The 2020/2021 winter season brings improvements and changes to Mt. Holiday, a Northern Michigan ski hill, many to keep guests and staff safe in the era of COVID-19. We check in with Executive Director Nate Noyes.
Last season was cut short due to COVID. What have the past several months been like?
The last seven months have been difficult due to the uncertainty of what lies ahead. We had an abrupt end to the ski season, but thankfully we were already in March so the impact to our seasonal revenue and guest experience was minimal. Financially speaking, the hardship came when we were unable to operate our restaurant or zip line and most of all, host our annual Mud, Sweat & Beers mountain bike race (which is our most profitable fundraiser of the year).
How are you feeling about the 2020/2021 season in 3 words?
Excited, thankful, concerned.
Is there anything new this season you’re excited about? (Equipment, dining options, instructors, etc.)
We’ve got quite a bit to be excited about at Mt. Holiday. First and foremost is the incredible vibe of this community! I’ve never experienced such a positive feel for those who call Mt. Holiday their winter home. Kids, parents, neighbors, local businesses, sponsors and supporters have all come together to keep this 70-year-old gem alive and thriving. As far as improvements go, we’ve been very resourceful with the limited funds and resources available. We’ve added a new back patio to our lodge (thanks to a grant from the Biederman Foundation) that doubles our outside seating capacity and we have simplified our interior décor to capture the rustic charm of a traditional Northern Michigan lodge. Through in-kind donations from Modal LLC, we’ve expanded our parking lot and increased our tubing hill capacity by finishing up the installation of a second tubing lift.
Find out what’s new at Boyne Mountain, Caberfae Peaks, Crystal Mountain, Shanty Creek, The Homestead and Nub’s Nob: New at Northern Michigan Ski Resorts + COVID-19 Safety
Have Northern Michigan ski resorts been working together to make this season a success, or even with resorts nationwide?
The larger ski areas in Northern Michigan have always been great “big brothers” to Mt. Holiday and this year has been no different. Crystal Mountain donated some terrain park features, Nubs Nob donated an auxiliary lift motor for our Yellow Lift, Shanty Creek gave us nozzles for our snow guns and Boyne Resorts offered snowmaking support for the coming season. Mt. Holiday is a “feeder” hill to these large resorts and their generous assistance is greatly appreciated!
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?
The food and beverage industry has been hammered by this pandemic and Mt. Holiday’s T-Bar Lounge is constantly adapting to stay compliant as well as profitable. Our busy season lies ahead and like everyone else, we will be operating at half our normal seating capacity. To keep things simple, we now only provide the exact amount of seats for that half capacity criteria. When those seats are full, we will politely ask our guests to wait outside until there is seating available. Warming up throughout the day with a drink is as much a part of skiing as putting on your skis. The new patio previously mentioned will be great for getting folks outside and away from one another. BATA (Bay Area Transit Authority) recently loaned us a dozen beautiful Adirondack chairs for the winter that will be dispersed around our property to create cozy places for families to relax and enjoy the day.
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.
Has there been a silver lining, cool idea, lesson—something positive that can be taken from this incredibly difficult time?
Necessity is the mother of all inventions and we’ve used this pandemic as an opportunity to rethink our procedures to be more efficient. Online ski tickets and tubing reservations will significantly reduce inside congestion and will improve the guest experience. Food that can be quickly purchased and consumed outside will also be a permanent change.
Is there anything else you want to share with our readers?
Mt. Holiday is proud to be one of the last nonprofit ski hills in the entire United States! We are driven by principles, not stockholders. We measure success by the programs we deliver, not by the revenue we generate. We are dedicated to the kids, not the cash. Recently, I’ve been receiving calls from folks asking if Mt. Holiday will be able to open this coming winter. The questions are justified for obvious reasons—2020 has been an exceptionally difficult year for everyone, especially fragile small businesses and nonprofits. The answer is simple—YES, Mt. Holiday will open!
For the last six years, Mt. Holiday has worked hard toward the goal of being self-sustaining from an operational standpoint. For the most part, with budgeting, management controls and having large events, like Mud Sweat, and Beers, and Dinner in the Hills, Mt. Holiday has been able to pay the bills, repair old equipment and keep the place running at a price affordable to families of all financial means. However, Holiday’s operations cannot support upgrading the aging infrastructure. It has only been through fundraising efforts that Holiday has been able to get a new groomer, install Tucker’s Tow, upgrade the tubing run and build a mile-long zip line course.
The Board of Mt. Holiday has been working through a list of immediate needs and long term goals to address the aging infrastructure while also trying to generate more revenue for the hill. Last year, Mt. Holiday was finally in a position where it could start looking toward the long term goals of snowmaking infrastructure, lifts and lodge upgrades. The Board started with improving the snowmaking infrastructure as the most immediate need.
Then Covid hit.
The biggest cost Holiday will have this year is opening the hill. This is mainly due to outdoor operations costs, specifically the labor and resources associated with snowmaking and grooming (we have to spend quite a bit of money before we produce any revenue). Once open, the winter season provides about two-thirds the annual revenue for Mt. Holiday. Because snowmaking is a variable cost, there is some control over it however, we are always at the mercy of Mother Nature.
That is how the Board knows Mt. Holiday can open; we have been here before. The real question is: When do we open and what is that going to look like? Every ski hill in Michigan has to make snow, but some years it’s easier than others (last year it was impossible because of warm temperatures during the Christmas break). It’s important for our guests to know that Holiday’s snowmaking infrastructure cannot “blow” one entire hill at a time; it has to be blown in patchwork piles and then spread across with a groomer. Even if Holiday had 30 new guns, it lacks adequate electrical connections, water supply and pumping ability to run them simultaneously. Currently, our snow gun zones only allow for three to five guns to blow in one area of the hill at a time. This has been Holiday’s challenge for decades and will continue to be until we improve its infrastructure. The good news is we have already started. The bad news, it’s expensive and we have a long way to go.
The Board, executive team and staff will open Mt. Holiday to the best of our abilities! We are committed to this community and we recognize the importance this hill has on families and children in our area. Please join in our efforts of not only keeping Mt. Holiday open this season but also for generations to come.