Off the Water photo/KATIE ROHMAN Ski and snowboard rentals at Swiss Valley vary based on hours, holidays and the renter’s age. Family and children’s ski and snowboard packages are also available. Twenty percent of Swiss Valley’s guests take lessons.

Archived Story

Snow ready to go

Published 7:07pm Thursday, January 5, 2012

JONES — Its season may have been delayed a few more weeks than usual, but conditions are expected to be “perfect” at Swiss Valley Ski and Snowboard Area this weekend, marketing director Jamie Stafne said.

‘The employees are ready to go. Our ski club members are ready to go,” said Stafne, who

Off the Water photo/KATIE ROHMAN About 60 to 70 snow machines were working overtime at Swiss Valley this week to prepare for the resort’s opening. Skiing and boarding conditions are expected to be “perfect” this weekend, Swiss Valley marketing director Jamie Stafne said.

learned to ski at Swiss Valley when she was 2 years old.

Resort phones have been ringing off the hook with lake home owners, families, vacationers and other skiing and boarding enthusiasts itching to hit the slopes, Stafne said.

The resort, located off M-60 in Jones, typically opens for the winter in mid-December; however, the lack of snow has prevented that from happening. About 11 inches of snow fell earlier this week, prompting the resort’s staff to kick snowmaking into high gear. The slopes must maintain a 36-inch base, which is difficult with highs in the 30s forecasted this weekend.

“Right now, that’s our first priority, because we don’t know when we’ll have another opportunity,” Stafne said.

Swiss Valley is not the only ski resort chomping at the bit to get its slopes open — snow has been minimal and temperatures have been above average across most of the Midwest this winter.

“The difference this year has been that every ski resort in the Midwest has to make its own snow,” Stafne said.

Swiss Valley has been using 60 to 70 snow machines, three groomers and a team of snowmakers to prepare the resort for opening day — which hasn’t been nailed down yet;

Stafne recommends visiting their website or Facebook page for updates.

A feeder resort

Swiss Valley, which opened in 1968 with an old farmhouse, seven towropes and no snowmaking, now provides more than 12,000 lessons per year. With a 225 vertical foot-peak — the highest in southwest Michigan — Swiss Valley considers itself a “feeder resort” for larger ski areas across the country. Joe Montana, NFL hall of fame quarterback, learned to ski there when he was a student at the University of Notre Dame. Ski magazine editor-in-chief Andy Bigford was Swiss Valley’s director of racing when he was a teen.

X-Games skier Ryan McCullough and John Riopel of the US Freestyle Ski Team got their start at Swiss Valley.

In 1997, the resort added the terrain park, which offers tabletops, high spines, grind rails and pyramids for skiers, and snowboarders and twin tippers for stunts. In 2006, it added an additional “starter” terrain park. It now also features the National Ski Patrol Building, cafeteria, Ski and Board Shop, The Chalet and the Fireside Lounge for dining and live music.

Today, between 55,000 and 60,000 skiers visit Swiss Valley per year; 20 percent take lessons.

“People start here,” Stafne said. “We’re very good at teaching people. We’ve been doing it for 43 years.”

Something for everyone

Although Swiss Valley bills itself as an incubator ski area, it offers a wide range of lessons, clubs, packages, family events and races.

Its “Valley Kids” program is designed for skiers ages 4 to 12 and boarders ages 7 to 12. The all-day program is available Saturdays and Sundays and includes a life ticket, rental, lunch and more.

The “Sunday Family Fun” program includes a lift ticket, rentals and a group “never ever” lesson from 3 to 7 p.m.

Swiss Valley began its “50+? Ski with Us” group last year on Wednesdays. It includes skiing, breakfast and socializing in the Chalet.

College students receive a discount on Friday nights, and the Notre Dame Ski Team will even hold its tryouts at Swiss Valley later this month.

Some of Swiss Valley’s most popular events include the 34th Annual Outpost Cup, a ski and snowboard race and the resort’s most popular spectacle; “Friday Night Fights,” which pits

Swiss Valley trick boarders and skiers versus those from Timber Ridge Ski Area in Gobles; and the “Winter Jam Freestyle Event,” what Stafne describes as a nighttime “big air” contest with “X Games-type” tricks.

Swiss Valley Ski and Snowboard Area is located at 13421 Mann Rd., off M-60, in Jones. It is located 2.5 hours from Chicago, 40 minutes from South Bend, 3.25 hours from Indianapolis and 1.5 hours from Valparaiso. Learn more at or call (269) 244-5635.

The Science of Snowmaking

How does it work?
Snowmaking in its simplest form is the act of turning water into small ice crystals (snow). Four things come into play to make this happen: ambient temperatures, evaporation, surface area and super cooling.

Ambient temperature
Even when the temperatures if below freezing (32 degrees), snow quality can be poor and slushy. This is because much of the water is not saying or even turning into a frozen state.

As some of the water evaporates from the surface of the drop, a small amount of heat is removed from the drop itself. When there is high humidity, the water droplet’s surface isn’t able to evaporate a small amount of water and remove some of the heat. In snowmaking, they refer to wet bulb temperature — the measure of the ambient temperature that takes into account the cooling effect the humidity in the air allows for.

Surface area
Be increasing the surface area of the drop, as much of the water is exposed to the cold as possible. The smaller the drops, the greater the surface area-to-volume ratio. This is achieved through highly specialized nozzles.

Super cooling
When a compressed gas (in this case, air) is allowed to rapidly expand, there is a decrease in temperature known as the Joule-Thompson Effect. The conditions in the air nozzle are such that the mist coming from the nucleation nozzle is able to immediately freeze. The ice crystals are drafted into the larger upper mists, which seed and snap the pre-cooled water droplets into a frozen state.

Source: Swiss Valley Ski and Snowboard Area

Swiss Valley Major Events

Jan. 15: 15th Annual Snowmeister — snowboard and ski race, all ages welcome.

Jan. 13, 20, 27; Feb. 3, 11, 17, 24: Friday Night Fights — Swiss Valley versus Timber Ridge, prizes awarded in numerous categories, including skiing, snowboarding, females and overall, hill that wins receives traveling trophy.

Feb. 4: Winter Jam Freestyle Event — southwest Michigan’s only nighttime big air competition.

Feb. 5: Swiss Valley Junior Development Race Team (ages 5-14) Race Invitational.

Feb. 19: 34th Outpost Sports Cup Race — all ages and abilities welcome, T-shirt and prizes for participants, Swiss Valley’s biggest event of the year.

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