In a quiet Traverse City neighborhood about a mile east of Grand Traverse Bay, there’s a local gem that continues to expand its four-season recreational offerings.
Once just a fun place to ski, Mt. Holiday’s options now include snowboarding, tubing, zip-lining, hiking, mountain biking, and more. It’s become a year-round family tradition for many.
It all started in 1949 when a group of business leaders looking for a fun wintertime destination received permission to create a ski run on state-owned land. Holiday Hills, as it was called, was thus established.
“Volunteers, prison-labor services, and donations” helped build the hill, according to Michelle Pearson, president of Mt. Holiday’s board of directors.
In 1985, Warren and Sue Brosch purchased the hill and, under their private ownership, chairlifts and a terrain park were added. Soon after Warren’s passing in 1999, Mt. Holiday was put up for sale. Out of fear of it being converted into a residential development, a group of community volunteers formed Mt. Holiday Inc., a nonprofit corporation. They set a goal of raising the $1.5 million that would allow them to purchase the approximately 44 acres and open it back up to the public.
In the early 2000s, the residents were able to purchase Mt. Holiday, and they turned the resort into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
“Everybody had grown up with it and they realized what a gem it was to have in a town of our size. And in a neighborhood. And to have everything from ski lessons to ski racing, to all (sorts of) events. And all the memories that it’s generated (through the) generations,” says Nate Noyes, Mt. Holiday’s executive director.
Noyes fell in love with Mt. Holiday’s location and charm when he and his family first went skiing there in 2008. “We had moved to Traverse City and my boys were little, and we happened to live in the neighborhood. We just thought it was the coolest thing. It was the perfect size for two little boys, my wife, and me. It was very affordable.”
Leading the Way
Today, Noyes guides the culture of the resort. “I want to make sure our mission stays at the forefront of what we’re doing — and that’s to connect families with four seasons of affordable outdoor recreation,” he explains. “I want to keep it affordable, and I want to make sure that it’s available to everybody.”
A scholarship program was created so “we can give free lift tickets or give out rental skis, and get (people) out there so they can enjoy their friends and connect, as well,” Noyes says.
Mt. Holiday is home to The Kiwanis Record-Eagle Ski & Snowboard School. “We make that about as dirt-cheap as we can,” Noyes says.
Participation in the adult ski patrol program and a junior ski patrol program (launched by Pearson and geared to local youth ages 12 to 18) offers residents a way to get a free ski pass in exchange for their time volunteering.
“We’re making it so a family can come out and not spend a lot of money,” says Pearson, who has been on the ski patrol for more than 20 years. “Skiing and snowboarding are one of the last family sports. For my family, we ride up on the trails together, but then we split apart. It’s a family sport, but individual at the same time,” she adds.
Until recently, Mt. Holiday only offered winter-based recreation: skiing and snowboarding. After the nonprofit took over, two tubing runs (complete with an express lift to the top) were built. A terrain park includes several trick-based features such as rails and jumps.
Among its many youth programs, Mt. Holiday hosts the Holiday Race Team — a learn-to-race program for elementary to junior high students.
As an ever-expanding four-season park, activities available in the warmer months now include mountain biking courses, a mile-long hiking trail, and zip-lining. The T-Bar and T-Bar Lounge are open year-round for refueling before and after rides.
Mt. Holiday’s newest program, Base Camp, is a class for those ages 5 and up who want to learn how to do more, including aerial maneuvers, safely and correctly on their bikes.
“We’re developing that more and more. This is a camp that’s going to be year-round versus just in the summer,” Pearson says.
Annual events such as the much-loved Mud, Sweat, and Beers bike race in the spring, which attracts around 900 riders, help to support the facility’s programs, scholarships, infrastructure, and more.
An ongoing capital campaign will help modernize its chairlifts, snowmaking capabilities, and other older amenities. “It will allow us to open earlier, stay open later, and just be a much more robust ski hill for everything from lighting to lifts. We really don’t generate a lot of revenue. We’re very fortunate to have a generous community that helps us with those types of things,” Noyes says.
He believes it’s all about “giving the people, the families, the kids of this area a place to go where they connect with one another, where they make memories, where they find friendship, where they find camaraderie. Especially with kids,” he says.
“They need a place outside of school and sports where they can meet up with their friends. Now that I’m a dad and I’ve got two teenage boys, I look at this as something special for the mom and the dad and the grandparents, because that’s where they can take their kids and still be connected to them. It doesn’t matter if you’re 10 or you’re 80; everyone can get out there and enjoy the snow.”