THOMPSONVILLE (WWJ) — It’s been a crazy past few winters at Crystal Mountain Resort & Spa.
Jim MacInnes, president and CEO of the Benzie County ski area, golf course and conference complex, said that this winter, there’s been plenty of natural snow — an astounding 245 inches, more than 20 feet.
But just two years ago, he noted, it got up to 82 degrees in March, killing off the ski season (not to mention northern Michigan’s fruit crops when they budded early and died when temperatures fell to below 20 degrees in May).
Friday, MacInnes appeared with Brenda Archambo of the National Wildlife Federation, Eric Keller of Clean Water Action, and representatives of the Michigan Land Use Institute to talk over the effects of climate change on Michigan’s tourism industry.
“Obviously, it’s made our business more difficult,” MacInnes said. “I look at climate as rolling dice — you never know what numbers are going to come up. This year it’s come up very nicely for us in the Midwest. But out West ,it hasn’t been so nice. Some ski areas took a long time to open, others never opened at all.”
What appears to be happening, speakers said, is that a warming North Pole is reducing the power that drives the jet stream around the earth. “So because there’s less power it stalls and meanders,” MacInnes said. “And you never know where it’s going to stall or meander. It could stall someplace that leaves you really cold, or someplace that leaves you really warm. So we have less certainty and wider weather swings.”
MacInnes said that to counter less reliable lake effect snowfall, Crystal Mountain has “invested millions in snowmaking over the years, snow guns and pipes and pumps, so that in the short time we can make snow we can really make a lot.”
Crystal Mountain is also dependent on summer weather for its golf season, and to a lesser extent its conference business. “Conferences book well ahead of time and use inside resources,” MacInnes said. Crystal Mountain added a 33,000 square foot conference center in 1994, featuring one large room that seats about 425 theater style and another slightly smaller room that seats about 300.
The only problem for MacInnes and Crystal Mountain this year has been bitterly cold temperatures. No matter how good the snow is, MacInnes said, “when it gets really cold people don’t want to ski, just like they don’t want to golf in the summer if it’s too hot.”
The aim of Friday’s press conference, MacInnes said, “was to keep awareness high about the implications of climate change and how it could affect many different areas of the tourism industry. It sure affects how much money we have to spend.”
MacInnes said the resort has made several sustainability steps, including use of LED lighting, tighter insulation, and advanced heating and cooling systems — for example, using the warm air in an indoor pool area to heat other rooms. “We all need to be thinking about reducing our carbon footprint,” he said.