Ski meet helps local economy

HANCOCK – Last weekend’s U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association MidAm races at Mont Ripley brought more than high-level alpine competition. They also brought an influx of business, for both the hill and for surrounding hotels and restaurants.

Of 107 racers skiing at the event, all but one were from out of town. According to Mont Ripley General Manager Nick Sirdenis, the competitors brought along about 50 parents registered as race workers, an unknown number not working the event, about 40 coaches, and over a dozen out-of-town race officials. In all, he said, a bare minimum of 200 guests filled Houghton and Hancock for the three-day racing weekend.

The extra bump in lift ticket sales, ski shop business and food concessions added up to an extra $12,000 revenue for the Michigan Tech-owned ski hill, Sirdenis said.

There are no tools in place to measure the economic benefit to the community as a whole, but Bill Potsa, a coach from La Crosse, Wis., said an economic impact study of a similar three-day race in La Crosse that hosted about 300 racers – three times the number that came to Hancock – showed an overall impact of $1.5 million.

“You go into a restaurant tonight, you’ll see these people,” said Hancock’s John Manderfield, USSA Central Region Board President and the weekend’s race chief.

Mont Ripley’s right-in-town location should maximize the benefit, said International Ski Federation official Ted Lockwood, who was visiting to ensure race compliance with FIS standards.

“You can’t do anything around here without seeing this place,” he said.

Ripley Racing Team coach Bob Vial agreed, noting that “ski families like the community, like the fact that the ski hill is right here in town. They’re asking me about the town, where to go out to eat and all that sort of thing.”

Sirdenis said preparing for high-level racing requires some investment from the hill, with intensive, specialized snowmaking to ensure a minimum two feet of base, a carefully adjusted snowmaking mixture that’s heavier on water to create harder snow, and intensive grooming.

But those efforts also assist Ripley’s home-team racers throughout the season, he said, noting that Ripley’s terrain is uniquely suited for racing.

“Our Racer’s Ridge is the premier race course in the Midwest,” he said.

Sirdenis noted that Michigan Tech, which owns the hill, tasked him with revitalizing racing at Ripley when he first took over a decade ago.

In the ’60s and ’70s, Sirdenis said, Ripley was considered a premier Midwestern racing hill. Olympians Chuck Ferries in the ’60s and Mary Seaton in the ’70s, along with World Cup racer Barbara Ferries, all got their start at the hill. But when other Midwestern hills brought in snowmaking Ripley fell behind, before beginning its comeback as a racing destination when it began snowmaking in the early 2000s.

Now, Sirdenis said, accommodating local racers as well as visitors is a significant part of the hill’s economic picture.

“We have a lot of different types of skiers and snowboarders, and we have to touch base with all of them,” he said. “For us to survive, we have to get a bit of everything.”