Mountain Blog

One for the history books.
Nancy Story - Sunday, April 13, 2014

Winter rushed in this year with a jaw-dropping early snowfall.

Must have been the karma of the new Buck chair.

Early December was epic for powder play days...

...but it didn't end there. The snow kept piling up.

The only sunlight came from night lights.

And the flakes kept falling.

Every day there was a fresh white canvas to carve snow signatures.

So many postcard days on pristinely groomed slopes.

Nordic skiers rushed over to the superbly groomed XC trail system...

...where stunning snowscapes hung around all season.

Light, fluffy flakes kept falling, apparently mistaking us for the Rockies.

It was a winter where new skiers greeted perfect conditions...

...and veteran 103 year-old skiers came to sample the slopes once again.

Skiing buddies bonded by the sport, banded together all season long.

Snowsport instructors introduced skills and spread the love of winter.

The infamous polar vortex loosened its grip in time for March Madness...

...with plenty of thrills and Slush Cup spills.

In a season that lasted 129 days, skiing records were broken.

But it's the record 225 inches of snowfall that we'll remember most.


Across the Generations: Why Winter Never Ends
Nancy Story - Tuesday, April 01, 2014


“I remember looking up the Buck hill with the Poma lift and thinking it was the biggest scariest hill I’d ever seen!”

Linda Plant Kidd recalls with relish her first trip to the slopes. This Muskegon native and her two brothers were introduced to skiing at Crystal Mountain over 45 years ago by their father, Jim Plant. She never imagined that decades later, she’d be passing along her passion for the sport to her grandson.  The Plant/Kidd crew took advantage of superb spring conditions recently to usher the next generation of their family onto the slopes. And at age 82, Jim Plant is now schussing side-by-side with his five year old great grandson Dylan.

Jim began skiing in his mid-twenties, and soon he and his wife, Marylouise, were packing up their three children for ski trips to Crystal Mountain.  “Mom and Dad always had us in ski lessons so we’d learn the proper way to ski.” Linda said. Even after Linda broke her ankle while wrestling with an old-school rope tow in her first season, she was back on the hill as soon as it healed. “I feel like I grew up at Crystal, watching all the changes that have taken place”, she said. Soon Linda and her husband were bringing their own three daughters to Crystal. Like their parents and grandparents, the Kidd daughters shared a passion for skiing and grew up on the slopes of Crystal Mountain.  Daughter Michelle became a Professional Ski Instructor Association (PSIA) -certified Level 2 instructor and now resides in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  Daughter Morgan also headed out west for the skiing life, while Erin continues to ski Michigan’s mountains from her home base in Muskegon.

So it was only a matter of time before Dylan – Erin’s son and the first of the next generation of Plant/Kidd skiers - joined the family fold. “Teaching my grandson to ski is the most amazing feeling”, Linda enthused. “Yesterday, we were at the top of Main Street. Dylan looked down and said, ‘I can’t do this’. Half way down the hill, he was shouting, ‘I’m doing it, Grandma!’  He was so happy. That’s worth all the years and good family times we’ve ever had, on the slopes.”  And yes, Dylan took ski lessons - just as his mother and grandmother did.

 What remains constant in skiing, down through the ages, is family, friends, fresh air, exercise and the challenge, according to Linda. “Crystal Mountain has grown in a smart way, with a real vision for family fun. We ski Crystal because it’s always improving. You’ve got a helpful staff, and it’s not far from home.”

And Dylan? Well, his favorite run is Main Street, the run that initially filled him with  fear. He’s conquered that challenge. There are plenty of runs to conquer next winter – for the next 80 winters, in fact. Just like Great Grandpa.


