LAKETON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — With rising temperatures across West Michigan this week it’s made for tough sledding at the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex.
There is hope on the horizon with falling temps and snow on the way in the forecast.
The popular lakeshore winter destination says they need a little help from Mother Nature to get things going this year. They’ve had few opportunities to open already but with no snow, it’s a no go.
“The winters have been rough,” said Dan Bonner, an outdoor adventure specialist at the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex. “It’s really the best way to put it. In terms of the weather right now, we’re restricted a whole lot just by the freezing temperatures and any time that it gets above 32 degrees. Everything we make out here is 100 percent natural so we really can’t make any ice, groom the ski trails without any snow, without any freezing temperatures.”
If it weren’t for a powerful December storm and its snow still miraculously holding at the complex, the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex wouldn’t have opened in the first place.
“We are super thankful that this year we were able to get like four inches of snow, the very minimum that we could get, and cold temperatures to make ice,” Bonner said. “But with this warmup, we’re just really limited right now. Our main goal is to kind of hold everything in place and to preserve our base so that we can do a quick turnaround and once we do get those winter temperatures we can reopen as quickly as possible for the public.”
It’s why they have had to close to preserve what snow and ice they do have. Even still, Bonner says they’re ahead of schedule compared to years past. It’s a testament, he says, to warming weather patterns.
“The past two years we haven’t even started making ice until Jan. 25. We felt really lucky this year that we got the weather two weeks earlier than we have. I remember being a kid and we would be out here ice skating, we would go skiing around Christmas break and the weathers have just changed a whole lot, so it’s made us adapt,” Bonner said. “This place is my home. I grew up out here, right? And I’m very passionate about this place. When I see little kids coming out here and laughing and having fun the way that I did when I was a kid it’s super meaningful to me because I’m still out here. It’s a place that I want to show others. I want everybody to come out here and experience it.”
Bonner says they’re working to make an experience that is no longer dependent on weather. It’s why they’ve built a 13,000-foot zipline and why they hope to build a rock wall and canopy park in the trees in the near future.
“There are a lot of opportunities for us to turn this into a four-seasons park. Those opportunities could be used in the wintertime if we have poor winter conditions,” Bonner said.
Amid all this, they have also had a pandemic to deal with. It’s actually one unexpected change that may have indirectly helped the complex, forcing them to adapt by moving outside while enforcing strict masking and social distancing rules.
“This year having us, forcing us, to push everything outside and get really big tents and new warming areas has kind of made the user experience a little bit better just because when people get here there is a lot more space for them to spread out. It’s not as crowded as our lodge used to be,” Bonner said. “So, if people want to come out here and get rentals, they still can. They can feel comfortable about it because we are sanitizing everything thoroughly. We are being responsible for taking this very seriously and being responsible so that everybody can feel comfortable out in the park as soon as we get enough snow.”