Traverse City News and Events

State Of The Hill: Mt. Holiday 'Better Positioned Than We've Been In Quite Some Time' Ahead Of 2023/24 Ski Season

By Craig Manning | Nov. 5, 2023

Northern Michigan got its first dusting of snow earlier this week, which for many locals means just one thing: Ski season is finally within reach. One person who is especially ready for winter is Mt. Holiday Executive Director Jim Pearson, who says the ski hill is “better positioned this year than we’ve been in quite some time” for a busy, successful season. The Ticker sits down with Pearson for a “state of the hill” update, getting the latest on everything from Mt. Holiday’s old-but-mighty chairlifts to its impending ARPA projects.

Mt. Holiday’s two lifts – typically referred to as simply “the blue lift” and “the yellow lift” – are both more than 60 years old. The blue lift dates back to 1961, while the yellow lift was manufactured in 1959. In each case, upkeep has gotten more difficult over the years as parts have become harder to find. “They don’t make parts for the blue chairlift at all anymore,” Pearson says.

Just like a classic car, though, Mt. Holiday’s chairlifts can be given new life by components from other same-model lifts at other ski resorts. Such was the case this year, when Mt. Holiday connected with a company out of New Hampshire called Sky Trans, which had recently helped a ski resort out west decommission a chairlift. Mt. Holiday bought the equipment and brought it to Traverse City. As a result, Pearson says the blue lift was “completely reconditioned this year.”

“We stripped it down to the bare metal, primed and painted everything, put a new haul rope on, new bullwheels on the top and bottom, new assemblies, new sheaves and liners – those are basically what the rope rides on – new motor,” Pearson says. Those projects took all summer and involved a small army’s worth of volunteers and professional reinforcements. All the work should mean a more reliable chairlift this year, and perhaps a faster one. “I know that blue has been pretty slow lately,” Pearson laughs.

The yellow chairlift, which has been the less reliable of the two in recent seasons, also got some TLC. Pearson notes that the lift “ran a little bit last year,” but describes the machine as “a tricky beast."

“We put a lot of work in this summer to try to figure out what those bugs were, and we think we’ve got the lift to a point where it should be up and running more consistently this season,” Pearson says. “And we're looking forward to that, because people love the terrain on that side of the hill, and we can do a lot with it when the yellow lift works. We’ve even talked about potentially making it a ski racing arena. Multiple ski teams have expressed interest and would really love to do their practices over there, and I sure would like to accommodate them. So, that's my goal this year.”

Sky Trans also happens to have a yellow lift available that's just like the one at Mt. Holiday, and Pearson is eyeing it as a potential purchase as he looks ahead to summer 2024. “If all the stars align and we raise the funds, we’d like to give the yellow lift the same treatment as the blue lift got this summer, and replace the top and bottom assemblies,” he says.

That project would also likely involve re-painting the yellow lift to bring it more in line with Mt. Holiday’s modern branding: “Our colors are blue and orange, so we’d paint the lift orange and call it the orange lift going forward.”

Beyond work on the lifts, Mt. Holiday is in the midst of numerous other improvements, both around the ski hill itself and for its lodge and bar/restaurant area. On the hill, crews have been replacing old lighting with more efficient LED lights – a switch Pearson says will save the organization big on annual power costs. This season, roughly 50 percent of the hill will have new lighting.

Holiday has also reconditioned and refurbished all 12 of its snow guns, which Pearson is hopeful will lead to more reliability and capacity on the snowmaking front.

The lodge, meanwhile, is getting a bit of a makeover, including new carpeting inside for the first time since 2006 and a brand-new concept in the works for the front of the property.

“We’re tearing out the garden at the front of the lodge, and would really like to start a beer garden out there in the spring,” Pearson tells The Ticker. “Hopefully, the liquor board will work with me on that and allow me to have alcohol out there. The idea really is to light up the front of the lodge and let people know that we’re open, because sometimes, it’s hard to tell.”

If the beer garden does happen next spring, it will be part of perhaps the busiest off-season in Mt. Holiday’s history. Earlier this year, Mt. Holiday received ARPA funding from Grand Traverse County to sketch out a “three-part critical infrastructure plan,” which includes a total revamp of the ski hill’s well system, drainage capabilities, and overall snowmaking operations. The organization is in the midst of a $4 million capital campaign to raise the funds for that sprawling project, with about a quarter of the money secured so far.

The plan is to kick off those projects as soon as the snow melts, to make sure all work can be finished in time for the 2024/25 ski season. In that spirit, Mt. Holiday spent much of this summer working with project partners at Gosling Czubak and Team Elmer’s, coming up with solutions for handling stormwater runoff, managing the retention pond that feeds the hill’s snowmaking system, mitigating flooding on certain parts of the property, and more. After hitting a few hurdles and dead-ends in the process, Pearson is confident that everything is finally ready to roll.

“Come spring, we will be shovel-ready,” he says. “We have a solid plan, we have everybody on board, and as soon as we are allowed to start digging and start moving around, we’ll get things moving.”

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