Kyle Griffin, 22, is a White Lake resident who works at Nichols Ski and Snowboard in Waterford. He started skiing at 18 months old. (He jokes, “Can you tell that my parents came from the ski industry?”) We asked him to help us understand how the craze to hit the powder thrills people in one of the flattest places on earth.
Metro Times: I understand Nichols Ski & Snowboard should be the first stop for anyone trying to get into this.
Kyle Griffin: Well, thank you very much for the great complement. As long as we have passionate people here that can get others out skiing and snowboarding, we’re doing our jobs right.
MT: But it seems to me strange that we’d have any ski shops in Michigan given that Michigan is known for being so flat. What’s up with that?
Griffin: The first reason is that you have these smaller, but relatively successful areas in the metro Detroit area. Let’s take for example Pine Knob, Mount Holly, Mount Brighton and Alpine Valley. These are small places that, for most metro Detroiters, are very close to home, and they can take their kids out an introduce them to skiing without taking that big family trip. This also means that you can ski more often because it’s so much more convenient to do. So think of it almost like a pond that you can learn to swim in and them you move to the lakes and move to the oceans. And you could say those lakes and oceans are areas like Boyne Mountain, Boyne Highlands perhaps Crystal Mountain and even Nub’s Nob up in northern Michigan, where the hills are a little bit bigger, and you certainly would have a better snowfall when you get kind of past the latitude of West Branch, and you can have that weeklong family vacation say around spring break or even for Christmas. And I think that’s where the spark really comes from. It’s the areas down in southern Michigan where the population centers are that introduce people to skiing and then people can go from there and really start to enjoy the sport in other areas, say, in Northern Michigan, maybe the U.P., and, eventually, almost always out West.
MT: How does it break down these days? Are most of your customers interested in skiing or boarding?
Griffin: You know, we’re seeing a real revival in skiing, most specifically in freestyle where there are a lot of TV events going on now that broadcast half-pipes and jumps and rails. Most of those are on skis, and even the kids that were snowboarding a while ago are switching to skiing. It’s the new popular thing to do; to be in a terrain park. So that’s one area where we’re seeing a nice increase and interestingly enough these last couple of better snow years have really shown us an increase in the number of people who just want to get out and get active during the winter because it’s so hard to sit inside those really long winter months and you have such cabin fever by the end. Why don’t you grab a pair of snowshoes or some cross-country skis? You don’t need any hill whatsoever. All you need is some snow and maybe a county park or a state park you can go to or just explore and stay active and stay healthy.
MT: Do we have terrain parks around here? What are they?
Griffin: You know, it’s something that’s been happening on the skiing side of things for about the last 20 years or so. It really started in the early ’90s and, of course, it was small and it really started out West. It was something that freestyle skiers that skied moguls and bumps and did aerials and competitions way back when were inspired to start trying because they saw snowboarders taking all of the terrain off-piste, or rather, off groomed terrain and exploring it and playing with it. So that’s where you’re still seeing those aerials and tricks being performed on the snow, but what’s nice about that is that small areas can do that now. You don’t need to have the big mountains to really feel like a good skier. You can have an area like Mount Brighton or Pine Knob, two places that are very well known for their terrain parks, and you can have a great park with very little vertical. As long as it’s taken care of properly, you can have 30- or 40-foot jumps. You can have any kind of rail you want, half-pipes on just about any kind of terrain.
MT: Did you ever have someone come in who maybe wasn’t sure if this was for them and develop a relationship with them as a customer and see them grow and really get into it?
Griffin: You know, that brings to mind so many stories of high school ski racers that I’ve seen come into the shop. They might have skied a couple of times and they’re looking for something to do maybe they’re looking for a cross-training sport, you know? They’re runners or tennis players and they say, “You know, I don’t know if I want to do this. What can we do?” So, you know, we’ll outfit them, we’ll try and educate them as much as possible on what they might be looking for in terms of equipment, and, being a ski racer myself, I usually tend to give them tips on the whole atmosphere of racing from a coach’s perspective. And so that helps guide them kind of into the sport. And it’s really, really great to see kids come in and develop that fire for being on the snow whether they love racing particularly or not, they love to ski by the end of the four years of high school and there is really no gift that I can see that is better than the gift of skiing for several reasons. But in any case, I’ve seen skiing give so many gifts to people. It can bring families together and can give grandma all the way down to grandchild something to do together. It can give people a way to stay active for their entire lives. It’s a really, I mean, it’s a risky sport, but its impact on your body is not as hard as maybe football or basketball would be in the end. And so it’s a longevity kind of thing. But the real magic is in the experiences that it can give you over the course of your lifetime. And that’s why my goal, in the end, for my life, is to introduce skiing to as many people as possible, so that I can share the gifts that I’ve been given.
Nichols Ski and Snowboard has locations in Dearborn and Waterford; see nicholsskiandsnowboard.com for more info.