Michigan’s Winters, And Strange Snowfall, Presents Challenges For MSU Skiers and Snowboarders

Feb 11, 2019

Yes, we survived the polar vortex, but mid-Michigan still could use more snow for skiing.

EAST LANSING, Mich. - Michigan weather is usually unpredictable, especially this winter - where parts of some of the state’s most snowy areas are a foot-and-a-half to two feet below normal according to the Midwest Regional Climate Center.

This lack of snow has made it hard on Michigan State’s snowboarders and skiers, cutting down on the time they can spend on the slopes.

Sam McDonald takes the ski lift up Keystone mountain in Colorado.
Credit Sam McDonald

During the winter months of 2016-17, the Lansing area saw 49.3 inches of snowfall. In the winter months of 2017-18, there were only 47.2 total inches of snowfall in the same area, according to the National Weather Service.

As of now, even with the recent polar vortex, the National Weather Service says the Lansing area has only seen 39 inches of total snowfall through Feb. 1.  

Sam McDonald, a junior at Michigan State, is a skier on the MSU Ski Team. It is part of the Midwest Collegiate Ski & Snowboard Conference. The MSU team travels five weekends a year to Crystal Mountain to compete against other schools across the Midwest.

But she says this year has been different, because of the lack of snow.

“It’s hard to ski in Michigan when the weather can change at any moment,” McDonald said. “There have been times where our meets have been delayed or even canceled because the conditions were not safe to ride on.”

Skiers and snowboarders travel to places such as Colorado, where the snow is more consistent and where there are actual mountains. In Michigan, McDonald says there are many more hills.

“The best condition to ski in is fresh groomed natural snow,” McDonald said. “When the snow is fresh and groomed your skis are able to grip and dig in much better giving you more control. Many places here in Michigan will resort to powder which is snow that they make, and sometimes it isn’t always ideal because it can be easily changed by weather.”

Mt. Holly, located in Holly, Michigan, and Mt. Brighton, in Brighton, Michigan, are two ski resorts just outside the Lansing area that make their own snow for the riders.

Justin Schulman, a snowmaker and snowboarder at Mt. Brighton, has seen especially this year the difficulty to make snow.

“Snowmaking can be a very complex process with many components playing a role in determining whether or not snow can successfully be made,” Schulman said. “One week it can be cold, the next week it's warm. That’s why it’s critical to watch the weather forecast for stretches of optimal snowmaking conditions long enough to ensure that the snow we make will actually stick around. A temperature dip into the mid-20s can tease winter, only to jump up into the 40s and 50s the next day and melt away all that hard work. The most important component of successful early-season snowmaking is a long, steady, cold forecast.”

This weird Michigan winter is not only affecting snowboarders and skiers but also local businesses who carry ski gear.

Snow and ice covers MSU campus.
Credit Brandon Mostyn

Jack Schumacher, the assistant store manager at Moosejaw in East Lansing, and has seen the lack of snowfall result in fewer customers coming in.

“The weather this year has definitely affected the traffic we have seen come through here,” Schumacher said. “People will come in looking for different things, so colder days we see people looking for new jackets, but because of the lack of snow we have seen less people looking for snowboarding and skiing equipment. It goes to show that the weather definitely plays a role in consumer habits.”

Schulman sees many skiers and snowboarders starting at a young age. They have had years of practice on different types of snow and powder, on different levels of the mountain riding on all types of trails.

Schulman believes because the inconsistency of the Michigan weather and the lack of snow makes it hard for the sport to grow here locally.

“I think it something that is geographically restricted,” Schulman said. “So, for people to get really into the sports they have to be in area that has a lot of snowfall in the winter and be in a very mountainous region. That’s very hard to find here on a consistent basis here in Michigan.”

Despite the lack of snowfall for most of the winter season, Schulman believes people will continue to come out to ski and snowboard.

“Snowboarding and skiing continue to grow not just here but across the globe,” Schulman said. “It’s going to take a little more than warm weather and rain to stop people from hitting the slopes.”