8”.

Weather closed the slopes three times this winter, an unheard-of phenomenon. We shut the lifts down early on Feb. 26 due to fog and lightning in the vicinity. That’s happened before (March 9, 2016).  High winds forced us to shut down for two days on March 7 & 8th.  That’s not happened before.

This winter was unusual in that it was driven not by snowfall, but by people.  Obviously, the Herculean efforts of the 2016/17 season came from our people who made the snow and groomed the Alpine hills to sustain and maintain the product for over four months. But there were also people like our cross country groomers who took exceptional care of natural snow so that we could have a cross country season at all.  Our people like the marketeers who sent out steady eblasts and pumped out promos enticing folks to take a winter trip to Crystal despite sporadic natural snow; our people in reservations whose helpfulness hopefully made it easy for guests to map out a winter vacation; our people in tickets and rental whose friendliness helped hurdle the challenges of  ticket pricing and boot-fitting; our people on the front lines at the front desk, F&B outlets, activities, Peak, Spa and retail who assisted guests.  And then there were YOU people, those many guests who ventured forth onto our vertical. Week after unpredictable week, you came armed with enthusiasm and energy to hit the slopes and made all our efforts worthwhile. We hope your skiing adventures were memorable ones. Thanks for skiing and riding with us – see you next season! (and hope springs eternal for a proliferation of  powder days NEXT year). 

The Shack Pack
Nancy Story - Sunday, March 12, 2017


 In a winter where the entire season has behaved like March (and now March has behaved a bit like January), the 2016/17 ski season marches into its final weeks.  It's been a season of constant temperature changes, snow condition changes, and now daylight change – but one thing remains the same every day of every ski season. Month after month, day after day, hour after hour, the chairs on the lift go ‘round and ‘round, ascending and descending over and over again as the bullwheels turn.  

Do lift operators count chairs in their sleep? What’s a lift op to do to stay alert?

Being a lift operator is the only job where you may well meet everyone on the slopes in a single day. Since a trip down these Midwestern hills is often quicker than the trip up, Crystal’s lift ops can string out a single conversational topic with a skier over the course of a day. When there are no skiers around, the bottom operator can converse with the op in the upper lift shack through an open intercom. The upper lift shack operators are like eagles in their aeries, keeping sharp eyes on unloading skiers.

“We make sure everybody’s getting off safely. We keep the ramp flush and level, we listen to the radio,” says one lift eagle. The top and bottom lift ops usually change places every two hours, and time goes by pretty much the same on both ends. “You always have people to watch out for, or to take care of the ramp area. It’s always fun to talk to the skiers.”  Over at Totem Park, operators switch spots with the Loki quad operators every two hours, just to break it up a bit. And according to the lift loaders, every lift has its own character traits. “My favorite lift to work is Buck, because that’s where the best skiers are”, noted one lift op. “People sometimes get confused by Loki’s moving platform.”  A common Clipper calamity, according to the ops, is that riders frequently forget to tell one another which direction they’re headed after unloading, prompting occasional ramp mishaps.  The Ridge Runner chair is fairly easy to load, but manning the North Face takes some muscle to hold the chair. And yes, it’s mainly men who man the lifts - Crystal’s crew of four lift supervisors and 35 lift operators is primarily a gang of guys, with just two females. Most lift ops tend to stay around for two or three seasons, but the friendly bearded face of Fuzzy (Mike Rushlow) is familiar to every Crystal Mountain regular.  He’s our current king of the Shack Pack, with 13 years under his belt – and according to Fuzzy, boredom is never an issue. “There’s never a dull moment. Just when you think you have time to turn around and grab a sandwich, or reach for the shovel, that’s when something happens”, he observed.  Keeping an eye on those skiers who aren’t keeping an eye themselves on what’s happening keeps Fuzz on the alert.  “If I could write one thing on my white board, it would be HANG IT UP AND SKI!   So many skiers and riders are distracted by their phones,”   he noted.

 As with every job, there can be challenges – like extreme weather conditions, hectic holiday afternoons, and skiers not paying attention who load or unload too late or too early, to cite a few. But by arming themselves with grins and greetings, Crystal lift operators have the power to create an atmosphere of good cheer regardless of ever-changing weather or lift loading/unloading adventures. They stay fueled up and fired up by conversations with the customers, against the constant hum of the chairs going around and around… the bullwheels turn.


Ways to Win this March at the Mountain
Troy DeShano - Wednesday, March 01, 2017
Four weekends full of games, contests, and competitions give you many different ways to be a winner this March at Crystal Mountain! Here's a preview of some of the fun you won't want to miss.

