Michigan is definitely a top stopping point for people to enjoy all of the great snow sports that are out there. The Michigan Snowsports Industries Association promotes skiing and snowboarding in Michigan. Mickey Macwilliams shares with us how this great organization is getting Michiganders out and bringing tourists in to help drive Michigan’s Winter Economy.
Michigan Snowsports Industries Association (Website)
Michigan Snowsports Industries Association (Facebook)
Cliff Duvernois: [00:00:00] Hello everyone. And welcome to the show. Cliff DuVernois and today we are joined by the executive director and president of the Michigan snow sports industries, association, Mickey MacWilliams, Mickey. How are you?
Mickey MacWilliams Michigan Snowsports Association: [00:00:46] I’m pretty good today.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:00:48] Excellent glad. Glad to hear that. And thank you for taking time out to be on the podcast today. Tell us a little bit about where you’re from and where you grew up.
Mickey MacWilliams Michigan Snowsports Association: [00:00:55] Well, I live in Clarkston, Michigan. Beautiful Clarkson. we’ve been here. about 26 years now? 27. So we’ve been here a long time. I’m originally from Michigan. Lived here all my life and love it and love to ski here.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:01:12] Excellent. When did you first experience skiing?
Mickey MacWilliams Michigan Snowsports Association: [00:01:16] It was when I was, Oh, I would say maybe, 10 years old. my parents took us out skiing, a few times and decided that. that it was something that might be fun for the family to do, which I consider always fun for families to do.
And , they went about teaching us, giving us lessons and teaching us how to ski.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:01:37] And talk to us a little bit about, cause I know we started, we jumped right in to ski in there, but talk to us a little bit about what the Michigan. snow sport, the association, what is, what is that? What do they do?
Mickey MacWilliams Michigan Snowsports Association: [00:01:50] Sure. It’s, this is the association that represents the ski industry in our state. it’s the ski areas and we represent ski retailers as well. and all the other. Related businesses like hotels. that are near ski areas and, people that sell to ski areas in shops, et cetera. so in what we do for them is, we started out as a.
Pretty much a marketing, centered organization. our job was to get more people interested in going out to the slopes and trails in Michigan. but along the way, we’ve kind of gotten more involved in a lot of other things. Like advocacy. we work with our government on issues that relate to skiing and snowboarding. and, now.
It’s also about, opening and staying open safely.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:02:39] Yes exactly. With the whole COVID 19, that, that is that we’re currently in the middle of, as of this recording. But I did want to go back. Cause this is something that is, that has actually come up with a couple of other interviews that I had, especially with regards to, outdoor sports. Why do you think it’s important that you be involved?
with the, with the legislators here in Michigan.
Mickey MacWilliams Michigan Snowsports Association: [00:03:01] Well, there’s always something to be involved with. I’m with legislation that affects our industry and it’s important to stay abreast of those things. and, an advocate for whatever, you know, Whatever it happens to be that, that is the issue at the specific time. you know, over this past year it’s been, working with getting,
Funding for, you know, The PPP funding. doing things like that. in addition to working with. Our legislators on, on just hav having access to ski areas. I’m over this. Time.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:03:37] Right understand. Okay. Talk to us a little bit about the history of the association. When, when did it get started? Why was it even started in the first place?
Mickey MacWilliams Michigan Snowsports Association: [00:03:47] It was started in 1992. and the reason it was started was like I mentioned before, just, as a marketing driven association, what happened is a group of ski areas. operators got together and, and instead, and decided that instead of trying to compete with each other all the time, they wanted to see if they could work together.
To, bring more people onto the slopes and trails in Michigan. and, and so that’s how the association was formed. just to, you know, Or do you do that? And they didn’t have very much money to start with, to do anything like this, but over the years, we’ve been able to put together programs that, bring in some money so that we are able to advertise, and use our funds for.
Promoting our sport in various ways.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:04:31] Nice. And how did you wind up getting involved with the association?
Mickey MacWilliams Michigan Snowsports Association: [00:04:36] Well, I was, Not too long after I, after college. I, I took a position at one of the skiers in Northern Michigan. as their marketing director and, But my husband was living back in the Metro Detroit area. So it wasn’t a really good. Situation for us to be that far apart. And, I, so what I did is I, after like about a year and a half, I decided that I’d come home.
back to Metro Detroit. And, but I didn’t stay out of the business. I ended up. I’m working with. The, some of the Northern Michigan skiers to start with, to kind of try and promote them. in the chair city area, and that ended up, Being something that kind of morphed into the ski industry association, the way it is right now.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:05:20] Okay. Excellent. And I know that there’s our number of ski resorts in Michigan. I know because I’ve been reached out to them to get them on the podcast as well, and talk about what they offer. But, Really I like how big of an impact does skiing have on, on the Michigan economy?
