Mountain Blog

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.

A Final Snow Report
Nancy Story - Monday, March 28, 2016

  

The bullwheels finally came to a halt yesterday, marking the end of Winter 2015/16.

This season, the wait for winter to begin was prolonged….and tense. After two years of temperatures taking an early season polar plunge, this year’s season featured one of the latest starts ever. On Dec. 5th, we opened for a weekend with one run. After cranking out record numbers of manmade flakes, we re-opened on Dec. 20th for the season, with four slopes open over Christmas while Mother Nature, apparently, was sound asleep. Finally, our first natural snowfall dropped seven inches in the last week of December, to kick off 2016 with 13 slopes open. Our snowmakers worked feverishly to get 100% of our trails open by January 15th, aided by 10” from a winter storm just before we opened up our new Backyard slope complex in mid-January.

Meanwhile, winter teased us with sporadic snowfall throughout January and February. The biggest dump came in mid-January with nearly a foot of snow, and again in early February with a nine-inch snowfall. March arrived with six inches, yet only dropped rain or sunshine from the skies for weeks before sending winter off with a resounding 8-9 inches just a few days before the slopes closed on March 27. And the total snowfall? Benzie County recorded 97.5” of snow by this date in March, compared to 117” at this time last year, and 216” at month’s end during that glorious winter of 2013/14.

So has it been the worst season? No. We were open 101 days, compared to the 85 days of winter 2011/12, when merely 69 inches of snow fell. Only the wizardry of our snowmaking crew saved the Christmas holidays for us, and the magic touch of our groomers kept the snow on task. We continued to make snow up through the third weekend in March, when weather permitted (and Mother Nature was stingy in handing out those permits.)

Whether it stretches out over 100 days, or cuts out early, the great thing about winter is that it always ends – and it always comes back. There’s always something different each year, and there’s always something new. The quirks of a temperamental Mother Nature, the highs of a fresh powder morning, chairlift chatter with new and old acquaintances, the thrill of conquering a new skill on the hill- this is what skiers carry away from winter every year. For 59 years, skiers have been carving winter memories from these Buck Hills. The overwhelming majority of skiers and riders leave with a positive winter memory bonding them to Crystal. And hopefully, so did you.

Art Parks on the Slopes
Nancy Story - Sunday, February 28, 2016

                 

 Terrain park guru RJ Raines is a winter artist, creating snow features on the downhill side of the mountain. Here’s his take on what it takes to craft terrain park features:  

 It takes imagination and experience in riding to build a terrain park. What I’ve learned, in my time as a park supervisor, is that your park is only as good as your crew. Here at Crystal, I’ve got a crew of creative, skilled riders, and we collaborate as a team to come up with fun setups ups that people will enjoy. Each of our three terrain parks has its own signature.

Over at Totem Park, Riglet Park is dedicated to helping young snowboarders build the confidence and basic skills needed for going into the bigger parks. Skills acquired at Riglet extend beyond the terrain park, as young riders learn how to ride the carpet tow and sample a variety of terrain. From Riglet, riders can graduate to Jesters Alley, our beginner park off of Main Street.  At Jesters, we build smaller features that are great for learning and growing as a rider. With a variety of smaller features, riders can focus on honing their skills before advancing to bigger parks. Tuck’s, located on the steeper Cheers run, is where we normally pair our jumps with some intermediate and advanced rail sets. Having a steeper run is perfect for maintaining and building speed in between hits. And finally, Basin Street, located just below the Crystal Clipper, is our rail garden. We typically try to include three rail lines, each including intermediate and advanced features. We also like to give this park a “skate park” feel at times by including multiple transitions and flowing lines.

It's hard to say what features are most well-received. It really comes down to a matter of personal taste. A lot of people love hitting jumps, and at the same time, there are many people who enjoy our rail set ups. When building our parks, we collaborate amongst ourselves to try and figure out the best place, and way, to set the features. I also enjoy getting feedback from riders with regards to what they would like to see. Listening to their input is one of the most important things we can do. Local riders are the ones who hit parks the most, so their opinion is really valuable. The key is trying to find a happy medium from everyone's input. Sometimes we get it, sometimes we don't - but that's the beauty of snow. It can always be changed. Overall, in terrain park construction, we aim to create a set up that’s fun, unique, and challenging to a variety of riders.

 

Skiing at 85
Nancy Story - Sunday, February 21, 2016

      

He’s on the hill, not over it.

At age 85, Louie Lidtke is on the hill five days a week. Usually he and wife Carol are among the first to make turns down Buck after the bullwheels begin to turn. Cutting through the corduroy looks effortless when you watch these two swing down the fall line.  They follow a time-honored routine, making first tracks on Buck, a few trips up the Clipper, and perhaps some quick runs on the North Face or Ridge before landing in the lodge for their 10:30am break.  There’s a regular gang of veterans who convene daily midweek in our Clipper Café to commiserate over coffee -  swapping ski tales, pondering snow analytics, whatever. It’s a broad spectrum of topics. After coffee, the Lidtkes usually head over to  Loki to pursue more slope mileage before they call it a day around noon.