Stylin on the Slopes Costume Contest

Saturday, March 4

Strut your creative Mardi Gras purple, gold and green costumes on the slopes! Earn beads for creativity and enthusiasm. Meet at the Lodge slopeside tent at 2:00pm for judging. 
Top adult male and female will be crowned King/Queen of the Mountain and win a 2017-18 Premier Season Pass.

Mardi Gras Open Jam

Saturday, March 4

Skiers and Snowboarders, come show off your moves at the Mardi Gras Open Jam. Prizes awarded to top 3 in each division. All participants are entered into a drawing to win a new Snowboard! $10 registration includes March on the Mountain Tee and giveaways! 
Register here.

It’s All Downhiller Alpine Race

Saturday, March 4
Partner up with your child for the Big Easy Family Race, or take a shot at The Cajun Downhiller - a hot and spicy race down Gorge and Cheers.

Register at our Snowsports Desk Friday March 3 or Saturday morning March 4.

Cardboard Classic

Saturday, March 11

Build a sled using only standard cardboard and duct tape. You can win a trophy in either the Creative Sled Contest or the Cardboard Classic Race itself! Each competition has adult (13 and older) and child (12 and under) division.
Registration from 9:30-10:00am on the Lodge deck.
Cardboard Classic rules here.

Slush Cup

March 11 and March 18
Major bragging rights are up for grabs in this perennial favorite! You're going to need some speed to make it across the giant icy, slushy pit! Come on out to Spring Carnival on the 11th or Celts & Kayaks on the 18th.

Kayak on the Snow Race

Saturday, March 18
Win a trophy with the best time kayaking on the snow! Show your skill in the adult (13 and older) and child (12 and under) division.
Registration 9:30-10:30am. Equipment provided. Participants must be at least 8 years old.
Kayak on the Snow Race Rules

Scavenger Hunts and More!

How's your hunting skills? Keep your eyes peeled on the slopes in these fun scavenger challenges!

Get Up! Mountain Run

Saturday, March 25

Win a 2017-18 Premier Season pass! Run, walk or climb to the top of Loki, slush or shine! Medals for all finishers.
Register Here.

Get Down! Bike Race

Saturday, March 25

Race down the mountain for your chance at a 2017-18 Premier Season Pass! Medals are awarded for top three in both Fat Tire and Open categories.
Register Here.

Mini Games on the Lodge Deck

Stop by the DJ Dance party every Saturday afternoon this March for fun games perfect for the celebration - hula hoops, rubix cube, limbo and more!

Everyone’s a Winner!

Even if competitions aren’t your thing, you just cannot lose with this much fun! Enjoy awesome FREE slopeside concerts, DJ dances, crafts for kids, special fitness classes, outdoor BBQ on the deck and festive menu items to keep you energized and having a blast!

Book Now » or call for reservations.

Test Your Pedal Mettle
Nancy Story - Tuesday, February 28, 2017


Great grooming habits take place everywhere on the mountain – on the Alpine slopes, on the Nordic trails, and on the Fat Tire Bike trails.  If you haven’t yet sampled our fat tire trails, maybe March is your month to JUST DO IT.  Chris Remy, our resident bicycle guru, offers these tips:

The Bikes:  

The  Fuji Wendigo is the newest addition to our fleet, featuring massive 5” tires. It joins 12 SE Bike Fat-E’s – the workhorses of our fleet -and four framed Mini-Sota’s 24” wheeled fat bikes, great for tweens and the vertically challenged.

The Grooming:

We groom our trails and the Betsie River Pathway at least 3 times a week or more depending on conditions. We now have our own dedicated grooming sled and roller. When the trails get crustier and less favorable for skiing, they get better for fat bikes. (*Note: Trails are closed when it is too soft or muddy due to warm temperatures. Once it freezes again with fresh snow, it’s back to bike trail grooming!)

The Trails:

Otter Loop- Friendly to all fitness levels, this lighted loop is geared for beginners and serves as a wonderful warmup to longer rides.   

Fat Tire Trail- Here’s the feeder trail to our backwoods experience. Starting off Keewadin Drive , this groomed singletrack has just one hill and can be ridden as an out-and-back, or used to access the Fat Loop and Betsie River Pathway.

Fat Loop-Located on the south side of County Line Road, this groomed loop is nestled in the woods with rolling elevation changes and flowing turns. It’s just under a mile in length.

