On top of the world

February 10, 2015

crystal mt - 9

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By Allison Scarbrough. Contributing Editor.

THOMPSONVILLE, BENZIE COUNTY — When you visit Crystal Mountain, it’s like stepping into a charming village with its cobblestone walkways, quaint cottages and horse-drawn surrrey rides.  In addition to the lovely architecture, you are nearly overcome by the beauty of the natural surroundings — giant pines, snow-covered slopes and

crystal mt - 23sprawling views of a pristine landscape.


Crystal Mountain’s natural setting is the reason why it is here today. The resort was established nearly 60 years ago in December of 1956 when “a bunch of locals got together and picked a spot because of its elevation and amount of snowfall,” said Crystal Mountain Director of Public Relations Brian Lawson. It operated as the Buck Hills Ski Area until 1961 with three hills — Buck, which remains one of the most popular and challenging slopes at Crystal; Doe; and Fawn. Obviously, the founders took into consideration their favorite local wildlife when naming the slopes.

The resort expanded in the 1960s when a group of 96 investors built the ski lodge and installed the Main Street chairlift. During the late 1960s, ownership transferred to a handful of investors, Lawson said. By the 1970s, Crystal Mountain began to “dabble” in summer activities and by the end of the 1970s, the resort had an 18-hole golf course.

In 1981, the late George Petritz took over as the sole owner. The resort has stayed in his family ever since, with his daughter Chris and son-in-law Jim MacInnes now operating the successful resort.

crystal mt - 15“Legend has it that George and Bob Meyer flipped a coin,” Lawson said, to see who got to take over as the sole owner among the investors. George obviously won the life-changing coin toss, and ironically, Meyer moved on to operate the nearby Caberfae Ski Resort near Cadillac, which his son Pete now owns, Lawson said. George’s widow Althea, who is in her 90s, continues Crystal’s mission of maintaining physical fitness by cross country skiing and participating in yoga.


Crystal Mountain grew over the years and continues to thrive. The resort now has 50 downhill slopes; 36 holes of championship golf; 30 kilometers of cross country trails; the award-winning Crystal Spa; the Michigan Legacy Art Park; and IACC (International Association of Conference Centers)-approved conference facilities. “It is the Midwest’s premier four-season family resort featuring some of the finest accommodations northern Michigan has to offer,” its website states.

The resort’s village-like atmosphere has been constant throughout its history. Long-standing partnerships with an

Buck Hill

Buck Hill

Ann Arbor and Traverse City master planning company, Johnson Hill Land Ethics Studio; Traverse City architect Bob Holderman, who has since retired but the resort remains with his firm; and Stevens Advertising in Grand Rapids have created a high-level of consistency at Crystal Mountain. “It is a village itself,” Lawson said. “It’s a walkable community. Everything comes together by design.”

Chris, who is Crystal’s chief operating officer, and her siblings grew up at Crystal while their parents George and Althea managed it. “It is kind of reflected in the way they developed it. That same kind of affinity and sense of community is still here,” Lawson said.

The resort, which employs 700 people, is the largest employer in Benzie County and is one of the largest employers in surrounding areas.

In order to preserve the natural beauty upon which Crystal Mountain was founded, the resort is extremely kind to the environment. Recycling is promoted throughout the resort, and the famous Crystal Clipper ski lift runs on wind energy.

New activities

Fat tire biking is growing in popularity at Crystal Mountain.

Fat tire biking is growing in popularity at Crystal Mountain.

Crystal Mountain began as a ski resort, but now it is certainly more than that. A new addition to the resort is fat tire biking. Take a spin on the six-mile groomed trail on a fat tire bike and cruise through the snow. The four-inch wide tires allow ease in pushing through snow, sand or rough trails. Crystal has been offering the unique sport for three years, and fat bike rentals continue to increase every year, Lawson said. Crystal organizes beach tours in the summer with the fat bikes. It is the resort’s fastest-growing winter sport.

Snowshoeing is also rapidly growing in popularity at Crystal, and those visiting the Michigan Legacy Art Park are encouraged to use them as

The Michigan Legacy Art Park

The Michigan Legacy Art Park

they tour the beautiful grounds. The art park features over 40 sculptures, poetry stones, an outdoor amphitheatre; and a Summer Sounds Concert Series in July and  August. Each of the sculptures interprets, in its own way, a piece of Michigan’s history.

If you’re not into skiing or snowboarding, you can also take a dog sled ride or ice skate on the resort’s outdoor rink among many other winter activities.

Summer fun

Golf School 2In addition to the award-winning Mountain Ridge and Betsie Valley golf courses, Crystal offers plenty of summer activities, such as a new elevated rope and zip line course, an alpine slide, outdoor pool, chairlift rides, mountain biking, a climbing wall, paintball, hiking, outdoor laser tag, disc golf, tennis courts and more.

Mountain Ridge golf course offers panoramic vistas, and its fairways wind through stately forests and ascend to high elevations. Betsie Valley golf course, which recently underwent a $1 million renovation, challenges the ability of any golfer with its protected greens, tree-lined fairways and demanding bunkers. Both have received a prestigious four-star rating from Golf Digest magazine.

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There are many dining options at Crystal Mountain.

“There is something for everybody to do,” Lawson said. The summer season has become almost as popular asCrystal’s winter season. “We stay busy 12 months of the year.”

More excitement ahead

An ambitious expansion project this summer will yield a triple chairlift, five slopes and building expansions that include more commercial space for grocery, coffee, wine and craft beer sales, as well as a 25,000-square-foot expansion for additional lodging and an activity area. The new slopes will be ready next winter, Lawson said.

Family fun for all ages

Retired 51st Circuit Court Judge Richard Cooper, 74, enjoys downhill skiing at Crystal Mountain.

Retired 51st Circuit Court Judge Richard Cooper, 74, enjoys downhill skiing at Crystal Mountain.

The beauty of Crystal Mountain is that it appeals to all ages in a family-friendly atmosphere. Four generations of families come to the resort year after year, Lawson said. You see toddlers skiing down the slopes, as well as grandparents and even great grandparents schussing down the hills. Rick Robb, 78, began a program called, “Retired; Not Tired” for folks over age 50. At the age of 73, he became a certified ski instructor. “He started up the program from scratch,” Lawson said, and now he’s had 100-plus people go through it this winter. They learn how to be instructors, but more importantly they enjoy the camaraderie. Marvin Wolf, 90, returned to the slopes after his wife died. Wolf hadn’t skied for 25 years, but now he’s back on the slopes two or three times per week.

Richard Cooper, who recently retired as Mason County’s 51st Circuit Court Judge after 35 years on the bench, was downhill skiing at Crystal Mountain recently. The 74-year-old said he’s been skiing since 1951 and enjoys coming to Crystal Mountain frequently. “I’ve incorporated four different styles,” he said of his skiing method. “I’m not an expert at any of them,” he laughed. Now that he’s no longer wearing his judge’s robe, he’s able to wear his Rossignol skis more often.

The way the slopes are designed, you can take any lift and easily get down the hill. There are beginner, intermediate and advanced slopes available from all the chairlifts. “No matter the lift, all skill levels can ski down,” Lawson said.

Rich in history and natural beauty, Crystal Mountain offers fun and excitement around every turn.

A view to the north near the top of Buck Hill.

A view to the north near the top of Buck Hill.

This little girl, riding down the slopes on Dad's back, was born to ski, her parents said.

This little girl, riding down the slopes on Dad’s back, was born to ski, her parents said.

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