Mountain Blog

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. 

 

 

Winter Wizardry
Nancy Story - Sunday, January 10, 2016

The extraordinary efforts of our snowmaking crew have made winter happen so far.
Now that slopes of every flavor are open and you're eager to get out (or you’ve been out) on those boards, there’s another kind of wizardry happening on site that you may want to check out.  

 

 Many skiers think tuning is something beyond their needs.   But just like any other recreational equipment, ski care and maintenance optimizes performance at any ability level.   So why bother to head in for a tune-up? Director of Skier Services Ron Shepard points to the three ingredients of a good tune:

 Wax: It's not just for racers and speed chasers. It’s for everybody.  Waxing helps skis glide and turn smoother in a broad range of speeds.  And in a winter like this, with constantly varying snow conditions, the right wax keeps your skis attuned to the surface beneath them.  Temperature and snow texture affect your ski’s glide-ability, and regular waxing protects those board bases.  The pros at our Crystal Tuning Center can help you select the right wax for the conditions of the day.  Optimally, you want to put a coat of wax on your boards about every 3-5 trips out on the hills.

Sharp Edges:  Skis that aren’t sharp require significantly more effort to use than those that are, according to Shepard.  “Ski manufacturers set a ski’s edge angle to ensure that skis grip effectively when tipped, but are still able to slip on demand,” he notes. Crystal’s tuning shop is trained to give your skis the best angle, or bevel, by sharpening skis using a belt, a file, or a state-of-the-art disc grinder.  

Base Grinding and Repair: Damaged ski bases, whether from lack of maintenance or from running over sharp objects (or, as we’ve seen, skiing over an asphalt parking lot to one’s car), can make your skis “grabby”, says Shepard. “By design, skis have a microscopic pattern in the base, made to channel water out from under the ski. Stone grinding reproduces this pattern, allowing your skis to glide over a thin film of water that forms as you slide.” Without this pattern, skis can develop “suction”, which will make them feel sluggish and stubborn. And who wants sluggish skis?

 So protect your investment. Get maximum slope mileage and enjoyment from that pair of boards. Check out our Crystal Tuning Center Wizards next to the Tickets and Rental area to see how it’s done. This season, we’ve even added a “Silver Tune” option to an adult lift ticket purchase at the ticket window, so if you’d like to tack on a tune-up to your ticket, it’s quick and easy to do. 

The Near Nordic Normal
Nancy Story - Saturday, December 26, 2015

 

 What if winter had no power? What would skiers do?

Cross country skiers have always lived off the grid.  Power is supplied by their own muscle; there’s never a power outage crisis other than sore muscles, perhaps. The more they can learn to harness that power, the more efficient they are on skis. 

So a slow-to-start winter like this one saps the on-snow power buildup to that stage where Nordic skiers can fly down the trails. But staunch northern Michiganders Nordic fans know this: if you rate your winters in accordance with the amount of natural snowfall, you’ll realize that this year’s snowflake tally is not so much the abnormal, but the nearly normal. Here at Crystal, our cross country groomer Kathloon keeps meticulous records of her tilling habits. Looking back over the last ten years of natural snowfall she’s recorded on the trails, our Nordic winters usually mimic a hair-raising roller coaster ride. Blizzards followed by rain, perfectly coiffed trails scorched by January days of 50 degrees, ten inches of fresh flakes melted by raindrop drama,  trails opening and closing to the tempo of a crazed thermometer, and late March tracks unmatched in quality white corduroy – this is the stuff of which our Midwestern winters are made.  (And then there was that epic 235-inch  2013/14 season, where snow settled so deep in the woods that the only way to ski it  was on packed or groomed pathways.  If you went off piste, there was always the danger of falling into a tree well). 

Sure, it’s dry outside at this writing. Yet last year’s Christmas holiday period also reflected bare ground, followed by a foot of fluff  in early January, and a pretty great February.  So  hang in there, fans of skinny skis. Your time shall come. Kathloon shall groom.  And great news - Screaming Eagle/Eagle’s Revenge, has returned to our trail map after a year’s hiatus. It’s back on the map as “Eagle’s”, re-incorporating some of those daring downhills and cardiac climbs so favored by Crystal cross country regulars.  Ski you out there!

 

 

The BIG Question
Brian Lawson - Friday, November 27, 2015

The BIG Question

Update: December 28, 2015

Three Sweet Words

When eloquently strung together there are three words that can evoke a more powerful emotion than any others. Sure, ‘I love you’ is nice but for skiers and snowboarders those words are ‘Winter Storm Warning.’