Betsie River Pathway- This backwoods experience features eight miles of singletrack groomed trail that links to our Crystal trails. The pathway is a relatively flat, fun ramble through varied terrain, from pine stands to hardwoods and old orchards. Even in the dead of winter, you’ll see lots of wildlife.

What to Expect:

The Ride-As we tell beginning riders - Fat Biking is a workout! There is more resistance than on typical bikes, so we recommend riders give themselves an easier gear and use a slightly higher cadence. There is no major learning curve to riding on the snow, but we do advise staying seated when climbing. Riders will want to keep their weight over that rear tire for traction.

The Outfit-Think cross country skiing, and wear layers. Riders should start out feeling a little chilled, because they’ll warm up quickly. Either a ski/boarding helmet or standard bicycle helmet can be used. Warm gloves, not mittens, and even goggles are appropriate if the sun is out or the snow is blowing! Hiking boots work great; snow boots are okay but can tend to be a bit heavy for riding. No ski boots! (A pro's tip: Wrap your foot inside a plastic bag before putting on your hiking boots for cheap and instant wind and water resistance)

This March, you can even test your pedal mettle on the slopes. On Tuesdays and Thursdays from March 21-30th, we’ll open up a loop on the ski hill from 5-8pm for Fat Tire biking after the slopes have closed. (A $10 trail pass is required, and bike rentals include a trail pass). Call for details at the Park at Water’s Edge, ext. 7000.

Food Fare for the Slopes
Nancy Story - Wednesday, February 15, 2017

When it’s cold outside, they’re hot in the kitchen.

For those Crystal Clipper Café employees who spend their winter inside, there’s a way to judge the weather outside. It’s by what skiers put in their stomachs.  Hot chocolate sales rise when the thermometer drops, although it’s the most popular beverage all season long.   Fountain drinks and coffee beat out bottled water in terms of takers, and Crystal’s chili disappears quickly with over 2600 servings sold this winter.

But the chow of choice regardless of the weather is French fries, hands down. Since the start of the season, the café has sold over 15,335 orders of fries. The favorite fry accompaniment is a cheeseburger – nearly 6,000 of them so far.  Our new Panini Station, though, is taking a bite out of the burger numbers with the Chicken Pesto Panini picking up 1136 fans so far this season. Poultry’s always popular – chicken tenders have posted over 8700 orders this winter,  and snowsports fans have gobbled down nearly 900 Chicken Caesar Wraps since ski season started.  Pizza slices and potato chips are high on the hit list, while the very popular salad bar continues to draw crowds.  There’s always demand for fruit cups and yogurt parfaits, but standard daily fuel favors the fast food fare.

Topping the sweet treat chart is that perennial favorite, the Crystal Krispie – a mitten-shaped rice krispie treat that’s been on the menu forever.  This year, nearly 2500 Krispies have disappeared into skier stomachs, well on the way towards the 5500 Krispies consumed in an average season.  Approximately 1539 Chocolate chip cookies have met their demise so far, followed by brownies, no-bake cookies, and the new Fluffernutter bars (a combination of peanut butter, Cheerios, marshmallows, and chocolate chips) in preferential order.  Another new menu item, fried mozzarella sticks,  is proving to be a big hit this winter.

Appeasing all those appetites as quickly as possible requires a crackerjack crew that knows just what to do. When the fryer’s hot in the kitchen, our café crew keeps their cool by utilizing a multi-tasking system that keeps things moving. During slow periods, they prepare for the next appetite onslaught, cleaning and planning ahead for the next day.

As it warms up outside, the crew will be hosting slopeside outdoor barbeques on March weekends, featuring those menu-favorite standbys like burgers and hot dogs.  And yes, everybody will want fries with that.

Who are those guys and gals in the Maroon Coats?
Nancy Story - Wednesday, January 25, 2017


The late Hugh Stout was one of Crystal's first Mountain Hosts

Jim Kidd is a member of this year's Crystal Mountain National Ski Patrol Mountain Host program.

For  years, Crystal Mountain had a volunteer brigade of uniformed Mountain Hosts, skiers armed with ready smiles who answered questions, dispensed directions, helped with lift line congestion and in general, kept a friendly eye out for everything going on outside.

