Sustainable slopes

Crystal Mountain values environmental stewardship.
winter village lights
Courtesy Crystal Mountain

By Howard Meyerson

When it comes to making business decisions, Jim Mac-Innes insists on the long view, making choices that benefit both the environment and the bottom line. 

The 65-year-old president and CEO of Crystal Mountain, a Thompsonville golf, ski and spa resort, values development strategies that emphasize people and the environment as well as profit: “the triple bottom line,” in the parlance of sustainable business practice. 

“We’ve long been interested in reducing energy (use) and materials as much as we can and eliminating waste,” notes MacInnes, an electrical engineer who once designed wind turbines but today works to achieve efficiency wherever possible at the resort.

Crystal Mt Ski Main street
Courtesy Crystal Mountain

MacInnes says Crystal Mountain endorses and participates in the Sustainable Slopes program, launched in 2000 by the National Ski Areas Association, but the resort’s practices predate the program.

“Crystal has had that philosophy for decades,” MacInnes explains. “We have long tried to be good stewards. People come north because they enjoy the beauty, and we have been careful to minimize our impact on the natural beauty of the land up here.”

The popular resort sits in hilly, forested Benzie County. It boasts 50 downhill slopes, a 30-kilometer network of cross-country trails and 36 holes of championship golf. The year-round operation has garnered numerous accolades for environmental leadership. 

mountain top living
Courtesy Crystal Mountain

The Michigan Sierra Club has honored Crystal Mountain with its White Pine Award for “extraordinary dedication to protection of the environment.” It was recognized as the state’s first tourist destination to invest in wind energy. It built the first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified spa in the Midwest, and MacInnes has been lauded for his efforts to spread those ideas to other business and community leaders. 

The Detroit Free Press named MacInnes one of 16 Michigan Green Leaders in 2010.

“CEO Jim MacInnes’ passion for using progressive environmental technologies transcends the boundaries of his property, or even his community. He creates ties between the business and environmental communities as he works toward providing a better quality of life,” one of the Green Leader judges wrote. 

groomed snow

Crystal Mountain is one of a growing number of ski areas nationwide working to “green” their operations and adopt a more environmentally friendly footprint — be that for carbon production, waste disposal, energy efficiency or land use.

The National Ski Areas Association, a trade organization for ski area owners and operators, reports more than 190 ski areas nationwide have endorsed its Sustainable Slopes Environmental Charter.

“Sustainable Slopes is largely a western initiative,” notes Mickey MacWilliams, executive director for Michigan Snowsports Industries Association. “They operate on national park or state-owned land and are a lot bigger. But Crystal Mountain is really a leader here. They consider these things because ecotourism is becoming bigger.” 

mountain top

Crystal Mountain also provides recycling for guests. It was the first four-season resort in Michigan to earn “Leader” level certification from Green Lodging Michigan, a voluntary program through Michigan’s Energy Office and the Department of Environmental Quality. The program encourages “hospitality facilities to adopt ‘green’ practices to conserve natural resources and prevent pollution,” according to

“One of the differences between us and other business owners is we have a long horizon. We are going to own it forever and make investment decisions based on that,” MacInnes says. “A lot needs to be done in the ski industry to green it up more. Even here, we have only scratched the surface.”

Award-winning writer and BLUE Undercurrents columnist Howard Meyerson lives in Grand Rapids.

Photography Courtesy Crystal Mountain

Facebook Comments