Swiss Valley 50 years old

Published 8:38 pm Wednesday, December 21, 2011

CASSOPOLIS — While others endured rain as the price to pay for an unseasonably warm, snow-free December, this week’s weather makes Jamie Stafne “kind of nervous.”
That’s because she operates Swiss Valley Ski and Snowboard Area, 13421 Mann St., which employs 150 people near Jones in eastern Cass County to host an average 60,000 skier visits per year on 11 runs.
“This weather is not good for us,” Stafne said. “We need snow and cold weather. But if we can get that turned around to, say, 24 degrees, we can turn our green grass — unfortunately, it’s still green — into white snow within 30 hours with the right temps and humidity.”
As she told the Cass County Board of Commissioners last week, reading from a Three Rivers Commercial article published last spring, “Fifty years ago — April 26, 1961 — construction is underway on Grandview Heights Winter Sports Area, a 60-acre resort located four miles northwest of Jones.”
It was the brainchild of Fisher Lake residents who owned the M-60 Drive-In Theater.
“In 1968, my father, Jim Wiseman, purchased the property, which has been Swiss Valley for 43 years,” Stafne said. “We now have two quad chair lifts, one triple chair lift, a separate learning area for beginners and two places to eat when you visit. We have a cafeteria and a restaurant that overlooks the slopes. The original fireplace in the lodge is still there with a fire burning every day we’re open.”
Commissioner Gordon Bickel Sr., R-Constantine, an avid snowmobiler, indicated a good trail connects Porter Township to the eateries.
Stafne said Swiss Valley also maintains a retail ski and board shop which opens in the fall and provides service. There is also a rental department for everything from snow boards to gloves.
“We give approximately 12,000 lessons,” Stafne said. “Within the industry, we are considered a ‘feeder resort’ to other bigger resorts in areas up north.”
Besides 150 seasonal employees (which drops to 20 in the summer) there is a volunteer ski patrol numbering 40 to 50 more people.
“We do all our own maintenance,” she said. “There are a lot of regulations we have to comply with.”
Labor, energy and insurance are its top three expenses. “Keeping roads clear for access helps us for sure. We have early-morning deliveries of food and beverages, plus our employees need to get there earlier than 9 or 10 when we actually open.”
Swiss Valley is also looking forward to arrival of high-speed internet, which County Administrator Charlie Cleaver looks forward to in late summer 2012 as the buried fiber makes its way west from Hillsdale County.
Stafne serves on the Economic Development Corp. and belongs to the Cassopolis-Vandalia Area Chamber of Commerce.