MARQUETTE MOUNTAIN WAS flush with optimism at the start of the ski season.
New snowmaking equipment, new LED lights, cheaper season and daily tickets, longer hours, a new general manager, and an early winter. November was cold.
“What a s–t show.” That’s a recent quote from a skier on Marquette Mountain’s “unofficial” Facebook page. It’s a forum for skiers to criticize, suggest, and comment on what’s happening on Marquette Mountain. Mostly to criticize.
They’ve had plenty to criticize this season. As of Tuesday, January 8th, only one of three ski lifts was operating. And that one, Snowfield, had gone down twice in the last week–once for five hours, another time for three hours.
Which meant that anyone who wanted to ski at those times had to hike up the mountain with their skis.
“The good news is I probably sweated five pounds of bacon off my fat ass hiking.” A humorous observation on that same Facebook page from an unhappy skier.
The problems, according to some skiers, started in the summer and fall. Poor preparation for the season, failure to take care of the equipment, failure to anticipate breakdowns…and a new general manager, Frank Malette, who’d had no experience in the ski resort business.
So what does Malette say about the problems?
Question: “Is it normal having only one lift open at Marquette Mountain at this time of the season?”
Malette” “Yes, it is.” Veteran skiers say it is not.
The breakdowns? They’re normal, according to Malette. Happens every year. “It’s a maintenance issue. We’re taking care of it.”
He further explains that the water system at the Mountain is old. It needs to be replaced. It will be, he says.
He also says climate change has contributed to the problems. Not enough snow on the hill. November was cold, but in December, a warm spell arrived, and much of the November snowpack melted.
So if all of this is normal and easily explained, why all these complaints from seasoned skiers at Marquette Mountain?
“Look at who they are,” Malette says. “It’s just a couple dozen malcontents who’ve had trouble adjusting to the changes here.”
The changes, he says, are procedural: moving the ticket office and retail shop upstairs to the Alpine Room, requiring season ticket-holders to check in every day rather than heading straight to the mountain, and eliminating the Alpine Room as a sitting area for skiers who wanted to enjoy their bag lunches from home.
But there is also that annoying little ski lift problem. It’s kind of important. Only one operating, and sometimes it breaks down, so then there’s none.
In spite of all, Malette says business at the Mountain has been brisk: Record-breaking ticket sales, record numbers of visitors to the Mountain. He cites statistics that show that 9500 skiers and snowboarders have already visited already this year…whereas only 29,000 visited all of last season.
He concedes that records from the past may not have been all that accurate, and other observers will tell you that the visitor count this year, with daily check-ins by season ticket holders, is inflating the numbers.
And this from a veteran skier, a highly respected person in the community: “I know what a busy weekend looks like, and I can tell you we have not had a busy weekend yet. Not one. If he (Malette) tells you we’re having a record-breaking season, it’s a crock.”
The veteran skier continues: “I’ve never seen anything like it here. Nobody in the skiing community likes Frank. Nobody trusts him.”
Malette shakes off the criticism. He says he’ll continue to do his job, and he’ll do it well, while hoping for a little help from Mother Nature.
He’s just got to make sure one man approves of his job performance: Marquette Mountain owner Pete O’Dovero.
“I talk to Pete every day,” Malette says. “He’s generally happy with what we’re doing.”
And Malette may have further good news. The Rocket chair lift, idle so far this season, may open up today (Wednesday) if things go right, he says. And the Supreme lift, also idle, should open up later this month, weather permitting.
Skiers are waiting, with fingers crossed.
If all that happens, that might change the mind of another dismayed skier who recently vented on the Facebook page: “Sad to say, it’s only 1/7, and I’m ready to call it a season on the mountain.”
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