Instructor Tales from the Front Line
Nancy Story - Wednesday, March 19, 2014


 Several of our Snowsports instructors relate some of their memorable moments this past season:

One of my favorite lessons this year was in the Crystal Kids Program. We had 8 kids with 3 instructors, and one of those eight students was a “never ever” (ie never skied before). His name was Zack, he was 11 years old, and he was born with just one leg. In Zack’s mind, he had no disability. I had never taught a one-legged skier before, but used all my knowledge acquired over years of teaching to help him succeed. Zack's dad had purchased ski poles with small outriggers on the end to give Zack balance.  Our class made it to Emmy - and other than taking a few rests on the way down because his leg would get tired, Zack did very well and had fun. It was one of my best lessons ever, and has prompted me to go for my Adaptive Skiing Certification next year. Zack was an amazing kid and never gave up all day long. He inspired not only myself, but all the instructors who saw him. –  Bob Barker

I had a little girl who kept referencing speed in factors of percentages. If the group was going too slow, she would tell us to “ski at 100 %”.  If I told the group to slow down or speed up, I would reference “pizza feet” vs. “french fry feet”.  The other children in the group responded by either slowing down or speeding up - all except this one little girl.   It dawned on me that if I needed her to slow down or speed up, I needed to use language that made sense to her. For the rest of the lesson, I taught speed management to her by referencing percentages. If I wanted her to go faster,  I would say “Let’s add 10% to our speed”, or “Let’s ski at 30% for this drill”.  As I look back on that particular lesson, I realize why it is so important to have effective communication skills as well as the ability to read your students. They are expecting a lesson that is meaningful; it is our job to make it that way. -  Abigail Smeltzer, PSIA L1, Children’s Specialist 1

 As a passionate skier for over 20 years, I chose to become a ski instructor with the hopes of spreading this passion to new skiers.  I’ve had many examples of student success stories, and am sharing the stories of two of them.  I had the privilege of teaching Will Mallon on two occasions. A quiet kid with keen observational skills, Will had me as his instructor for his very first lesson. This gave me the chance to give Will a strong foundation for becoming a better skier.  Two months later, my colleague, Janel Farron, and I had Will for an all-day lesson on the hills.  It made me proud to watch his progression from the carpet tows to intermediate-level runs.

Beckett Bolt was another first-time student when she enrolled in a two-hour Adventure Cub session. I immediately saw the trauma in her eyes of first-time anxiety from parental separation, a very common situation in teaching Cubbies.  After helping her to be calm, I was very impressed with Beckett’s visual learning skills, which helped in facilitating her lesson.  By the end of her first lesson, Beckett’s anxious frown had turned into a bright smile as she made tremendous progression on the carpets, and then onto the Loki chair in her next lesson. I could see her love of skiing reflected on the look on her face. Students like Will and Beckett, along with many others, constantly reinforce the fact that becoming a ski instructor was the right move for me. - Travis  Fetters

There is nothing like the enjoyment of being part of a young skier’s first day on the snow. After our introduction, we talk about engaging topics (i.e. learn-to-ski techniques) such as pizza, French fries, ducks, and sharks, while we practice some boot work and try on the skis.  Then it’s on to the beginner’s surface lift, the little carpet, before advancing to the bigger challenge of the big carpet. For the young skier, the excitement intensifies with the ascent. Little eyes shine with anticipation while exiting the Big Carpet for the first time. Slowly down the hill we go, playing Red Light/Green Light to learn stopping and starting skills. Eventually, turns are added. Then, if the youngster is  demonstrating the necessary ability, I finally pop the big question: “Do you want to ride the chairlift?”

Excitement builds in the little skier’s eyes. Usually the answer is an irrepressible, “YES!” or sometimes a hesitant but hopeful “I think so.”  We move to the chairlift, reviewing how to load and unload before the chair scoops us up and we take off. It’s so much fun to be a part of this first trip! Most young skiers let out excited screams of joy as we leave the ground and take in the view of the big hill. On top, we stand up and glide away from the chair down the unloading ramp. Our inaugural downhill trip takes us down the gentle Emmy run, winding around the back side of the hill.  At the bottom, the young skier turns to me with sparkling eyes and asks: “Can we do it again?” What fun it is to be able to reply, “Absolutely! Let’s go!” - Carolyn Thayer, Level 1 certified instructor with a Children’s Specialist accreditation                                  


Teaching & Coaching in the Cold
Nancy Story - Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Crystal Snowsports instructor and veteran racing coach  Chris Fisher offers these tips for teaching kids when it's COLD outside:

It’s been a fantastic winter, with over 200 inches of snow.   But with all this snow, there’s often been the issue of extremely cold temperatures, even as spring approaches. (A high of 15 degrees was forecast for March 12th!)

