Mont Ripley to continue operation for the near future


Photo courtesy of Upper Michigan Source

Mont Ripley, Michigan Tech’s storied ski hill just across the canal, remains a controversial deficit operation on the books of the university. Recent developments, including rising costs, an open letter by students to the administration and University budget clampdowns on the facility have generated some conversation. Despite this, students can rest assured that the ski spot won’t be outright closing anytime soon.
According to Jan. 29 USG meeting minutes, the main costs that contribute to the operation are labor and energy costs. Particularly, since the increased minimum wage of the state and the energy needed to run snow machines are not avoidable costs, “budget constraints” were put in place to bring the ski hill nearer to breakeven.
On average, over the last 10 years, Mont Ripley has been open to skiers and snowboarders by Dec. 6. This year brought their opening to Dec. 7, with the entire facility operational. This year also brought the reduction of “hours on Saturday nights” due to “historically low numbers of skiers.”
In terms of funding Mont Ripley, USG has approved a “33 percent increase of budget through Experience Tech Fee.” This has not yet been approved by the Board of Trustees, but if it is, along with the condition that “enrollment increases,” Mont Ripley can break even. Revenue for Mont Ripley from the Experience Tech fee “has not increased” in 15 years, according to USG minutes, because enrollment has remained largely the same.
Recently, an open letter was composed by those interested in the health of Mont Ripley skiing and snowboarding. The letter urges the administration to institute “expanded support of [Mont Ripley].” This contention is supported by the student body’s interest in skiing, the social activity that takes place at the hill, Tech being the prime ski university of the Midwest due to Ripley, and the hill as means to be active and manage stress. Cited in the letter is “22,000 total visitors,” with “40% of the student body” having visited “in the 2017-2018 season”. School clubs that involve themselves with the ski area could be seen distributing paper copies of the letter, urging passersby to sign in support. The online version of the letter also has entry fields for students, parents, alumni and community members to voice their support.
Over last summer, the aforementioned “budget constraints” were put in place, the very measures that initiated this open letter. Intended as means to constrain budget, snow making slowed, lay-offs were made, and Saturday night hours were reduced.
To be clear, the budget for Mont Ripley has not been cut, but cost-saving measures have been made to bring the budget in line.
Theresa Coleman-Kaiser, Associate Vice President for Administration at Tech, spoke to USG at that Jan. 29 meeting in search of feedback regarding these developments around Mont Ripley. USG responded in kind, suggesting that Mont Ripley operation be more effectively and transparently communicated to students. This, according to the minutes, “would help students understand why certain operations are being scaled back.” They suggest a uniting “with students with the goal of keeping Mont Ripley operational.” Additionally, concerns were expressed that the administration doesn’t properly prioritize Mont Ripley despite it being seen as “as an important part of the college experience at MTU.”
Despite what rumors may have circulated campus, a complete shutdown of Mont Ripley as a possibility is “not true.” In fact, according to USG minutes, there is “no chance of Mont Ripley closing.”