Two years ago, that program was resurrected and upgraded under the jurisdiction of the National Ski Patrol (NSP). Implemented by the patrol as a tool to promote slope safety while maximizing a guest’s positive skiing and riding experience, Crystal Mountain’s NSP-sponsored Mountain Host program is one of three in the state. Crystal’s 12 Mountain Hosts, all experienced skiers, act somewhat like apprentices to the resort’s patrol. They still answer questions, give directions, and lend a helping hand – but now, they’re a Safety Patrol as well. They’re required to complete the NSP’s Outdoor First Care course, learn the techniques for chairlift evacuation, and earn their professional rescuer CPR certification.   “Our hosts plays an important role”, noted Joe Bolduc, Crystal’s Risk/ Safety Manager and a National Ski Patrol veteran.  “Not only do they assist the ski patrol when needed, but they also represent the resort, and often set the tone for the guest experience.” Bolduc cites crowd control, lift loading and unloading assistance, and identification of any slope hazards as some of the crew’s primary responsibilities. Clad in maroon-colored ski jackets sporting a “Crystal Mountain National Ski Patrol Mountain Host” badge, the hosts are on duty all week long during holiday periods, and on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays throughout the season.

Longtime Crystal Mountain skiers Jim and Linda Kidd are on the slopes as hosts this season, armed with years of skiing knowledge and experience. Linda learned to ski at Crystal when she was seven years old – and now, with 50 ski seasons under her belt, she’s enjoying the Mountain Host role.   “We’re required to work ten shifts per season,” she noted, “with a typical shift running from 10am-4pm”. For the Kidds, a shift can include anything from assisting with injuries, repairing fences and signs, helping guests with equipment, suggesting which slopes match up with skier ability levels, and directing traffic.  The satisfaction they derive from assisting guests on the slopes is matched by the couple’s own enthusiasm for passing along their passion for snowsports.  The Kidds and the rest of the maroon coat crew are our National Ski Patrol’s ambassadors for snow, promoting safety and customer service out on the hills.    

5 Great Reasons to Visit Crystal in March
Troy DeShano - Thursday, January 12, 2017

With four festive weekends in our March at the Mountain celebrations, there are a million great ways to create memories that last. Here are five you can’t miss:

Free Slopeside Concerts

Sing and dance along with live music slopeside. Brena Band brings the fun with your favorite rock, blues and pop tunes for Spring Carnival, and an epic Journey tribute show is a Retro Weekend highlight you absolutely can’t miss!

Contests & Prizes for All

There are tons of fun ways to win for guests of all ages. Snag yourself a trophy in the Kayak on the Snow race, or even win a 2017-18 Season Pass with the best Mardi Gras costume or Rail Jam skills, or Get Up! On Mountain Run challenge.

Great Rates

Book a ski package now and get free skiing on your arrival day. Kids 17 and under sleep free, and kids 6 and under sleep, ski and eat breakfast free! It’s the best way to catch all the fun family activities on March at the Mountain weekends.

BBQ, Anyone?

No one can resist the aroma of a northern Michigan grill in action. Add a DJ spinning tunes with fun contests, face painting, Mardi Gras beads, and more... and you’ve got a recipe for good times you’ll never forget.

Styles for Miles

Been waiting for the right moment to rock that kilt? Celts & Kayaks is just the thing!  Dust off your favorite gear and neon tight pants for Retro Weekend, prepare to hula at the Spring Carnival luau, or go all-out to win big with the most fabulous Mardi Gras costume.

All this and more set the stage for memories that last a lifetime. Plan your visit today and we'll see you this March at the Mountain!

Pros in the Pisten Bullys
Nancy Story - Wednesday, January 11, 2017


Giving the slopes their nightly manicure, from behind the wheel of a Pisten Bully

Although it’s only January, Mother Nature’s already thrown a couple of temper tantrums in the weather department this season. Polar blasts followed by sleet, rain and snow,  make good grooming habits on the hills even more important when the mercury roller coasters from high to low.

So we were plenty pleased when the latest addition to our grooming fleet -a new Pisten Bully 400 park pro cat - was delivered last week. The cat joins two 400 standard cats and a 400 winch cat, all Pisten Bully products. 

At Crystal, we groom 85% of our skiable terrain every night. During the week, our grooming crew usually runs two cats per night. That expands to three cats on Thursdays, when the new park cat is put to work helping to build up and maintain park features. Three machines are also operating on Friday through Sunday nights, according to grooming supervisor Jason Harris.  