As ski instructors and coaches,  weather can play a major role in how we approach our lessons and training sessions, especially when dealing with children.  This winter, despite temperatures well below zero with wind chill, I’ve noticed that in general, kids are quite resilient.  If they are excited to pursue a task and are having fun, there’s not too much that can dampen their spirits.  That said, as instructors and coaches, we are responsible for their safety and well-being.  Regulating body temperature is harder for children.  With extremely cold temperatures, we have to constantly monitor them and be aware that they may be moving toward hypothermia without even noticing they’re cold yet.

 Keeping our students warm means keeping them moving and active, and taking more warm-up breaks with less time on the hill in-between.  We have to be aware of any exposed skin (primarily cheeks and noses) and watch for signs of frostbite.  Fingers and toes are at the tips of the extremities, so they are the body parts that will be affected first by the cold.  Hand warmers are always a great idea.  Socks and gloves need to be dry when first put on,  and dried at night.  Thin socks (somewhat counter-intuitively) keep feet warmer by allowing better blood flow to the toes.  Layers are another effective shield against the cold.  A warm core will pump warm blood throughout the body.  Goggles protect the eyes from wind and snow, while also providing relief for the covered parts of the face.  Neck gators are great for keeping the wind off the neck and lower parts of the face.  They’re easy to adjust and are an inexpensive addition to any cold weather wardrobe.  Helmets are a must at ALL times, but they’re also warmer than knit hats.  Heat loss occurs fastest from the head, so keeping the head safely covered is like putting a lid on a frying pan:  the heat index rises rapidly and stays longer.

Finally, we coaches and instructors need to remind students of the importance of proper nutrition and hydration.  The colder it is outside, the harder the body works to maintain a constant temperature, so it will burn calories faster and use up water stores faster.  Eating and drinking more often helps stoke the internal fires that will maintain body heat.

It’s been a cold winter this season, but a properly prepared student can still enjoy snow sports.  I am inspired every day by the excitement and anticipation I see in my students - and when it’s way below zero, a happy student is a warm student!


Cross Country Skills Ward Off Chills
Nancy Story - Tuesday, March 04, 2014


Sure, we’ve been swept up in the middle of a polar vortex this winter. But the answer to staying warm outside lies on the backside of the mountain, home to our Nordic trail network. Chairlifts make you sit still, but with cross country skiing, you’re always on the move with your own motor.  Don’t make the frigid weather your excuse to stay indoors. There’s been no better winter yet for superlative snow and trail conditions - so take advantage of the warmth factor of Nordic skiing.  The better you are, the warmer you’ll be. Greg Babinec, one of our Nordic ski instructors, offers these tips to take advantage of the sport that keeps you warm in Arctic temperatures:

“Lose the poles to improve your technique. Whether you are a classic xc skier or a skater, a great practice drill will start with leaving the poles at home.  For classic skiers, this will help you become more aware of the timing required between the moment the kick zone is engaged to the forward movement of the trailing ski. A good exercise for this is to do a series of three strides in the tracks. On the third stride, emphasize the engagement of the kick zone along with a more aggressive forward motion when bringing the trailing ski forward. On each third count, you’ll be able to concentrate the motion first on one ski, and then the other. See how long you can hold your balance during the glide phase of each stride before starting the next sequence of three strides.

With both styles of Nordic, classical and skating, improving one’s balance on one ski at a time is the key to rapid improvement. During your next skate ski session,  get started with no poles and use an exaggerated arm swing in the same direction as the glide ski. An aggressive arm swing from side to side in time with each ski will help improve your feeling for the gliding motion necessary to skate effectively. Always remember to get your nose and knee over your glide ski, and keep the ski as flat on the ground as possible until you are ready to change skis and glide in the other direction. This is known as a free skate with no poles.”  

 The real lesson here is that you can beat the chill of downhill by heading over to the backside of the mountain. Cross country lessons are available daily by calling extension 4000. 


Slopewise Sensibilities
Nancy Story - Monday, February 17, 2014


Ruth Cunningham, Crystal Mountain Pro Patroller

Here in the mitten, preaching safety on the slopes is nothing new. Michigan’s Ski Area Safety Act was passed in 1962, making it the nation’s oldest ski safety act. Skiers have been advised to be slope-wise since Crystal Mountain’s early rope tow and Poma days.