Mickey MacWilliams Michigan Snowsports Association: [00:05:41] So first, I’m, I’m really proud of this. Michigan has more ski areas than any other state in the country.
New York. Well, I, you know, I actually probably should say more like we’re tied with New York. For the most ski areas, in the country, because depending on who open it at any given time or our year, cause sometimes skier is don’t open for a year. or not in an open again. but new York’s right now says that they have 50 skier is, and according to our government, we have 52.
So, I’m pleased to say that right now, at least we have more skiers than any other state. and, and that’s important to note because no matter where you live in our state, you’re within a two hour to two and a half hour at the most drive to a ski area. So it’s really accessible. and, and that’s, that’s why it’s such a, a real important thing to promote here, especially during times like this, when people want to get out and.
an exercise. ski areas are accessible. They’re close in, in their fund. it stars an economic impact goes. We, on an average year, usually have about right around 2 million skier visits a year in our state.
Yeah, which is, which is nice. It’s, it’s quite a few. And I can’t, I don’t know the exact economic impact for our ski areas, but winter travel, in Michigan accounts, winter, recreational travel. Accounts for. Not quite one third of the, recreational travel, for the whole year. So it’s pretty important.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:07:18] Yeah, it sounds like it’s a, it’s a very, a very significant chunk. And if we’re talking about one third, it’s probably a safe bet that that number would be in the billions.
Mickey MacWilliams Michigan Snowsports Association: [00:07:27] Yes, it’s in the billions it’s, but I don’t know the exact number. Sorry.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:07:30] Nope. That’s okay. so. Talk to us a little bit about, cause I know that by going through your website, I was looking on there and you guys have, you know, granted, you know, this would be, you know, if there was like normal times, there wasn’t a COVID thing, but it seems like you’re also doing a lot of work to, to get people out and skiing. So why don’t you talk to us a little bit, so about. the programs that you guys are offering.
Mickey MacWilliams Michigan Snowsports Association: [00:07:53] Sure. we’ve got a couple of programs that people should, really, if you want to get out and learn to ski, we have a program called discover Michigan skiing. It’s it runs through the month of January. and it is a lesson rental equipment and lift ticket. And all that is either $35. For downhill skiing, or $20 for cross country and downhill skiing and snowboarding too. for $35. So, So it’s a, it’s a fantastic deal. I mean, you, you can’t. Lift tickets are more expensive than $35.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:08:26] they are.
Mickey MacWilliams Michigan Snowsports Association: [00:08:27] The lift tickets, a beginner area, lift ticket of beginner area. A beginner lesson. So you have to be a beginner. and rental equipment off of that price. So you can learn to ski and then you spend the rest of your time, that day out on the slopes doing it. And it’s, it’s a really, really, really good deal. There’s a link on our website, to our discover Michigan skiing program. And there’s a way that you can sign up online and, those gears that don’t. allow you to sign up online, you can, give them a call and register for it as well.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:08:57] That’s awesome. And the question I got for you is because you’re an avid skier skier. What, What is it about? Skiing that just attracts you so much to it.
Mickey MacWilliams Michigan Snowsports Association: [00:09:07] Well, there’s a few things. One is it’s, it really is fun. I mean, it’s getting out and skiing makes you smile. It’s just, it’s, it’s outdoors in the winter. And you know, when you think about winter a lot, if you’re not doing something outside recreating, you can get pretty depressed. just being indoors all year, but going out and getting some fresh air and activity, Some exercise is just a wonderful thing to do in the winter. I love to both downhill and cross country ski, for two different reasons. On the downhill is kind of more thrilling. The cross country is a really good workout. So, you know, so that’s why I love it myself. Well, the other reason is because it’s something that, that we have taken on, as a, as a family sport and our kids were raised. on the slopes to, and it’s something that you can do together with your family, no matter what your ability level is, because, if you’re. You know, if you want to go down one slope and your kids want to go down a different one, you can meet up at the bottom and ride the chairlift together. Again, it’s just a nice way to spend the day with your family. So, so for both reasons, I think it’s, it’s really, really a good thing to do.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:10:16] Yeah. And I know one of the things that I really appreciate about skiing is the fact that, you can kind of control. Your adventure level. So if you really want to go fast down a Hill, you certainly can. And if you want to take your time, you certainly can. So like we were talking about before just, Oh yeah, we’ll just meet all at the bottom and we’ll just, you know, take the chairlift up. So that way it’s, it’s, it’s not, not everybody has to. You know, barrel down the Hill at full speed to, to appreciate skiing. You can totally. You know, take your time and ski down for 10 or 15 minutes and then stop, take a break and then ski for another 10 minutes or whatever, whatever it is it’s choose to do. So. that to me is very appealing about skiing.
