Traverse City Record-Eagle

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March 5, 2014

Hickory Hills season extended — at a cost

TRAVERSE CITY — City officials reversed course and will extend Hickory Hills Ski Area’s season by two weeks.

The bonus slopes time is expected to cost taxpayers about $10,000.

The city-owned ski hill normally would close for the season on Sunday. City Manager Jered Ottenwess surprised some city commissioners when he told them on Monday the city would not be able to extend the season despite the persistent snow and cold.

But Ottenwess reversed course on Tuesday.

“I had concerns how we were going to cover staff with using temporary employees,” Ottenwess said. “But we were getting more feedback from people and commissioners so we decided to extend the season.”

Ottenwess said he received about a dozen contacts over the weekend about extending the season. Officials from the Department of Public Works — who operate the ski hill — received even more.

City Commissioner Tim Werner’s children use the ski hill and Werner said he went from disappointed on Monday to grateful on Tuesday.

“I think it’s a good move with everything going on with developing the Hickory Hills master plan, so it seems like a positive move for me,” Werner said. “I certainly hope people take advantage of it.”

Seasonal extensions historically lose a lot of money, said Lauren Vaughn, the city’s parks and recreation superintendent.

“This year may be different because we have good snow now ... but I’d be surprised if we recover half the $10,000,” Vaughn said. “I hope I’m wrong.”

City taxpayers historically contribute about $100,000 a year to operate the ski hill and this year the deep and consistent snow failed to improve the bottom line. The park hosted about 500 more skiers and snowboarders compared to last winter, but revenue is down about $2,500.

Vaughn said he believes the harsh cold kept day-trippers at home, but season-pass users frequently showed up to take a few runs down the hill.

Vaughn said he hopes warmer temperatures, combined with the deep snow base, will attract more skiers over the next three weeks.

 

 

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