Charged with enforcing those safety standards are Crystal’s four paid weekday patrollers and six paid weekend patrollers, augmented by 50 volunteer patrollers. And for 30 years, Crystal‘s first paid patroller, Ruth Cunningham, has been out on the snow helping to keep our slopes safe.

Her observations?  There have been plenty of positive changes over the years with regards to slope safety, according to Ruth. “Fewer ropes and fences on the sides of runs, lifts which are much more user-friendly, and skiers wearing helmets have contributed to a safer skiing environment,” she noted. “The new equipment makes it so much easier for people to ski. More people are skiing longer, and we’re seeing huge groups of 80+ age skiers on the slopes, plus children who are starting very young. And since the arrival of power tillers, the grooming has been wonderful”.

When injuries occur, the most common are injured wrists for snowboarders, and injured knees for skiers. “Not many of the snowboarders are wearing wrist guards, which would probably prevent a lot of fractures,” Ruth observed.

And the biggest rule infraction? Skiing in control, which seems to be ignored especially by males in the 16-25 age group. “We also see a lot of young children going straight down black diamond hills with no turns, skiing completely out of control”.  Ruth said that patrollers talk to those skiers once they catch up to them.   

Being slope-wise applies to every vertical rise, whether it’s Crystal’s 375 feet or the mountains out West. A recent editorial in the Steamboat Pilot, the daily paper in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, addressed the Slopewise Code of Conduct:

“It goes without saying, that a fundamental requirement of the code is that all skiers and riders must stay in control and be able to avoid other people and objects on the slopes. We’ve observed that the newest equipment, which has made acquiring intermediate skills easier to do, can also inspire a false sense of accomplishment among some skiers and riders.

“It isn’t our role to sell ski school lessons. But it’s true that the professional ski instructors….can help people learn to ski and ride with much more control at reasonable speeds. Just as it’s true that you will become a more accomplished golfer or tennis player by working with a pro, you will become a more accomplished skier, with the skills to ski more precisely at speed, if you know how to carve a turn. You’ll also get more enjoyment out of the sport when you achieve the next level.

“Another fundamental aspect of the SlopeWise Code calls upon skiers and riders to yield the right of way to downhill skiers; if you are approaching from behind, it’s incumbent on you to slow down enough to avoid others before a collision results. But those skiers below you also have responsibilities. It is unsafe to stop on a ski slope where terrain obscures you from the view of those approaching from above………when you have come to a stop to rest and re-focus, always look above you for oncoming skiers before resuming skiing. Unexpected stops and starts can make it more difficult even for well-intentioned and skilled skiers to avoid a collision.

 “If you want to ski more like an Olympian, wear your helmet, acquire new skills and continue to ski under control.”





Bridal Expo 2014
Nancy Story - Thursday, February 06, 2014

Let’s get off the snow train for a moment and think about June. And July. And September. Those three months are 2014’s most popular pick for weddings held here at the mountain. Couples planning to tie the knot should also be thinking about April – because that’s when we host the annual Crystal Bridal Expo on Saturday, April 5th from noon to 4pm at the Crystal Center.


 Most weddings held at Crystal are destination weddings – which makes this April Expo so valuable for brides-to- be.  Once the location venue and number of guests have been determined, it’s time to start working on details.  “Attending the bridal show is an excellent way to find reputable local vendors, especially if you’re not familiar with this area,” explained Chelsea Chapin, Crystal’s Catering and Events Sales Manager.

.“Meeting face to face is always a better way to see if a vendor is the right fit for your wedding, rather than relying solely on phone and email contact.”  Using local services alleviates a lot of stress for the bridal couple, too.   “Hiring a favorite baker from your hometown to make your wedding cake may sound like a good idea, but you must consider the logistics of getting their product from point A to point B.” Chelsea noted.  “Northern Michigan has many talented vendors right in our immediate area. There’s no need to worry, for example, about how to transport flowers in a four-hour drive north in the July heat. Our preferred vendor list will help you start making choices of tried and true vendors.” 