Normally, it takes about ten hours per machine, or roughly 22 cat hours total, to complete the job. Obviously, snowfall, weather, and on-slope events factor into the schedule. Race events, both practice and competition, create ruts which take more time  to fill in and manicure the surface. A heavy snowfall followed by rain and then a freeze (hello, last week) also takes extra time to get the job done. In lower snow conditions, groomers use the winch cat to pull snow from the base of the slopes back up to the top, thus filling in low spots and keeping the top from getting too icy.  And anytime conditions prove tricky thanks to Mother Nature’s antics,  the crew will send out three groomers rather than two, to ensure the silky corduroy that skiers rush to carve up when the lifts open first thing in the morning.  Transforming surfaces into corduroy is all in the tiller attachments, which act like a roto-tiller behind the cats to churn up hard snow surfaces. Corduroy is the finely ridged surface of the snow resulting from that effort. 

Even now, as January snow keeps a solid grip on the slopes, good grooming habits stretch out the ski season. As we head into winter’s prime time, there are lots of corduroy mornings ahead as our experienced Pisten Bully pros man the helm of their machines to rebuild the slopes each night for optimal skiing the next day.


What's Old is New Again
Nancy Story - Sunday, December 25, 2016


Every December, I am eight years old again.

I learned to ski the year I was eight. And in every year since – which is a lot of years – the first December snowfall sparks a feeling both familiar and fresh. That sense of excitement and anticipation for the start of ski season never gets old, even though I do.  Every December, it reignites with the sight of those first flakes, and decades-old delight, buried in memory, resurfaces.   

As Crystal celebrates its 60th anniversary on the slopes, there are eight year olds out there sampling skiing for the first time.  They, too, are storing up memories to be retrieved years down the road, and perhaps someday - maybe Crystal’s 100th anniversary? -  the first snow, for them, will trigger this same feeling of childlike enthusiasm discovered while carving that first turn.

In 60 years, so much has changed.  Laced leather boots, cable bindings and wooden skis have given way to shorter boards made from a variety of materials, step-in bindings and buckled boots.  Lifts have evolved from rope tows to high speed chairlifts. The sport’s accessories have changed, featuring high tech fabric, helmets, multi-lensed goggles, and gloves that actually keep your hands warm.  But what remains new down through the ages is triggered each December with those first flakes, when the childlike thrill of anticipating another season on the hill returns.  


Our Favorite Local Watering Holes
Brittany Roberts - Friday, September 30, 2016

The Michigan motto states, “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you”. Well, if you’re seeking something pleasant for your palette, look no further than Benzie County. We’re here to tell you about our three favorite local watering holes: Stormcloud Brewing Company, St. Ambrose Cellars, and the newest addition to our region, Iron Fish Distillery.

Stormcloud Brewing Company

Named Michigan’s #1 Best New Brewery by MLive, we couldn’t be more proud to have this popular spot in our own neighborhood. Located in Frankfort, this Belgian-inspired brewery is only 17 miles from the resort and steps away from the Lake Michigan shoreline. It’s a great pit stop on a day trip along M-22 or a fun way to spend an evening in town. This family-friendly brewpub offers board games, movies on the wall, live music, and much more to keep the whole gang entertained. With a wide variety of craft beer and seasonal food specials, Stormcloud embodies why Michigan tastes so great. Their flagship beer, Rainmaker Ale, pairs great with any item on their menu.

Want a tour of the brewery? With 48-hours notice, you can call the Park at Water’s Edge to schedule a back-of-the-house tour of Stormcloud, along with another favorite on our list, St. Ambrose Cellars. Tours includes transportation and 3-tastings at each location.

St. Ambrose Cellars

If you’re looking to wind down, St. Ambrose Cellars is your place. Their relaxed, come-as-you-are atmosphere makes you feel like you’re at a friend’s backyard get together. Just 8 miles away from the mountain, you can sip the day away in their beautifully appointed tasting room or wander outside and play a game of bag toss with a new favorite drink. We recommend trying their X.R. Cyser draft mead. Like a drinkable apple pie, it features a sweet blend of locally grown apples, star thistle honey, maple syrup, and is topped off with a dash of cinnamon. St. Ambrose has a large selection of meads and wines to choose from – we recommend you start sampling now.

Iron Fish Distillery

Iron Fish Distillery, Michigan’s first full line farm distillery, is just three miles down the road from Crystal Mountain. Surrounded by fields of grain, this 119-acre farm provides quiet solitude after a hectic day of traveling or a long week at work. The distillery’s colorful patio décor, plus live music and tasty eats from local food trucks keep this establishment busy. It’s a great spot to catch up with friends and try a new cocktail or two! Iron Fish opened their doors for business in September 2016 and are well on their way to becoming a premier distilling destination.