Farmington ski coaches talk about benefits of the sport

By: Maddie Forshee, Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published January 2, 2018

 Skiers at Mount Brighton enjoy the slopes.

Skiers at Mount Brighton enjoy the slopes.

Photo provided by the Michigan Snowsports Industries Association

 Skiers ride the lift at Mount Brighton, one of Michigan’s 240 ski lifts and one of the 49 ski areas in the state.

Skiers ride the lift at Mount Brighton, one of Michigan’s 240 ski lifts and one of the 49 ski areas in the state.

Photo provided by the Michigan Snowsports Industries Association

METRO DETROIT — Skiers, snowboarders and snow sport lovers in southeast Michigan are gearing up for the season now that temperatures have dropped. 

Many ski hills and resorts were open sporadically throughout November, but after the temperatures dropped in the beginning of December, the snow is here to stay, and the slopes are expected to stay open. 

“Even in southeast Michigan, (ski hills) were able to open up for the Thanksgiving holiday time,” said Mickey MacWilliams, executive director of the Michigan Snowsports Industries Association. “It got warm, but now it’s getting cold again. It’s a really good start.” 

Even if the weather continues to fluctuate, ski hills will continue to make snow so people can use the hills. 

“Ski hills around here are now pumping out snow,” said MacWilliams. “At low temperatures with low humidity, all of them can get snow on the hill with just a day of snowmaking.” 

Often, snow will stay on the hill long enough to withstand a warm spell until it gets cold again, said MacWilliams, so hopeful skiers and snowboarders don’t need to worry about the snow disappearing anytime soon. 

A lot of hills around the state like to keep their facilities updated, and many around southeast Michigan have new offerings this year. 

In addition to incentives for new skiers, Mount Brighton has updated its terrain park. 

“It’s a really cool program they have,” said MacWilliams. “If you’re new to skiing and snowboarding, you can go in and learn and when you’re done, get to take your equipment home. It’s a good opportunity to get good equipment to start out with.” 

Alpine Valley has a new fleet of snow guns to ensure that the hill has snow on it throughout the season. 

“You never know what you’re going to get,” said Kerry Weber, ski team coach at Walled Lake Northern High School, which practices at Alpine Valley. “That’s what makes ski racing such an amazing sport.”

Weber said that last year was so warm that the team was only able to practice on the ski hill three times. This year, she said, she’s hopeful. 

“You never have the same conditions, ever,” she said. “The courses change every day — there are never two courses the same. But it’s the greatest sport in the world.” 

Ten high school teams practice at Alpine Valley, including Weber’s team. Ten more practice at Mount Brighton, 10 practice at Pine Knob and six practice at Mount Holly. 

Other local ski hills have updated their offerings since last year, too. Mount Holly has new terrain on its hill, a new slope called Aurora Pass. Pine Knob, in Clarkston, opened for the third time this season on Friday, Dec. 8. 

“Now we’re trying again,” said Mary Dawson, office manager at Pine Knob. “We are absolutely looking forward to the winter.” 

From Farmington Public Schools, there are two ski teams: one comprising students from North Farmington High School and Harrison High School, and one from Farmington High School. 

James Noeker, who coaches the ski team at FHS, said in an email that both teams were created around eight years ago by a group of parents who had been ski racers or who had children who were in other ski-related programs in the area. 

“They formed a booster group that raised money for equipment and worked with the school administration to create the teams as they exist today,” Noeker said, adding that at the end of this season, because of Harrison closing, North Farmington and FHS will come together to make a Farmington United ski team. 

“At the moment, our two teams field approximately 30 athletes, boys and girls,” he said. “We compete at Mount Brighton.”

The two teams are part of a high school league composed of about 10 other teams, from cities such as Brighton, Howell, Okemos, South Lyon, Birmingham and Northville.

Cheryl Fried, a public relations spokesperson for the ski teams and board secretary for the booster club, which represents both teams, said that the student participants are 14-18 years old.

“You don’t have to have any experience racing. You (just) need to have experience skiing,” Fried said, adding that the ski teams and family members are a “close-knit” group. 

“The kids really have a strong bond. … It’s really a great variety of different kids that join the team, and I think it is especially good for … them to gain that self-confidence to race,” she said.

Noeker said that skiing is a Michigan High School Athletic Association-sanctioned varsity sport, and athletes can only participate if their school has a sanctioned team and they meet all of the qualifications to be a student-athlete. 

He added that most, if not all, teams do preseason training on dry land to help increase fitness before the “on-snow” season begins. He also said that once the ski area opens, the students start training four days a week after school. 

“The regular season starts at the beginning of January with races twice a week and lasts until February, when there are divisional finals, regionals and then finally state finals,” Noeker said.

The MSIA offers free skiing for fourth- and fifth-graders across the state and has done so for nine years. 

“We wanted a statewide program that encourages kids to get outside in the wintertime,” said MacWilliams. “It’s really important for kids to be outdoors. It’s the perfect time to learn how to ski — they’re old enough to take direction and understand, but young enough to be fearless.” 

Kids wanting to try their hand at ski racing can take part in Weber’s program for kids, called Peninsula Alpine Racing, at Alpine Valley. 

“It’s a way for younger skiers to get involved in racing,” she said. “It’s an amazing sport. We got some really amazing U.S. Ski Team racers that are just crushing it right now, so hopefully people see that and want to get involved.” 

For adults learning how to ski, MSIA has a program in January called Discover Michigan Skiing that offers a lesson, equipment rental and a lift ticket for $35, and students can learn from a trained professional. There are also classes on cross-country skiing for $20. 

Ski hills across the state are taking part in the program, in addition to Mount Brighton, Mount Holly and Pine Knob. 

Noeker said that in terms of the impact skiing has on a student-athlete’s life, there are a few things to take into consideration over other varsity sports. 

“First is the level of commitment that an athlete and their family must make,” he said, adding that all athletics require being committed, but unlike other winter sports, skiing presents a certain set of challenges logistically, which include harsh, cold weather conditions, practicing in weather as low as 10 degrees. “It also takes a financial commitment.”

Noeker said that in the end, it is worth it.

“I think also ski racing gives you a good sense of ego,” he said, adding that no ski racer is perfect in terms of technique. “There will always be something they will be working on fixing or improving. … Far too often in modern life, people cannot take criticism, constructive or otherwise, and use it to improve themselves in a positive way.”