 Planning a destination wedding event at Crystal Mountain offers lots of advantages for out of town guests.  “Having all your closest friends & family together like this will probably never happen again, so we see many brides looking for a wedding weekend that includes lots of activities for guests staying on site,” Chelsea noted. “Crystal Mountain offers beautiful ceremony & reception locations in one convenient location for every size guest list. Lodging, dining, spa and recreation are just steps away”.  On-premise casual barbeques are a popular choice for rehearsal dinners prior to the big day.  “We’ve become experts in laid back pre-wedding gatherings, complete with lawn games and marshmallows toasted over a campfire.”

For a destination wedding, the bridal couple should accommodate their guests by giving them plenty of background regarding the venue. “Providing information about the destination, including nearby airports and driving directions from major cities, will help guests first gauge if they are able to make the trip,” Chelsea said.  “Offering them lots of lodging choices and area activities is also very beneficial. Destination weddings are expensive for guests, so they’ll want to make the most of their time at the wedding venue. Even though the bride may love northern Michigan and knows what it has to offer, she has to consider that some guests are totally unfamiliar with the area.” 

According to Chelsea, the most common mistake brides make when planning a destination wedding is not using a wedding website.  “These are amazing tools that are offered for free by most wedding planning websites, such as” she pointed out.  “A personalized wedding website will allow you to cater to your guests and provide much more information than could ever fit in a ‘Save the Date’ postcard.”


 For all you brides and grooms-to-be, save THIS date: Saturday, April 5th.    Regardless of the season, Crystal Mountain serves up a special venue for wonderful wedding memories. Contact Chelsea, our in-house  expert, at ext. 6605 to begin mapping out your memorable Crystal Mountain wedding.







A Prolific Powder Year
Nancy Story - Wednesday, January 29, 2014


 It’s definitely a prolific powder year.

According to our daily snow reports, about 58 inches have fallen on the slopes this January alone. In December, we recorded 78 inches at the mountain.   We don’t keep slope-specific snowfall stats other than our daily snow report, but the Benzie County Road Commission keeps official tabs on the flake depths.  Their records reveal that as of Jan. 28, approximately 156.25 inches have fallen in Benzie County.  Neighboring Manistee County has shared in the windfall of snowfall, tallying up 163” so far this season.

Since the road commission’s official snowfall depth recordkeeping began in 1966/67, the most snowfall recorded in Benzie County piled up in the winter of 1996-97. That’s when 231 inches blanketed Benzie. During the winter of 2008/09, total snowfall hovered just below 200 inches. That same year (2008/09) marked Manistee County’s biggest snowfall ever, with 191 inches.

With all this fluff, eager skiers are always seeking out a fresh powder stash worth a few turns in untracked snow - not just deep enough, but steep enough to create a white wake off the ski tails while flying down the fall line.  Naturally, the glades are filled with possibilities after every snowfall – and what a perfect year to have opened up two new glade areas off Gorge and Buck!  We even have tree wells forming in those woods, which is usually a winter hazard of the mountains, not the Midwest.  Some of the deepest steeps can be found underneath the power line off of Thor, on the bottom stretches of Nose Dive and Cut Off. On the North Face, the far edge of By George often serves as a snowy sanctuary.   Sure, there are other places - but I’m not going to tell you.  Come out and find them for yourself.

Scientists tell us that one septillion snow crystals drop down from the skies during an average winter.  No telling if we’ve hurdled that septillion mark already in this above- average epic season.  Embrace it and ski it!

Meet the Boot Guru and his Machine
Nancy Story - Monday, January 20, 2014


 There’s a new member of the Mountain Sports staff. It sits in the back of the shop and never speaks, but it’s eager to meet your feet. So we checked with Jim Riley, our Ski Shop Hero (yep, he won that award in 2012 from Skiing Business magazine) on Mountain Sports’ new Fisher Vacuum Fit Station, which incorporates a  three-step process to help boot techs achieve the perfect fit for a skier’s boots.  Here’s how this nifty machine works:

Step 1: The boot’s shell is heated for 12-15 minutes.                                                                                 Step 2: A liner and footbed is inserted into the still warm and pliable shell.                                                 Step 3: Using special pads that wrap the enter shell and compressed air, boot techs adjust the entire boot to the anatomy of the foot.

“It’s a pretty cool tool and a lot of fun to use,” Jim noted of the new addition. And he ought to know. Crystal is fortunate to have THE expert footbed guru on premise to help skiers and riders with the most important equipment purchase they’ll make - their boots. Take heed of these boot-fit tips from Jim:

What’s the most common mistake people make when purchasing boots?

