Detroit Mountain hopes for a better late season as cold weather, staff shortages hamper the hills
“We've got plenty of snow, so that’s a good thing — we’ve got nice, good snow cover for folks, so when the days are nice, at least we have good conditions,” said General Manager Jeff Staley.
It’s been a rough winter so far for the Detroit Mountain Recreation Area, with badly-timed bouts of extremely low temperatures and wind chills, and staff shortages that have forced it to adjust its hours of operation.
“The weather has not been perfect. There have been a lot of bitter cold days on some of the key weekends, going back to Christmas break and the New Years holiday, that definitely affected our traffic,” said General Manager Jeff Staley.
The weather has been a strong factor this season, “whether we have to close for a full day or it’s just marginal, we stay open and people don’t come out in numbers,” he added. “All we can do is respond as Mother Nature throws stuff at us.”
Sunday and Monday of the Martin Luther King Holiday were two of the busiest days so far this year at the mountain, and this past Sunday, Jan. 30, was the second-busiest day of the season, Staley said.
When it’s not unbearably cold, Detroit Mountain can see 1,000 people a day come through its doors, he said: “We've got plenty of snow, of course, so that’s a good thing — we’ve got nice, good snow cover for folks, so when the days are nice, at least we have good conditions.”
All the hills are open, and snow depth is “as good or better than it’s been in the prior seven years of operation,” he added.
Cross-country ski trails are open, winter fat bike trails are groomed, and snowshoe trails are in good shape, he said.
The big lodge is open for snacks and drinks, and “people can come inside again to warm up and boot up,” he said.
Finding enough workers has been a challenge this season, “specifically for outside operations,” he said. And the shortage of adult lift operators has forced the facility to adjust its hours of operation to 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. Normal weekend hours were 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays, he said.
“We don’t have the staff to run 12 hours of lift operations on Saturdays,” he said. “We’re still feeling the effects of the pandemic and people changing careers and being unemployed. I’m not an expert enough to know whether the unemployment stipend is affecting people’s desire to work, or if they're holding out for the right job, or what, but we’ve definitely seen some decline in workers, despite increased pay across all positions this winter.”
On weekdays, the mountain is open from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays, and noon to 9 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays. (It’s closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays).
Busloads of school kids often come in earlier than that on Thursdays and Fridays from area schools, including Fargo-Moorhead, Staley said. “It’s a mix of fifth- and sixth-graders,” he said, as well as some high school physical education classes. “We put a high priority on getting kids out and recreating,” he said.
The Ski Patrol is still fully staffed with 30 to 40 volunteers, and it helps out some with the students that come in Thursdays and Fridays, Staley said.
After a small spike in COVID cases among staffers following the New Years holiday, Staley said, “we instituted staff masking requirements for the protection of staff and guests ... in an effort to maintain our current level of staffing.”
Detroit Mountain is offering a few different activities during Polar Fest later this month. There’s the winter fat bike race on Feb. 12; the team tubing races on Feb. 16, where businesses and individuals form teams of four and compete for prizes in a fundraiser for Ski Angels scholarships; Women Take the Mountain, with booths and ski lessons on Feb. 17; and tubing after dark, with laser lights and music on Feb. 18.
“We’re plugging along pretty well,” Staley said. “Last year we only had 10 days of operations in February because of the cold, so we’re hoping the worst of the temperatures are behind us and we’ll have a much-better February this year. And based on the snow cover we have this year, a full month of March.”