Mickey MacWilliams Michigan Snowsports Association: [00:10:56] It is, it is it’s in Michigan is a perfect place to learn to ski because our slopes aren’t quite as into intimidating is. They are safe. You’re out into the Rocky mountains or someplace. and, they’re, you know, you can take them a little bit at a time. Here and, you know, and that makes it fun for everyone. So, and, you know, I must say to that, We’ve got, cross-country skiing is, this is a wonderful state for cross country skiing. It’s you don’t have the altitude issues that you do in some other States. So, And we’ve got wonderful, wonderful trails all over the state. So it’s, it’s wonderful. To do it.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:11:32] Excellent. And when you’re, when you’re talking about the trails, is this something that would be specific too? Ah, the ski slopes, or is this something that’s like available on a, you know, a combination of public land, private land? How does that work?
Mickey MacWilliams Michigan Snowsports Association: [00:11:45] All of the above.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:11:46] Oh, cool.
Mickey MacWilliams Michigan Snowsports Association: [00:11:47] we had our ski areas. Many of our skiers in Michigan have cross country trails and bike trails. as well as snowshoe trails, too. so, so everybody can have a little something to do if they’re, if they don’t necessarily want to go downhill skiing, they’ve got those other options. but there are also trails, at, County parks and, It state parks as well. it’s a michigan.org has a list of the, the cross-country trails, it’s pretty extensive. So you can find places that maybe are nearby you, even if you aren’t going to go out downhill skiing, say you go out cross country.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:12:22] Excellent. And if somebody, like, let’s say, somebody wants to try this out, how easy it is, is it for them to go? And you know, let’s say, you know, rent the equipment for a day.
Mickey MacWilliams Michigan Snowsports Association: [00:12:32] So, what I would suggest is if you wanted to try, if you’re, you’re talking about cross country, well actually either way cross country or downhill, my recommendation would be to go someplace where you can have a lesson, to try it out. It’s really worth the investment. And especially in January, when you can do the discover Michigan skiing, but it’s worth the time and effort to take a lesson before going. Even for cross country skiing. It’s not a, you don’t just slap some skis on and just take off on a trail. There’s there are ways to do it that make it, Easier for you to glide, and at. I’ll look, quick. Lesson would help with that quite a bit.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:13:08] And I’m going to advocate for that because for years, I mean, I’ve always loved skiing, but for years I was like the fastest snowplows skier in the world. Because for some reason I was being cheeky guy and I did not want to pay for lesson. And I tell you that the one I sold for some friends invited me to go skiing with them. I went and I said, you know what? I’m going to pay for the lesson. I’m going to stop being stupid and I’ve gotta pay for the lesson. And I took out less than in the morning, which they kind of kicked me out of and said, you’re too advanced. You cannot take this other lesson over here. And then I did. Also in skiing became fun. And I thought to myself, why in the world did I wait so long to, to take a lesson? It was. You know, I don’t think people realize that when you’re snow plowing down a Hill, you’re actually using a lot of leg bustled. I was always physically wiped out after maybe going down the run two or three times. But when you’re like actually skiing and you could, you know how to control the skis going down, it just makes the experience so much more pleasurable.
Mickey MacWilliams Michigan Snowsports Association: [00:14:00] Yes, it does. It does. so, so, right. So I definitely do recommend doing that. It’s it takes, you know, it also takes a little bit of the theory out of it. Some people are intimidated by, by the thought of skiing in. If you take a lesson. you’re going to learn how to control your skis to stop into turn and also how to ride the lift, which is all really important. So. Definitely recommend the lesson.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:14:28] Yeah. I’ve seen so many yard sales at the top of a Hill. And you know, when the, when the, when the ski lifts stops. You know, because people were getting off the ski lift or whatever it is and they fell or they hooked their ski or something like that. So, you know, safety first, I, they stopped the lift. So that way they’re not getting piled on, but, all those little things like that. And I, and for the skiing to the ski lessons that you were talking about before, I’ve always been very happy with the fact that you’re, you’re in a very controlled environment. Like the grades are very subtle. So that way you can just really start to get a feel for what it’s like. to be able to make turns, things like that. It’s not that, you know, they take you to the top of this giant Hill with like a 400 vertical drop and, you know, they say good luck. You know, they really. You really do kind of move at your own pace.
