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Crystal Mountain: A Family Portrait
by Mike Terrell

Crystal Mountain could be likened to a portrait that over time has grown in prominence to become a masterpiece. The only difference is that in Crystal's case, instead of a single artist, it became a portrait by the Petritz family.

In the beginning it was George Petritz and his wife Althea, and now their daughter, Chris, and son-in-law, Jim MacInnes, have taken over the reins and continue to fine-tune the award-winning golf and ski resort. George, at 83, still comes into the office almost daily when in town, and he hasn't given up windsurfing yet either.

You could say that Crystal is an example of the way to do things right. Slowly they have developed what many visitors to the area consider one of the finest resorts in northern Michigan, a region known for its outstanding golf and ski resorts.

Golf Magazine calls it one of the "top family resorts in the Midwest," and calls director of golf Brad Dean, "one of the top four instructors in the state." Golf Digest gave it a "four-star golf rating," and Golf for Women not only says it is "one of the top 100 women-friendly courses in the nation," but also says it has one of the "top five women's instructional programs nationwide." Top that off with the fact that Dean was named the Michigan PGA Teacher of the Year in 1998 and 2000, and it's quite a list of accolades. In the last three years they've completed the final nine holes - giving them 36 total - to the scenic Mountain Ridge course, added the Crystal Center convention and guest services facility and the luxurious, 29-suite Inn at the Mountain. This season they've announced a $60 million, 10-year expansion plan that will include a new lodge and clubhouse, a pedestrian village, another 18-hole, Scottish links-style, signature golf course, a spa and more expansion of the skiing terrain. Pretty heady stuff when you consider the triple-diamond rated resort's humble beginnings.

It actually began as a small, hometown, community-run ski area known as Buck Hills. In 1955 the area first opened with three rope tows. It was truly a cooperative effort with just about everyone in the small village of Thompsonville helping in the effort, including George and Althea.

MacInnes recalled a time she was riding with her mother as she sought to solicit help from some local loggers in clearing the runs for the ski hill. "We were in some pretty rough company. I was only seven at the time, and I remember thinking how tough these guys looked. But Althea wouldn't take ‘no' for an answer. She kept talking, and finally they gave in and agreed."

In 1960 Crystal Mountain was born when 96 investors, including the Petritz family, formed a new corporation and added more surface lifts and a double-chairlift to the ski operation and also opened a new lodge with a full-service dining room, cocktail lounges and 21 guest rooms. The lodge is still in use today and has weathered the years about as well as George. The guest rooms have been converted to corporate offices, but the rest of the building still houses the resort's exquisite Wild Flower Restaurant, cocktail lounges and a cafeteria.

It didn't take long before Petritz realized that if the fledgling resort were going to have a chance to grow, it had to develop a year-round business. In 1966, he and two other remaining partners bought out the rest and began acquiring adjacent property parcels and adding more real estate development. By 1977 they had opened their first nine holes of golf, and it proved so popular another nine quickly followed two years later.

Continuing to fulfill his vision, Petritz bought out his partners in 1981 and brought daughter Chris and son-in-law Jim in to take it to the next level. "I look around and I'm amazed by what I see today," said Petritz as we talked in the restaurant overlooking the new Crystal Express, one of the few high-speed chairlifts for skiing in the Midwest. "I remember what we started with and the growth we've achieved seems phenomenal to me."

"When Jim and I decided to come on board in 1985 the first thing we did was go around and meet with other resort owners like the Homestead and Shanty Creek assessing what we needed to do to continue to grow," recalled MacInnes laughing. "We came back and said we need a 10-year master plan and a tree spade. The master plan was pretty obvious, but the tree spade was a revelation. It's amazing what you can do for landscaping - emphasizing what you want to be seen and hiding what you don't want - with a tree spade." It ushered in a new wave of progress in terms of facilities, market share and customer perception. In 1993 the first nine holes of the Mountain Ridge course, designed by William Newcomb, was opened and the rest is history.

"We've completed the first 10-year master plan and are embarking on our second with the new village and clubhouse. In creating the Crystal Village, we're taking careful measure to incorporate the character and history of our northern Michigan heritage," she explained. "The early stages of planning included taking photographs of and studying the architecture and buildings of neighboring towns and villages. They weren't built overnight and have an ‘additive' quality and varying architectural styles and features. You won't see overbearing buildings in Crystal's new village. It doesn't fit our northern Michigan heritage."

Recalling a time she and her father had a chance to tour the Grand Traverse Resort and its 17-floor tower as it was being built in the mid-'80s by (then) owner Paul Nine, MacInnes said her father turned to Nine at one point and said, "I bet I take more time to decide where to put a closet in a unit than you've taken in putting up this tower." Petritz was joking of course, but has had a reputation for building slowly, thoughtfully and "paying for it as you go." Steeped in "family tradition" and a firm business foundation, the year-round resort is now the largest employer in the county. Profit sharing and other incentives have kept many of the employees on board over the years, which has helped Crystal establish a solid reputation for pampering their guests with attentive service.

"In the hospitality business people are your main asset," said Petritz who still takes an active part in interviewing perspective employees. "They can make or break your business. We've been fortunate in hiring good people who've remained with us for years. Golf was the key, because it allowed us to stay open year-round." Golf, as with the rest of Crystal's tradition, is very family oriented. In addition to offering 68 various golf schools this season for mom and pop, there's the new Club Car Junior Golf Camps for 12-18 year-olds this summer, and junior golfers (17 and under) golf free with parents on the Betsie Valley course after 4 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. Every Tuesday and Thursday from June through August from 2:30-3:30 p.m., Crystal offers free family golf clinics. And, there are all kinds of kids programs - for those too young to golf or not interested - that will allow plenty of time for parents to golf or pursue other interests.

In addition to golf, hiking and biking trails abound on and off property and canoeing is available on the picturesque Betsie River as well as nearby horseback riding. One thing you won't want to miss is a stroll through the Michigan Legacy Art Park, which is a wooded 30-acre tract on property filled with imaginative sculptures from some of the state's major artists. Combining art and history, the unique images, located within the woodland setting, offer a look at Michigan's heritage and its people. The Art Park was a recipient of the Michigan Governor's Award for Arts and Culture.

Gracefully spread out over 1500 acres, the resort is located about 40 minutes southwest of Traverse City. For more information call (800) YOUR-MTN or click on www.crystalmtn.com.

July 2001 Issue Table of Content
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