It was just a quiet send-off. After 40 years, Michael Call put in his final day at Crystal Mountain last month. He slipped out the side door of the outdoor maintenance shop - that small, unremarkable brown pole building tucked behind some evergreens at the edge of the day skier parking lot. Most people don’t notice it, nor do they have any idea of what happens there. But it’s really a remarkable place.
It’s where the nuts and bolts of this place are put together and greased to make anything and everything outdoors operates. Wipe out that building and that crew, and there would be no mountain - but no one knows that. These are not the front liners, these snowmakers and lift mechanics and groomers and utilities overseers. They are not the ones you see greeting guests, going to meetings, making appointments. They wear Carhartts, not dress shirts, and will likely never be seen by our guests.
As the now former vice-president of mountain operations, Michael was the lynchpin of outdoor maintenance. You might say he went from setting up snow guns to becoming top gun. From moving snow to moving dirt, Michael’s been overseer on most of the physical changes that have taken place at Crystal over the last four decades.
Yet forty years at Crystal wasn’t Michael’s original plan. After graduating from the University of Michigan and returning home to Benzie County, where his folks had a fruit orchard, his plan was to work at the local ski area for just one winter. He applied to be a snowmaker.
Local entrepreneur George Petritz, he of the frozen fruit pie fame, had taken over the reins of Crystal in the late 60s – ostensibly, just to help put the local ski hill back on financial track, and then sell the place. “But I grew to like it,” Petritz once said. “So I stuck around”. He hired Michael to make snow for the winter of 1974-75 – and Michael, like George, grew to like the place. So he too, stuck around. When a gal named Nancy Mullen joined the Crystal Mountain staff as the first member of the area’s inaugural marketing department, Michael took note. And then he took interest. Two years later, the couple married, thus beginning the saga of the Calls, who together helped craft the foundation for what is today Crystal Mountain.
The decades don’t reflect the untold hours Michael spent shaping the place. Building lifts, expanding snowmaking, cutting new trails, upgrading everything underground and over ground all moved from ideas into action by Michael and his crew. Call’s four children – two boys and twin girls – grew up on the mountain, with both parents working here. Nancy moved from marketing into Crystal’s real estate office, the Call kids moved off to college and life beyond school, and Michael continued to toil at Crystal…..until now.
A quiet send-off. No marching bands or dancing girls. Fifteen people were on hand in the outdoor maintenance shop to bid an unofficial farewell. Of those 15, each had an average of 26 years of Crystal Mountain experience, meaning there was over 400 years of service to Crystal Mountain milling around the shop that day. The guy with the most mileage on these hills, though, is moving on from grounds to grapes, from winters to wines. Yep, he’s started a vineyard on the same acreage where his family’s orchards once grew. It’s an appropriate transition of sorts, aging together with fine wine.
Thank you for forty years, Mr. Call.