Mickey MacWilliams Michigan Snowsports Association: [00:15:09] Right. And sometimes friends will do something like that to you. So, so definitely I always recommend, taking a lesson. but I also did want to mention another program that we have for, families.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:15:21] Awesome.
Mickey MacWilliams Michigan Snowsports Association: [00:15:22] any, families that have kids in the fourth and fifth grade, those kids can ski free in Michigan. If they get the coldest cool ski and ride passport. it’s this year, or it’s. It has come out as a passport app for your phone. what you do is you can go to our website, which is go ski, michigan.com. Look up cold as cold passport, and you can, there’s a link right on our homepage. there’s an application form there. It does cost $25 that we, you know, that we have to, To take their, just for the, the development and the maintenance of the app. But, but what you get for that is, your child will be able to ski two or three times at each of the 28. I think it is participating ski areas. So you can go twice to bullying. You can go no three times to Boyne three times to Shannon Creek. You can go twice in Mount Holly, ski all over, and it’s free for your children. Parents need to pay for a lift ticket, but the kids are free. I mean, it’s a pretty decent deal. reasonably do that is a couple things. One reason is because, We know that, through studies we found that, If, Kid learns to ski and loves it. When they’re young, they’re going to keep that sport, with them, through their life. They’ll they’ll maintain it. So the earlier you can get them hooked on skiing. the better it is for our industry, but it’s also really, really good for families. It’s a, wonderful. A way to get out and enjoy the winter together. and, we’re making it affordable for you.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:16:55] Yeah. Excellent. And I’m loving all this talk about skiing because I know that, for us. You know, the season’s coming up quickly. And right now I know that, you know, the governor has issued a, at the time of this recording, they’ve issued the, the epidemic. Order, which is basically, you know, stay home for the next three weeks, which is probably going to be extended. So w. From, you know, from your organization standpoint. You know, what are, what are some of the things, that you guys are thinking about? Or perhaps even some processes in place so that if a family does come out and go skiing, that they can feel safe.
Mickey MacWilliams Michigan Snowsports Association: [00:17:29] So, this is really, really important. What, what we’re stressing is know before you go, check the ski areas website, of, of where you’re heading to find out what their COVID-19 policies are, because they’re going to be different from skier. It’s a ski area. First of all, all of them across Michigan require you to wear face coverings, cloth. These coverings over your nose and mouth. when you’re, wherever you are on the ski area, except heading down the Hill whenever, but it’s everywhere, wherever social distancing can’t be achieved. So that means you’re going to wear them. at the base, when you’re staging area, where you’re putting on your skis, you’re going to be wearing them when you’re in a lesson, you’re going to wear them. when you’re. In the lift lines and riding the lift. If you’re riding the lift with some of this, doesn’t come from your same party. So, be prepared by bringing something that you’re comfortable wearing all day outside. in that respect. And then the other thing is, is that. Ski areas are going to all have different, different offerings or different things that they can and can’t do. some of them are doing creative things like, providing food trucks in their parking lots. Or extending their dining by, by putting out heaters and outdoor tables and things like that. Others, Might not be able to do that and may require you to, eat in your brain. Bring a Brown bag and eat in your car. So you need to know ahead of time, what to expect. Some of them are requiring reservations. to get a lift ticket to, or requiring you to buy your lift ticket online. so you really need to know that before you head out to the slopes, very, very, very important.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:19:07] Yes. And that’s actually something that I’ve already started to see being implemented in place. On an example, that would be the, The Detroit Institute of art. you know, even though usually you can get tickets and go anytime you want, but they’re actually asking you to make a reservation when you get to tickets. So that way they don’t have. You know, let’s say 500 people show up at 10 o’clock in the morning and they can’t accommodate all those people. So, I’m still, I’m seeing those programs all over the state and to me. Ah, that makes sense.
