My goal with this article is to provide constructive feedback to the management and operations crew at Michigan’s Crystal Mountain. I’ve been a part of this community for my entire life and plan to remain faithful for decades to come. With that said, I’d like to take a moment to shed light on some areas needing improvement and to offer specific recommendations.
Let me start out by giving props to the grooming staff at Crystal (and really all resorts in the Midwest). We don’t have too many bluebird powder days, but we do have night skiing. With that comes the ability to ride after work or school, as well as the need to groom an entire resort within a 12-hour window. I read somewhere that grooming Buck alone takes 55 passes, and that’s just one of Crystal’s 50 runs.
I also understand that grooming Buck is probably a walk in the park compared to a terrain park. Even once the features are created, groomers have to carefully work on and around each feature, every single night. I don’t take any of this for granted and don’t want to add to the workload of these night crawlers. The following suggestions are focused on making the most out of what we have to work with.
As a kid from Traverse City, I grew up in Crystal’s terrain parks. Simply put, Michigan doesn’t get the 300+ inches of snowfall a year and for more days than not, conditions are sub-optimal. For Midwest shredders, there is only one place on the mountain that could offer thrills on these days. Cannonsburg, Nubs, and even Shanty Creek are recognizing that it pays to invest in park. In the early 2000s, Crystal always had a competitive park for the times, but the progress has really come to a standstill over the last five years. In their defense, they have been trying new things, but nothing has really seemed to work. Here are my thoughts on why.
Tuck’s Terrain Park has become the dedicated park run at Crystal. In the last few years, Crystal has created a short yet fun mini park on Main Street. They also have been attempting to use Basin Street (directly under the Clipper) as a park/pipe for numerous years now.
The problem with these hills is that you spend the majority of your run riding to/from the nearest lift. In Tuck’s park, you get a maximum of four hits before you have to start heading all the way back over to Buck chair. As this picture shows, it’s even worse under the Clipper. The pipe just didn’t work, and today’s rail yard doesn’t either. You drop down a super steep face where you’re just trying to shed speed for the first hit. Once you reach this point, the run is essentially flat all the way until the lodge. If you fall even once, your run is over. If you manage to stomp the three or four features, the remaining 2/3 of your run is still painfully mellow. My easy solution to this problem: tow ropes or T-bars. These are the cat’s ass of Midwest park riding and they’re popping up everywhere. Riders stay on their feet as they lap the park at least five times faster than if they had to ride a lift. This fairly minimal investment would prevent riders from wasting at least 50% of the hill like they do today. Anyone who’s ridden at Cannonsburg or Brighton knows how valuable this simple system can be.
The other option is finding a new hill altogether… Ideally, Cheers would be the perfect terrain park run. This hill is long, consistent, illuminated at night and front facing. It will also provide some serious entertainment while going up the rickety old Cheers lift and for people inside at the bar.
Cheers currently hosts Nastar races on a weekly basis and unfortunately, I doubt Crystal will ever consider moving this elsewhere. Maybe someone can find a new home for Nastar and make everyone happy? I will keep praying for this day to come.
As a side note, I always see the pipe dragon collecting rust in the parking lot. What if they used it to groom out a quarter pipe on Little Vincent? The shape is already there, with a little man-made snow a 10ft wall could take shape real quick. Food for thought.
Now, let’s talk trees. We all know that when we do get blessed with fresh snow, glade skiing is the jam! Last season, Crystal upgraded Buck chairlift and opened up a couple more runs on looker’s left. The crew spent tons of time thinning out trees and clearing out Buck’s Glades. This whole side of the mountain has a new feel and it really opened up lots of new terrain, truly a job well done. On this same note, there are a few other places on the mountain where glade skiing could be all-time. Again, I know forming these runs must be incredibly labor intensive, but it could seriously help make the most of the 375 feet of vertical that we’re blessed with.
Between Little Vincent and Basin Street there is a large patch of woods that never get used (lookers right of the Clipper). Riders in these trees could be seen from Crystal’s main lift, providing entertainment for all skill levels. Between Tuck’s park and Main Street, riders could catch a few glade turns while their friends hit park, reuniting at the bottom. Lastly, the area I feel has the most potential is looker’s left of the Ridge Lift, between Ridge and Dandy’s Delight. This huge section of trees has a perfect bowl shape and is already fairly thinned out. Keep some of the seasonal guys around for the summer and Crystal’s congested woods could really get a nice makeover.
One last thing, Jumps… We all remember the year when many Michigan resorts decided that tabletops were too dangerous and we were all punished with a season without some decent hang-time. Since then, virtually all resorts have gotten rid of this policy. It’s mid-season at Crystal Mountain and guess what they don’t have, jumps!!! I don’t know the reasoning behind this move, probably a discount on insurance, but I really hope they see how this affects the reputation of this resort. I know the focus at Crystal is for the ‘family’ experience. I get it; families will rent gear and buy lunch and maybe even stay slope side for the night. Hell, all resorts want to be family resorts, but as many mountains are learning, parks still play a huge role in a ‘family’ experience. For this, a quick quote from the management team at Nubs: “It’s like this, kids run the show, flat out. If the Davis’s, a family of five are going on a weekend trip and little Billy Davis loves to ride park, you best bet your money on papa Davis heading wherever Billy says. So if the Davis’s come to Nub’s so Billy can ride our parks, we’re actually pulling 5 unique ticket sales, not just the one little Billy would account for.”
And… that’s all I got for now. Please understand that I’m not trying to bash Crystal Mountain. This place made me who I am today and I only wish to help enhance the experience for generations to come. Feel free to add your thoughts and recommendations by commenting below. Maybe even take a moment to write something to your local resort?
Lastly, don’t get too caught up wishing you grew at the base of some mountain out west. We’re all fortunate to have whatever mountain or hill or landfill that we’re given. It’s what you do and whom you share it with that makes the experience something memorable.