IT’S A SIGHT WE OFTEN see on our cold winter nights. It’s a sign of life on those quiet evenings when it’s already dark at 5pm. And it’s a seasonal reminder of one of the area’s more popular winter activities. I’m talking about the illuminated slopes of our ski hill, Marquette Mountain… brightly bordering the southern horizon.
Yes, I said “our ski hill.” I’m sure you’ve used that term too when talking about Marquette Mountain. Even though it’s privately owned, Marquette residents no doubt consider it something that belongs to all of us. It is, in fact, a community asset.
Now it appears some members of this community, those on skis and snowboards, aren’t all that happy with the way things are going out there these days. Though they acknowledge that owners Eric and Sarah Jorgensen have put a ton of money into infrastructure improvements, they also suggest they haven’t seen those improvements manifested in a better overall day, or night, at the hill.
Some regulars fondly remember the days when Vern Barber ran the hill for owner Pete O’Dovero. Were things better back then? Possibly. But we’re not “back then,” and today’s social media provides the perfect outlet for the airing of grievances, real or imagined.
Criticisms stemming from a disappointing experience at a local business are commonplace on Facebook and typically represent a one-off situation like… my fries were cold. But the word on the street in the case of Marquette Mountain comes from a number of sources, many of whom have been long-time skiers and supporters. In other words, their protestations are credible, and not just the ramblings of a keyboard complainer.
Word on the Street typically wouldn’t dig into a topic like this, simply because it involves a private business. In most cases, how a local business is run, good or bad, isn’t all that consequential in the grand scheme of things. Cold fries are survivable.
But as I pointed out earlier, Marquette Mountain is different. It’s OUR ski hill, and how it operates reflects on all of us. Many people make the trek to Marquette for the sole purpose of skiing at Marquette Mountain, and, if we value our visitors, it’s important to hold those who serve them to the high standards Marquette hopes to be known for.
Issues that have been a source of dissatisfaction include, but are not limited to… runs and lifts not open in peak times, inefficient use of improved infrastructure, a scaled-down commitment to organized racing, a rigid pricing system, and a general disconnect between seasoned skiers and management.
I reached out to Jorgensen for his reaction to some of these concerns. His response, via email, was upfront, and characteristic of an affable guy, which is also something I’ve heard about him from patrons.
Regarding the aforementioned bucks put into the hill, Jorgensen says, “A great amount of our initial investments in infrastructure included the three chair lifts and paddle tow. The three Riblet chairlifts were purchased in a used condition from other ski resorts decades ago. Since acquisition, all of them have been updated to meet state requirements and generally accepted maintenance standards. Due to age, they are, however, subject to failure. We will not, under any circumstance, operate anything that is not deemed safe by published standards.”
For those wondering about the return on those investments and when they’ll see the payoff on the hill, Jorgensen says, “The budget for MMR investment is 3x the acquisition price before financial independence is firmly established. All investments are made under a long term, strategic vision. In any event, we did pull back investing in a new chairlift for summer 2023 due to inflation, and interest rate and recession concerns, while pausing to properly assess financial stability and the community.”
As far as not having all lifts and runs in play at a given time, Jorgensen’s short answer is, “(1) snow conditions, (2) mechanical issues and (3) number of patrons skiing & snowboarding.”
Jorgensen also addressed the concern that new hill manager, Kaet Johnson, is more of an engineer than resort manager, and maybe not a “people person” duly suited to the hospitality part of the biz. Citing her education and previous experience in the industry, Jorgensen says, “Given her other experience, intelligence, integrity, compassion and maturity, my wife and I feel she is qualified to lead, giving us a sense of security for the investment and commitments we have made and will make at Marquette Mountain Resort.”
It needs to be acknowledged that the Jorgensens took over operation of the hill in February of 2020, exactly 21 days before Covid shut them down. That, in combination with a couple schizophrenic winters, has increased the degree of difficulty and likely put the focus on simply getting through this day and on to the next.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t plans for the future. Quite the contrary, according to Jorgensen. “An ice climbing park is under research and development (this is my personal project – a heavy lift that we will hopefully start developing this summer depending on conditions).
“Stacy Rhines from downstate is finalizing production on our 9-hole frisbee golf course, expected installation late spring. The first 5 holes (metal sculptures) were exhibited to the public at Art Prize in Grand Rapids last fall. This art is personal to Sarah and I, installed at MMR for the purpose of sharing to the community.”
Will Jorgensen’s narrative placate those who hoped an ownership change would signal a new and improved experience at THEIR Marquette Mountain? Maybe. But you know what they say… skiing is believing.
A ski resort has a lot of moving parts… mountain veterans know that. But they also know it can be done, because they’ve seen it. One suggestion on the “Unofficial” FB page was to get the stakeholders together, skiers and management, and talk it out… possibly over an après-ski beverage in the T-Bar. That would be a great first step. Eric? You buying?