What to expect this season

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Downhill ski resorts in the South Bend area fire their snow cannons when freezing temperatures, along with good humidity levels, permit. They had made significant piles of snow over a week ago, which shrunk under the heat wave.

The guns started blowing snow again last weekend. It may or may not be very white in your yard by the time the nearby resorts open for the season. So, as we take a look at if this happens during the holidays, here are some changes to expect.

Swiss Valley

New cushions will welcome your butt on the chairlift to the top of Triple – ahem, do that Mountain Do – this winter at the Swiss Valley Ski & Snowboard Area in Jones.

New paints, lights and other improvements are coming to Swiss slopes this season with more memorable names for the ski slopes, so dubbed in a social media name contest. One of the most significant changes, however, is hidden underground and won’t pay off – i.e. more snowmaking capabilities – until we see a couple of ski seasons that generate snowballs. additional income as we saw during the pandemic.

Jamie Stafne, who oversees operations, says the 2020-21 season has turned out to be the best in Switzerland’s 52-year history in terms of visitor numbers and cash flow. The good snow-making weather and the pandemic had driven traffic to parks and resorts like no other year.

See last year’s improvements:Ski season brings improvements and plans for virus-free air in Swiss Valley

This season’s Swiss Valley ski pass sales are on the rise. And, as of last week, bookings were already coming in for ski and snowboard lessons while registrations for the junior development team (5-14 years old) were at their highest level in five years, Stafne says.

For her, it’s as if last year’s business boom will continue, adding, “We’re going to introduce people to the sport again.”

Swiss has reinvested its improved earnings back into a maintenance backlog, Stafne says. Contractors replaced 1,500 feet of old water pipes in the valley, burying larger pipes that will provide more volume and pressure, she says. You won’t see the benefits this year. Swiss uses the same fleet of snow cannons, many of which were reconditioned last year. But, in the years to come, Stafne adds, the wider lines will support an extension and added snow cannons that are on the long-term wishlist.

Staff at the Swiss Valley Ski and Snowboard Resort in Jones use snow cannons during a recent spate of cold temperatures.  Most of the guns were reconditioned last year, and a new underground water line will allow more guns to be added in the future.

Last season, the new guns and renewed effort – with less time spent on repairs – seemed to pay off in snow conditions that earned rave reviews late in the season. A PistonBully 400 groomer, acquired at the end of last season, allows you to grind deeper in icy snow and create a more even surface.

The snow park will see some additional features.

Two of the chairlifts and their towers were repainted. More black, you will find the same gray paint color that was used at Vail Ski Resort in Colorado on the ski lifts along the first intermediate trails, now known as Swiss Miss and Sandy’s Dandy, and on the ski lifts for the most advanced track, now called Trois Sœurs. The gray color lasts longer, says Stafne.

The ski lift cabins have also been repainted.

Some of the old lights on the tracks have been replaced with LED lights, as needed, she says. Swiss ultimately hopes to switch to all LED lights because it is possible.

The popular “Skibanas,” a pandemic creation with enclosed outdoor tents, seats and heaters, will return for group rentals ($ 100 per day), although Stafne says it will likely be in January. Outdoor picnic tables, lighting, and take out will also be optional back.

Inside, carpeting has been replaced in the chalet restaurant and bar, in the hallways and in a party room on the lower level of the lodge.

Wednesday’s races have been expanded to a family league rather than just for adults.

Need a job? Swiss needs workers in all areas of the operation, from catering servers to ski lift operators and snow cannons. But Stafne says ski instructors are “desperately” needed – if you’re an experienced skier, she notes, “We can teach you how to teach.

Or: Swiss Valley is at 13421 Mann St., Jones; skiswissvalley.com; 269-244-8016. Online reservations possible.

Snow cannons at the Swiss Valley Ski and Snowboard Resort in Jones add snow to the slopes during the recent cold snap.  Most firearms were reconditioned last year, and a new groundwater line installed this year will allow more firearms to be added in the years to come.

Wood crest

The Timber Ridge Ski Area in Gobles, Michigan, near Kalamazoo, is entering its 60th year with several expansions. The managers who oversee Timber Ridge and Swiss Valley have seen themselves as “sisters of skiing” since their fathers created similar-sized family resorts decades ago – fathers who are also old buddies.

General manager Amy Schrab, whose father is Gordon Rantz, said that Timber Ridge’s very first double black diamond track, called Gord’s Gnarley, will feature bumps when it splits to the side of the track named Hemlock. In addition, a short steep ski trail, dubbed Fox, has been carved through a wooded slope, making it a black diamond.

Harry’s Hollow is an intermediate trail that has not been used for quite some time because it was difficult to cover it with snow, now solved with new portable snow cannons. It has always been a daytime race, but Schrab says the lighting is provided after New Years so it can be skied at night as well.

Timber Ridge also has its very first treadmills for rabbit slope skiers and riders on tubes instead of tow ropes. Just get on and ride like these belts at the airport. It’s a lot easier than battling the tow ropes scratching the gloves, but it’s also expensive. Schrab says the heavy winter activity last year made the investment possible.

A treadmill, similar to the one at Bittersweet Ski Resort, will transport rabbit and tube runners this season to Timber Ridge Ski Resort near Kalamazoo.

A conveyor belt will transport the skiers on Pine. Meanwhile, Schrab says the tow cables themselves have been moved up the hill, making it a more beginner-friendly way to reach the four-seater (quadruple) chairlift than taking the three-seater chairlift.

You can also do more runs on tube hill, thanks to a second treadmill (maybe faster than walking) but also because the tube hill has changed from three to six lanes. The slope has been widened slightly, but a new groomer allows staff to line up in more lanes.

In total, Timber Ridge replaced five of its portable snow cannons this year, in addition to four new portable snow cannons and two tower snow cannons last year. All of them can produce snow in warmer, more humid air than older equipment, helping the resort maintain the snow base in rough weather.

We’ll be staying tuned for a ’60s party’ to mark the 60th season, possibly at the end of February.

Or: Timber Ridge is located off County Road 388 / D Avenue in Gobles, just west of US 131; woodridgeski.com; 269-694-9449. No online reservation possible.

COVID protocols

COVID protocols are different from last season’s mask-everywhere policy at Michigan ski resorts.

The exteriors no longer require masks. Inside, however, be aware that there are variations at each station, says Mickey MacWilliams, executive director of the Michigan Snowsports Industries Association. Check each station’s website before you go.

“Some require masks for staff and even proof of vaccination for meals,” adds MacWilliams. “Many ski areas recommend the prior purchase of lift tickets and equipment rental. The demand for rental equipment was very high last year, and it’s good to have yours ready in advance. Some ski areas ran out of rentals on busy days last winter.

See protocols from last season:How we adapt to the new comfort zone and masks on the ski slopes and trails of Michiana

Online in this column, I refer to an overview MSIA wrote on COVID policies that has links to the various resorts.

Inside Swiss Valley, Stafne says, masks are mandatory if you’re not vaccinated, and they’re optional if you’re vaccinated. But masks are not necessary if you are consuming something in a dining room or bar. That could all change, Stafne adds, if health officials change their recommendations.

Inside Timber Ridge, Schrab says there are no protocols. You choose whether you should hide or not.

Additional

Hiking in the dunes: A naturalist will lead a hike at 10:00 a.m. CST on December 26 in Indiana Dunes State Park to explore the tallest dune, Mount Tom.

Follow Outdoor Adventures columnist Joseph Dits on Facebook at SBTOutdoorAdventures. Contact him at 574-235-6158 or jdits@sbtinfo.com.

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