Jan. 18—TRAVERSE CITY — Snow guns droned and a PistenBully snow groomer crawled at Hickory Hills shortly before its opening for the season.
The city-owned ski hill will begin its season Friday at 3:30 p.m., according to an announcement from park staff. City Parks and Recreation Superintendent Michelle Hunt said it's the latest start in recent years, so it'll stay open a little later than usual — weather permitting. The plan is to shut down for spring on March 24.
"We're trying to do everything we can to keep it open a bit later," she said.
That's, in part, so season passholders can get their money's worth, said Cindy Anderson, the park's manager. She was at the park Wednesday working on setting up one of its tow ropes as cross-country skiers glided through the park.
It's been six winters since the park, at Randolph Street's west end, underwent a major overhaul thanks to grants, city money, Preserve Hickory's fundraising efforts and the donors who stepped up.
This year, the park's bunny hill, named "Fast Tammy" after donor Tammy Hagerty, will be $5 per person, Hunt said. It was previously a free spot for kids and newcomers to learn the sport.
Anderson said the decision to charge came for two reasons. One, it costs money to maintain the hill and, two, families were riding the "magic carpet" lift to the top in droves, creating safety issues.
By charging what she called a minimal amount, the park can recoup some of the cost and limit the number of people riding to the top.
Frequent bunny hill-hoppers can buy a $50 ticket for 12 punches, each punch good for a day, Anderson said. The park could also create a season pass for the hill for the 2024-25 winter.
Downhill skiing season passes range from $150 for student and senior city residents, to $405 for city families, with non-residents paying more. Daily passes range from $21 for students and seniors on weekdays, Saturdays after 4 p.m. and Sundays to $28 for adults 18-64 for the whole day on Saturdays. Cross-country ski rates are less, and gear is available to rent as well.
New this year is a revamped line of merchandise, and a food counter now run by city employees, Hunt said. Anderson added it's open Wednesdays through Sundays for now, with weeklong service possible later on.
"If it starts working as it should and everything gels, we can start offering it seven days," Anderson said.
Weather kept the park from making snow consistently until Jan. 12, when park crews were able to fire up the snow guns around the clock, Hunt said.
Forecasts call for high temperatures climbing back to 38 degrees by Tuesday, with a chance of a mix of rain and snow.
Anderson said she's not concerned, since artificial snow sticks around longer than the natural stuff and the park's snow groomer can break up ice on slopes after a warmup and cool-down.
"Actually it'll help settle things down," she said. "It'll help get a good base and compact it down, because right now it's so fluffy."