By Tim Jagielo
Groveland Twp. — On Thursday, Jan. 2, you wouldn’t know that just five days prior a major rain event washed 12 inches of snow from Mt. Holly Ski and Snowboard Resort.
Thursday brought skiers and snowboarders enjoying the different slopes in 37-degree weather.
It’s no secret that snow conditions can change quickly at Mt. Holly. After General Manager Mark Tibbitts dealt with the rain event, Mother Nature turned around and provided snow. November blanketed the area with snow but December provided mostly rain.
This unpredictability is the “new normal” for ski resorts in Michigan. “Most ski areas have risen to the occasion,” Tibbitts said. “If we were required to rely on Mother Nature strictly, we wouldn’t be in business.”
While sometimes there’s no snow in your backyard, there will practically always be snow on Michigan ski resorts, which Tibbitts said have been relying on some form of snow making since the early 1980s.
He said 20 years ago, resorts wouldn’t even be open in this weather. His resort was built with a snow making system in 1956 and it’s been added to and upgraded through the years to increase capacity and cover every bit of the hills with a base layer of snow.
Snowmaking for 12 hours can cost $5,000. Mt. Holly’s snow is often created by the 152 snow guns drawing from a reservoir of two wells on site. They can push 5,500 gallons uphill per minute.
Ideally, they’d be making snow at 28 degrees, but can make it at anything under freezing in low humidity. At the end of the season the snow melts and returns to the aquifer.
These “guns” are large drums equipped with a fan to turn water into vapor as it’s pumped into the air. It crystallizes and falls to the ground as “snow.” According to the Mountain News Corporation, it’s a different particle than natural snow.
Tibbitts said warmer weather yields faster, more granular snow. Above 45 degrees, snow starts to offer a slower ski experience.
“Last week we skied when it was 61 (degrees) and it was wonderful,” he said, adding that air temperature is more about comfort level and layers of clothing. “Skiing at warmer temperatures can be just as enjoyable.”
Weather is one factor that is unpredictable. Another changing trend is vacation patterns. Today, there are fewer salaried workers who have an entire week off, meaning it can be less busy during this holiday vacation period.
The maximum capacity for Mt. Holly is approximately 3,500 skiers per day. The first week of January will draw approximately 2,000 to the hills on a busier day.