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The 2020/2021 winter season brings improvements and changes to Nub’s Nob Ski Area in Northern Michigan, many to keep guests and staff safe in the era of COVID-19. We check in with General Manager Ben Doornbos.

How are you feeling about the 2020/2021 season in 3 words?

Ready to ski.

Is there anything new this season you’re excited about? (Equipment, dining options, instructors, etc.)

Lots of things to be excited about this winter. The first thing is the expanded Winter Garden deck with a fire pit and outdoor food venue. Other highlights include a slope-side pick-up window, expanded terrain on Valley and many updates to our website for contactless payment and a streamlined experience at Nub’s.

 

Have Northern Michigan ski resorts been working together to make this season a success, or even with resorts nationwide?

Yes! One of the best things to come out of this difficult time is a renewed kinship amongst ski area operators in the state. Michigan is fortunate to have a strong trade organization called the Michigan Snowsports Industry Association or MSIA. Through the MSIA, Michigan ski area operators and owners have been meeting once a week via Zoom calls since the spring. Our goal is that the ski experience in Michigan is similar from one resort to the next this winter. We recognize that it is in the skiers’ best interest to have similar protocols from one ski area to the next.

We are also lucky to have strong national leadership for ski areas with the National Ski Areas Association or NSAA. This group has put out a fantastic document entitled “Ski Well Be Well” that outlines responsible operations for ski areas amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The NSAA has also released signage for use that skiers and riders will see no matter what ski area they visit this season in North America.

Find out what’s new at Boyne Mountain, Caberfae Peaks, Crystal Mountain, Shanty Creek, The Homestead and Mt. Holiday: New at Northern Michigan Ski Resorts + COVID-19 Safety

Are there some best practices identified in the “Ski Well, Be Well” document that you’ll be following/asking visitors to follow? 

 

The “Ski Well Be Well” document is full of best practices for ski areas. The primary recommendation to slow the spread of coronavirus is the use of face masks. Ski areas across North America will be requiring mask use indoors, in lift lines and while riding the chairlift. There are many other best practices in this document, but I think it’s important to reinforce the primary way to staff on the slopes this winter is through the use of face masks. This should not be a burden for the skier or rider who typically already has a neck gaiter on.

Skiing/snowboarding is outdoors and can be socially distanced. It’s the après-ski activities at cafes and bars that could pose a problem. How are you addressing that?

Great question! Indoors we are opening every square inch of our Main Lodge and our Pintail Peak Lodge every day of the week and spacing tables and chairs out. We have removed our comfortable lounge chairs to maximize dining capacity with proper spacing between tables. However, on busy days I think we will reach capacity limits and it’s very possible that we will not be able to let everyone inside who wishes to come in during these busy periods.

Editor’s Note: On Sunday, November 15, restaurants in Michigan were temporarily closed for indoor dining for three weeks due to COVID-19. Outdoor dining, takeout and delivery are still available. These interviews, conducted before the restrictions were announced, do not reflect the latest rules. 

 

Outdoors we have nearly tripled the size of our Winter Garden adding picnic tables, a fire pit and an outdoor food and drink venue called the Winter Garden Cafe. In addition, we added a slope-side pick-up window off of the Pub. This window is for online food orders, so this season you can order curly fries and chili from the chairlift and pick it up outdoors on the bar deck.

Do you think you’ll see an increase in visitors this season or a decrease? Too soon to tell?

I believe we will see an increase in skiers this season. Our season pass sales are up and we know that this pandemic has ushered in a surge of interest in outdoor recreation. In the winter, outdoor recreation in Northern Michigan looks like snowmobiling, ice fishing, snowshoeing and skiing.

Has there been a silver lining, cool idea, lesson—something positive that can be taken from this incredibly difficult time? 

 

There are many silver linings for us operators and for the Michigan skier during this time. In many ways, the pandemic forced us to hit the accelerator on innovation at Nub’s Nob. This year, skiers and riders will be able to purchase most of our products online, they will have a better experience in the rental building, they will have more outdoor options for eating and drinking and most importantly we will all remember that this sport is really about one thing—getting outside and enjoying the snow with friends and family. These moments of crisis bring a sharp focus; my sincere prayer is that this winter’s focus is on what we have gained and not on what we have lost.

Is there anything else you want to share with our readers?

We can’t wait to see you on the slopes! We are training our staff on all the new regulations and we are confident that Nub’s Nob will run with professionalism and kindness despite the changes. We ask that you make this winter about one thing—enjoying the simple act of skiing and riding outdoors. If we all adjust our expectations, this could be a very special season that we will remember with fondness. If we can’t adjust our expectations, we are bound to be disappointed.

Let’s make it a great ski season at Nub’s Nob!

Photo(s) by Angela Brown