“By far the biggest mistake we see in the shop is people buying boots too big. I can’t say it enough: it’s easy to buy a boot that's too big, but very difficult to have one fitted too small. Never buy a ski/snowboard boot based on your shoe size.  Seven out of ten boot problems I run into stem from boots that are too big. Boots are not shoes or slippers, and should not fit like them.  Boots will be tight and snug at first, and hopefully, will stay snug. The last thing you want is a foot that can move inside the ski boot, since the boots will break in a lot as you wear them.  In our shop, we tell people to have at least 14 hours on new boots for the best fit to form”.

If you’ve purchased skis in the past two years, but are still skiing on 10+ year old boots, how does that affect your skiing?

“Ski and snowboard boots are just like any other footwear; they’ll pack out and break down from use.  The plastics and materials used to make today’s boots have evolved  to   become stronger, lighter and warmer. So if you’re still on older boots, even with newer skis, you’re working harder than you would be with boots designed for the current generation of skis. The life of a boot is said to be between 90-120 days of skiing. That could be a year for some, and as many as 10 years for others. After 10 years, I would be   worried about the strength of the plastic, and at least have the shop take a look at them”.

What are the best socks to wear with ski boots, and why?

“Our shop recommends the Smartwool PhD® Ski Graduated Compression Ultra Light Sock. I have a thing about socks when fitting boots, since the right sock makes a difference in how a boot fits. Thorlo also makes a great ski sock. It’s not about how thick or how many socks you have on – it’s about the material of the socks and how they fit. Feet have a lot of sweat glands - around 250,000 each - and in an average day, feet can produce more than a pint of sweat. A sock’s job is to move that sweat off your foot, because the longer that sweat lingers, the faster a foot gets cold. Most new boots rely on their own liner for warmth, so any thin sock made with some kind of wicking material is a good choice. Cotton is not a choice; it will hold sweat on the feet and freeze toes”.

What’s the most popular boot brand sold at Mountain Sports? What makes it the number one choice?

“Right now the Lange SX series is flying off the shelves. It starts at around $299 and fits a wide assortment of feet. Lange built this boot in a unique way, called the “Natural Ski Stance”.  It allows the skier to stand straighter for better efficiency and less leg fatigue.   On the snowboarding side, Burton is still king of boots in our shop. But that being said - all the boots we carry have a reason for being in the shop. We have a boot for any type of foot. Super wide foot? Got it. Narrow heel? No problem. Most of the boots we have were picked by our staff from real-world testing on the slopes”.

Bring a Friend in January
Nancy Story - Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Every month has its monikers and January in the snow biz is known as “Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month”. (It’s also Safety Awareness Month, but more on that later). 

If you’ve never skied or snowboarded, lesson deals abound at Crystal. The most popular lesson for newbies is our Learn To Turn session, covering all the basics to get you started – check out the details on our website. If you’re already a skier or snowboarder, then take advantage of the opportunities offered by this month’s “Bring a Friend” campaign. The title bears out its purpose: to have friends introduce friends to snowsports.

Of skiers and riders polled by the Snowsports Industries of America, only twenty percent   were introduced to their sport by a parent (and it was mostly Dad, not Mom).  The vast majority of them trotted out to the slopes for the first time with a friend who had skied before. Trouble is, it’s not always best for the friendship to try and teach your buddy how to conquer the mountain. At Crystal, we’re making it easy for both of you by offering a two-hour semi-private lesson for two people for the price of one private lesson. Both of you get individual attention – you for honing your skills and brushing up on your turning talents, thus impressing your friend, while said friend will get the proper instruction for a positive start-up experience. It’s a win-win situation.

Plus, once your friends are friendly with the boards underfoot, they’ll want to return to the slopes.  So this January at Crystal, you can purchase one adult open-to-close lift ticket every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and receive one open-to-close lift ticket FREE for your friend. (not valid, obviously with other specials or discounts). Certainly this will make them indebted to you for life.  There’s also a way for you to win prizes in January’s “Bring a Friend” affair by getting credit for introducing newcomers to Snowsports.  Go to for all the details.  See you and your friends on the slopes!