Mountain Blog

Keep Your Skinny Skis On
Nancy Story - Monday, March 25, 2013


  Late March is wearing a January face on our cross country trails. You have to ski it to believe it. It’s as if the calendar is eyeing the temperature and thinking, “I’ll fool ‘em and hold onto this. It’s too pretty to melt.”  

Here in the outback on the other side of the mountain, where our 40 kilometer Nordic trail network winds through woods, drops down hills and climbs up ridges, it’s eerily quiet as I set out on a late afternoon ski.  Once past the first stretch of Stag Hollow, I have first diagonal glide on freshly groomed tracks. The smooth skating lanes of powertilled corduroy are unmarked. A few brittle leaves skitter on the trail surface, some drifting down on the track and startling my glide as I move along. (“Those damn leaves!” I can hear John Capper’s voice in my head. John, now deceased, was the original designer of Crystal’s trails and inveterate curser of  dead leaves on tracks.)

I cut up the corduroy with herringbone chops as I attack the cardiac climbs of Eagle’s Revenge. Someone’s been ahead of me; there are other tracks gripping the steeps on my ascent.  I stop and whistle and call – friends have said they would be out here on this late afternoon. But the whistle just echoes off the cold walls of the hills, and it feels a little silly to punctuate the outdoor peace.  Cresting the very top of Eagle’s, the forested silence is broken by the holler and chatter of Alpine skiers nearby, the clatter of lifts and general gravity slave noise as skiers and riders, separated from the Nordic trail by a thicket of trees, head  over to the North Face. I fly down Eagle’s Revenge, the steepest thrill on premise bar none, and am swept back into the quiet. Nary another Nordic soul in sight. It’s just another afternoon alone in the outback, in the solitudinal silence of cross country.

So often, cross country skiers hang up the cross country skis by mid-March. This year, we may be on the tracks long after Alpine has gone down for a nap.  Deep snows,  meticulous grooming by the best groomer on the planet (Kathy Maginity), and layers of crust underneath the surface snow bode well for striding into the depths of spring.  Keep your Nordic skis on!

Race Training for Kids
Nancy Story - Sunday, March 17, 2013



Snowsports School open race clinic director Chris Fisher is an experienced coach and racer who offers these observations on the value of race training for young skiers.

As a professional ski coach, instructor, and father, I have had the opportunity to teach skiing to a broad spectrum of age groups and talent levels.  One of my favorite activities is working with kids.  Children are like blank canvases and are full of energy and free of fear, especially fear of failure.  Due to their eagerness and joy, children typically learn faster than adults.  Their learning curves are steeper.  Typically, a natural progression in a young skier’s life would be for him or her to consider racing.  I strongly encourage any young skiers who are passionate about the sport to try race training.  Even if the child never enters a race, the skills the young skier garners will help him or her become a better skier and athlete in general.

In my younger race groups, I often coach kids who have never raced or trained in gates before.  The best thing about this scenario is that because of their “newness,” they have no bad habits.  New movements and ideas are assimilated quickly and become second-nature.
               I have been asked by adults if it is a good idea to get children into racing at ages as young as five or six.  My response is always, “Absolutely.”  No matter the amount of experience or ability, race training can always be beneficial.  My philosophy is that children need a wide variety of athletic experiences.  I think that in this day and age, too many children are forced into specialization and given labels far too soon.
               I have two sons, five and eight, and they wanted to play hockey starting at three years old.  My wife and I supported their wishes, knowing that any athletic pursuits at that age would help them develop in a wide variety of ways.  It was not until this winter that they both started to develop passions for skiing.  My oldest son has started training with my race club, and he loves it.  He is having a tough time deciding if he wants to ski race or play hockey next year.
               What is important about this anecdote is that my son is no different than most of the other kids his age whom I coach.  He enjoys the training because he gets to make new friends, be outside, go fast, and spend more time with me.  It is almost an afterthought that he is improving his skiing by leaps and bounds.  This is how it should be.
               Race training for children, especially those who love to ski in general, can be the perfect way to quickly improve the child’s skiing ability while giving him or her a venue in which to socialize, enjoy the outdoors, and have fun.  Give it a try!


As the Bullwheels Turn
Nancy Story - Tuesday, March 12, 2013


It’s late in the season. Temperatures change, conditions change, daylight changes – but one thing remains constant 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. Time goes by pretty much the same on both ends, whether they’re working the top or bottom. “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.”

The top and bottom lift ops change places every two hours. Over at Totem Park, the ops switch spots with the Loki quad operators every two hours. Crystal’s band of four lift supervisors and 30 lift operators is primarily a gang of guys, with just two females. Operator Willie Hanson is King of the Shack Pack, with 21 years behind his belt. Most ops tend to stay around for two to three seasons.  

As with every job, there can be challenges – like extreme weather conditions, hectic Saturday 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 cheery greetings, Crystal lift operators have to power to create an atmosphere of good cheer regardless of the weather or occasional loading/unloading mishap. 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.

One Last Sunset at the Mountain
Nancy Story - Tuesday, March 05, 2013

From alpine skis to brewskis, our former Vice-President of Sales and Marketing Rick Schmitt pens this farewell to the Mountain, as he leaves us to embark upon a new career at the helm of Stormcloud Brewing, opening in downtown Frankfort this summer.

As the cliché goes, on February 28th, I saddled up my horse and packed up the proverbial cardboard box of personal items, riding off in the sunset after 17 extraordinary years working for Crystal Mountain. While the cold winter evening did not deliver the idyllic golden ray expanse that we have grown to covet, the sunset of my memories at the Mountain could not be shaded with the Midwestern grey sky. Indeed, driving away with boxes full of memories in the back seat was truly bittersweet. Not only has Crystal “grown up” over my tenure, I had grown as well.

With admiration and apologies to Travel Michigan and Tim Allen for the comparison, the Pure Michigan commercial 25,000 Mornings came to mind as I departed the resort, in that I was reminiscent of the 6000 plus Evenings I had experienced at Crystal over the years. For those not familiar with the Pure Michigan commercial, I encourage you to view it online. In my opinion, it’s the best in the award winning series. Tim Allen speaks movingly about how many Mornings we get in our lives (turns out about 25,000 on average), and how we spend them in traffic and on treadmills. Allen continues to voice over incredible images of our beautiful state to compliment his words - that if we are lucky, really lucky, we get a few mornings that are Pure Michigan. If true, which I believe it is, I am the luckiest man in the world.

As a transplant from Colorado, I can say without hesitation that living, working and raising a family in Northern Michigan is truly a dream, and one I would not change for anything in the world. It has been a privilege and an honor to have called Crystal Mountain my professional home for so many years. While the sun has set for the last time at the Mountain for me personally, I take away  many Pure Michigan memories which I hope future generations can also share.