Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

June 11, 2014

Editorial: Hickory Hills report offers way forward

It was good for city taxpayers to hear that the Hickory Hills ski area isn’t losing money because of poor management.

But that may have been the only really good news from a report by a ski resort expert on what the city can do to stop the financial bleeding at Hickory Hills and establish a more secure future.

Consultant Adam Portz said the fact that Hickory Hills is losing “only” $80,000 a year is “awesome” compared to most small government-owned ski hills.

Obviously, that’s all relative — and small solace.

Awesome or not, $80,000 a year is more than the city would reasonably want to spend to underwrite Hickory Hills on a long-term basis.

While Portz had some ideas on how the city can create new revenue streams for the ski area, none of them are cheap or sure things.

His report calls for an improved or new lodge, wider ski runs and more cross country trails and summer activities to increase use and revenue.

The report said the existing lodge is too small, with limited food concessions and no apparel sales or ski rentals.

While clothing sales and rentals make up a lot of the income larger resorts depend on, selling apparel is likely not a winner. But ski and snowboard rentals could help bring in both revenue and new skiers, which is likely Hickory Hills’ ultimate salvation.

More users, particularly from surrounding communities (they pay a higher daily rate to ski than city residents) seems a must.

A master plan based on the report calls for an overall investment of $4.3 million to $5.3 million, including $1.4 million to $1.85 million for a new lodge.

But the plan also includes less-expensive improvements that, incrementally, could turn things around.

They include:

n Adding a sledding and tubing hill and an expanded terrain park to lure younger skiers and snowboarders;

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