Mickey MacWilliams Michigan Snowsports Association: [00:19:35] It does it’s so, so again, Really important to check the websites, of the ski or you were planning to attend, just so you know, before you go. there are, links on our go ski, michigan.com website to all the ski areas. And we have, information there, like little synopsis of what’s, what to expect at the scary, but really go right to their website and check it out before you head out.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:20:00] Excellent. And what I would like to do is I’d like to talk to you a little bit about, the, the association. So, if you would please, and, you know, I think this is a great way for us to learn more about you, but maybe tell us about. You know, three things that maybe people don’t know about skiing in Michigan that you wish they did know.
Mickey MacWilliams Michigan Snowsports Association: [00:20:20] Oh, very things that they don’t know that. Ooh. okay. In Michigan. Skiing is affordable. And it’s accessible. Those are two really, really important things. And in Michigan, Skiing is, is not as intimidating as it is in some other States. So it’s affordable, it’s accessible and it’s not intimidating. Those are pretty good things I’d say. And. It’s also really good activity, to get out, to get you outside and get some exercise in the winter.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:20:51] Yeah, and I would think it’d be really good thing for, you know, for families to be a part of as well. Yeah, so awesome. That’s great. So, let’s talk a little bit more about, in the association. Ah, cause on your website, you’ve got a pretty big, section in here regarding sustainability and your, your commitment to it. So what is, what are some of the things that you’re doing, to, to help focus and foster sustainability?
Mickey MacWilliams Michigan Snowsports Association: [00:21:15] Okay. So. We view since then, we’ve you climate change as the largest threat. To our industry. it’s, you know, It’s something that we really all have to pay attention to, and, and be mindful of. So what we did is we put together this sustained visual it sustainability. Limited sustainability initiative. where we are committed to advocate versus Dana bill of leading practices. Empower our members to take action and to educate our members and guests about climate changes effect on. Being in snowboarding. so. So w you know, we’re kind of this three-pronged approach to sustainability. we advocate that means, you know, supporting bills that are important to our climate, empowering our members by we have a sustainability certification program where they can get, Where they, they, they, they go through this application, and, they can get. I’m certified in our certification levels are the same as our, our lo our skiing. the ratings of our slopes, which is, the bread. I mean, the green circle is the easiest slopes and we have a green circle of blue square, which is a, intermediate slopes and a black diamond, which is, which are more difficult slopes. So you can get sustainability certifications in those levels as well. So you really want to go for the black diamond, but. It’s, you know, anyway, we kind of just use it to, because it’s part of our, you know, Our psyche that’s yours, but. So we do have that. For our members. And then, We try to provide education for members and for, anyone, any consumer, anyone who’s interested on, links to how, how people can go about helping out, doing more. For, you know, toward this effort. it’s, it’s gotta be a, a program that everyone. you know, Takes part in. But skiers are trying to do our, our sheer by, By taking this, you know, if they take the SIS. Sustainability certification program. They’ll it’s easy to see. How they’re ranking in what they’re doing and what they could maybe do better. like, you know, they can take it and see, Oh, well, we’re really not doing a whole lot when it comes to, our recycling, we could do better at that. or we could do better at, it’s conserving energy by taking part in some of these, energy conservation programs that are available.
or, or even doing things like, providing, you know, making rules that, that employees can’t sit in their car with it running while they’re waiting for. somebody else to come out, they have to, you know, They just, just little things that’ll that will make a difference. So anyway, that’s what our program is all about.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:24:03] Excellent. And if, if someone is listening to this and they want to learn more about. The association or take advantage of, the, the whole litany of resources that you’ve talked about today on the podcast episode. what would be, what would be the best way for them to, to be able to connect with you online?
Mickey MacWilliams Michigan Snowsports Association: [00:24:19] So I really think that they can start with, our website, which is go ski, michigan.org, or.com and either way it goes, And, and just take a look at what our programs are. we’ve got them all listed. you can see the members of the S of the industry, they’re lodging members, that retail members and our ski areas. you can look up and see what we’ve got going on as far as,
we’ve got a link to, up to news information about what we’re doing or what. You know, what’s going on in the industry. we also have a ski hall of fame, where we induct, those people that have made impact on, skiing in our state. and that’s, that’s all listed right on our website.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:24:59] That is excellent. I absolutely loved the, the, yeah. I love that. That’s great. And for our audience, we will have those links in the show notes down below. Mickey. It’s been great having you on the podcast today. I love talking about skiing, so thank you so much for being here today.
Mickey MacWilliams Michigan Snowsports Association: [00:25:16] I love talking about skiing you’re welcome.