Louie skied at Crystal Mountain when Crystal Mountain was Buck Hills. A native of Manistee, he was on the ski patrol at Manistee’s Big M ski area for many years, so he’s been around the block when it comes to skiing. But although he learned in the Old Days, Louie doesn’t cling to old ways.

“You have to keep up with the times,” he notes. Newer ski technology, he pointed out, makes carving a turn easier than skidding around. “Keep on the tips (fronts) of your skis,” he advises. Keeping old knees young means working out year-round for Louie, He’s disciplined about a year-round regimen that includes exercises to maintain knee and leg strength – and he adds to that workout by training dogs.   A new English setter is keeping him busy this season when he’s not on the slopes.

But what keeps the Lidtkes such faithful slope fans who rarely miss a midweek morning? “We just get up and go,” he grins. It’s a piece of advice he passes along to anyone who may be inspired by this 85 year-old who has never tired of carving his ski signature on the trails.  “Get outside and exercise,” is his credo. “Take a lesson and get into the sport, or take a lesson to get back into it. Just get outside." 

People gathered around in the Clipper Café last week  to help Louie celebrate his 85th birthday with some cake at his daily coffee break. “I hope I’m skiing when I’m 85”, an onlooker remarked. Louie just smiled, put on his ski helmet, and headed back outside.  Time to get back on the hill.

A First Timer's Tale
Nancy Story - Wednesday, February 03, 2016

What’s it like to visit the slopes for the first time? Emily Cefaratti, a college junior, was asked to reflect on her first skiing experience when she visited Crystal earlier this month. Here’s her take on that first trip to the slopes:

 

  “OK, what did I tell you is the number one rule of skiing?” my boyfriend Drew asked as we drove north on US 31 heading for Crystal Mountain last weekend.

  At age 20, this was going to be my first time skiing ever.  I had both excitement and nervousness swirling around in my stomach. Drew had been giving me informational tips all week as I prepared for my inaugural skiing experience.  What was he talking about??  There seemed to be so many rules, so much information. I tried to remember everything he’d said. 

“Ummm… always make sure your skis are perpendicular to the hill when you stand up if you fall?” I stammered.

“No. Well, that too, but the other rule.”

“Make sure my boots fit well inside because if they don’t fit perfectly then I will be uncomfortable skiing in them all day?” I said hesitantly.

“Well, yeah but no! What’s the one rule I told you to remember?” he said impatiently.

I tried again. “When in doubt, make a pizza?” 

“No!”

I could tell he was irritated. “What do you want from me?!” I retorted.  At this point,   we were almost yelling at one another before Drew finally clued me in. “The number one rule is that if you fall, don’t try and stop yourself,” he said. “Let the fall happen. If you have to put your arms out, use your forearm and not your hands so you don’t break your wrist.”

“Oh yeah. THAT rule”, I sighed.

 If you go online, you’ll see many articles about teaching your significant other to ski. They all said about the same thing—don’t do it. Well, Drew and I were already breaking THAT rule. But before I could even get out on the hill, I had to get the equipment.  As a rank beginner, my first stop was at the rental building. The ski rental process was fairly self-explanatory if I followed the big signs that told me where to go and when.  At first glance, filling out the equipment rental forms looked like I was applying to become an organ donor, asking questions just shy of your blood type. My rental skis, boots, and poles were in good shape and fit perfectly for a beginner. The people inside were very helpful and friendly, which made the whole experience not too overwhelming or daunting. However, little did I know that I was about to face my biggest nemesis of the day: the chairlifts.

With Drew’s help, getting on a lift for the very first time was fine and I was feeling pretty good about myself - until I realized that I’d have to get off.  When we reached the top, I stood up as I was told – but lost my balance, throwing me into Drew, who just kept going down the ramp. I fell, and frantically tried to stand up again but ended up twisting my skis around each other. As I lay on the ground helpless, I looked behind me to see the lift operator had stopped the lift and come over to help me untangle myself.  Drew, waiting at the bottom of the lift ramp, was doubled over laughing.

The rest of the day went very well, as I finally graduated from the ‘snow-plow’ and wide turns to shorter, more parallel turns.  Overall, I had so much fun! Crystal Mountain was a great first skiing experience, and I hope I can be back on the slopes soon.

 And when Emily returns, she’ll be sure to take a lesson!   Our Snowsports instructors are certifiably super in teaching skiing and riding skills so that anyone’s first time on the slopes is an enjoyable introduction to a lifetime of good times in the sport.