Winter Storm Goliath is moving through late-Monday (December 28) into early-Tuesday (December 29) bringing with it snowmaking temps that actually allowed the snowguns to switch on Sunday night (December 27) and remain so through Monday. Overnight temps look good for continued snowmaking throughout the week with the word ‘snow’ making an almost daily appearance in the forecast.  What does it all mean?

Here’s the plan: After fortifying our existing skiable terrain, the might and power of our snowmaking system (which can pile up one foot of snow over 2.3 acres in one hour) will be focused on Buck, the trail from the top of Buck down through Giggles, the spine from the Crystal Clipper to North Face, the North Face and the return trail from North Face. The temperature will determine the timeline for opening new trails so we’ll keep you posted (keep checking here and the snow report).  At the time of this post (insert time), the snowguns are still running and we’ll keep them running in order to open as much new terrain as quickly as possible.

It appears at long last that Mother Nature has made her New Year’s Resolution and she is resolved to ski and snowboard more trails! Our crews are hard at work helping her see that resolution through.  Let it Snow!


Update, Thursday, December 17

For Those About to Rock, We Salute You!

Crystal Mountain’s snowmaking crew is ready to rock and it would appear they’re about to do just that for the next few days. Temperatures are predicted to dip back down into the 20s tonight and, depending on which forecast you believe, stay there through Saturday. Under ideal conditions, our snowmaking system has the capacity to cover the entire mountain in a foot of snow in 45 hours. If the current forecast holds and especially if those temps trend downward, we’re optimistic we’ll be making turns this weekend and then every day that weather permits moving forward. Stay tuned for more details over the next 24-72 hours!

Update: Thursday, December 3, 2015

Something to ‘Cheer’ about: Open on Saturday!

The Groomers climbed Cheers to assess the snow on Wednesday night and the news is good. Crystal Mountain will open Cheers and the Cheers lift on Saturday, December 5 from 10am-4pm for skiing and snowboarding. It is the season of giving so bring three (3) non-perishable food items or a gently used winter coat to donate and your lift ticket is FREE (otherwise, lift tickets will be $15 at the window)! Donations will benefit to the Benzie Area Christian Neighbors Food Pantry.

Carpe Ski'em (Seize the Snow)! The current 10-day forecast does not appear to provide too many snowmaking opportunities. Given Saturday’s forecasted temps, we will assess conditions on Cheers at the end of the day and determine whether or not to reopen on Sunday. Stay tuned to the snow report for the very latest updates.  

Update: Wednesday, December 2, 2015


Don’t Stop Believin'!

On Wednesday morning Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” is blaring over the Crystal Clipper loudspeakers as the snow made on Cheers over this past weekend attempts to stand its ground in defiance of the weather. Tonight as the temperature drops near freezing the groomers will climb Cheers to assess the snow and the possibility of a weekend opening.

However, Mother Nature remains reluctant to let temps slip below 28 degrees for snowmaking this week while continuing to threaten with the type of precipitation that we dare not speak its name. Snowmaking crews remain poised to go to work and earnest in their efforts but we are still in a ‘wait-and-see’ mode so please stay tuned.


November 27 is a perfect example that just because it's cold enough to snow doesn't necessarily mean it's cold enough to make it. Rest assured that the moment temps dip 28 or below, we will flip the switch!

As I punch away at the keyboard, my skis sit just a few feet away, taunting, asking the question. It’s the same one from Facebook. The same question comes from the snowmakers, the shop techs, the instructors, from everyone. When?

That question is preceded by another laced with a fervor and frustration that could only be born from a passion for snow. Why!? Mother Nature, why have you forsaken us!? We tip our cap and reluctantly swallow the envy for our friends to the north who are benefiting from the same meteorological whims that with a slight change in temperature could mean piles of snow on Buck, Cheers and North Face. Nonetheless, our snowmakers ask why!? Why is it 24-degrees at the base of the Clipper and 33-degrees at the top of Main Street!? Why can't it drop just a few more degrees and stay put? With arms out-reached to the heavens we ask WHY!? (Okay, that might be a bit of an over-dramatization)

It’s not personal. Mother Nature doesn’t work that way. If she did we would hire her on retainer for early opens and frequent powder days. She always comes around eventually and when she does we’ll be ready with a snowmaking system that can put a foot of snow on the entire Mountain in 45 hours – under ideal conditions. Our crew is at the ready for the moment temps drop below a magic 28-degrees and won’t quit until we open the first trail and the other 57 to follow.

Which brings us back to the original question: When? Unfortunately, we won’t be able to open the trails this weekend but beginning Friday night (November 27) we’re seeing some windows for snowmaking through the weekend and hoping to see a slight downward trend in temperatures for next week. We’ll continue updating to this blog post with latest on our work and progress. We’ll try to get you on a lift as soon as possible. Stay tuned and in the meantime, do a snow dance, it couldn’t hurt.