It’s no secret that the mountain resort industry is a competitive one. To stay relevant within the market and continue to bring winter sport enthusiasts to your hill, tough decisions sometimes need to be made. However, those decisions can lead to a new lease on life for the business and new opportunities for skiers, snowboarders and the staff who serve them.
Appreciating the past
That seems to be the case for the Otsego Club and Resort in Gaylord, Mich. Mike Bedells is the general manager and, while he’s only held that title since May 2017, he knows the prestigious history of the club quite well.
“The resort was originally founded in 1939 by a group of automotive executives out of Detroit who were ski enthusiasts. They found this piece of property in Gaylord and they opened the Otsego Ski Club and it’s been a private club up until this year. Originally, it was just a small lodge with a hotel. We’ve expanded over the years, of course. We have 20,000 square feet of convention space now; we have five ski lifts, 29 runs, a 400-foot vertical, and approximately 150 skiable acres. It’s a regular ski resort now,” he said.
At the busiest point in the season, Otsego employs about 150 part-time and full-time staff, and their grooming equipment is by Prinoth.
“We groom every night,” said Bedells. “Grooming equipment is the Prinoth Bison. Then we have a Prinoth Husky that we use to run people down to the River Cabin, which is a little warming hut on the backside of the mountain.”
One thing that continuously draws visitors year after year is the view. “Our lodge is set at the top of the ridge and the view is about 22 miles of the Sturgeon River Valley. Plus, you ski down before you go up since the lodge is at the top,” said Bedells.
Another key to staying competitive as a ski destination is to offer more than just skiing and snowboarding – an offering that Otsego has gotten right. Not only are there 29 immaculate runs for skiers and snowboarders to enjoy, but there are also more than 6.2 miles of groomed trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, permitting guests to experience the Sturgeon River Valley from a completely different but equally breathtaking viewpoint.
As far as viewpoints go, Otsego certainly has a unique one according to Bedells.
“This place has been around since 1939 and that’s when they started building things here. So, there’s a certain motif around the property. You have a lot of cedar and elk-style buildings. You’re not looking at a behemoth resort. The main lodge has been added onto 15 times, and the history of the place is all over the walls here. It’s definitely a unique, quaint spot,” he said.
The 2017-2018 season marks the first year in its 78-year history that the Otsego Club and Resort will be open to the public. Bedells is candid about the reasoning behind this momentous decision.
“Over the past 20 years, membership has dwindled. It has in golf during the summer, too. The younger generation just isn’t staying in one spot anymore. We’re making the move into the public realm in order to capture new skiers and new customers. We have a long history of being a private but unique ski club. Our hope is that we can still be that unique spot but that we’re available for the public to experience as well,” he said.
Given that all the necessary infrastructure is in place for this change, the biggest challenge facing the Otsego Club now will be switching from a private to a public mindset. While the staff at Otsego have all along been big supporters of the club going public, Bedells says there will be a learning curve for everyone once the doors are open and the season is underway.
“Our lodge is set at the top of the ridge and the view is about 22 miles of the Sturgeon River Valley.”
Mike Bedells, Otsego Club & Resort“You’re going to have a higher volume of people but you’re going to try to give the same customer care as you would at a private club. With private clubs, there are very personal relationships established between staff and members. But you’re just not going to be able to sustain that in the public world. Most of my employees have been here at least a decade so they’ve watched some of our skiers grow up. So, it’s just adjusting that mindset,” he said.
Although no one can predict how the first public season will go, Bedells and the rest of the Otsego team have high expectations that happen to be based on the past. Osprey Properties purchased Otsego back in 2007, leased it out in 2012 and obtained it back from their renters in 2017. In 2010, the resort hosted a major international event that Bedells is considering trying to replicate after a few public seasons are under the resort’s belt.
I was working for the company back then, too. We hosted 12 different countries to train on a 22-foot halfpipe that we built here. It was a pretty big deal. We had people from Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Eastern Europe, the United States, Canada and even Belarus was here. To build a 22-foot halfpipe in Northern Michigan when there were only, I think, six in the world at the time, and that we pulled it off, it was amazing,” he said.
Otsego, according to Bedells, was not very busy during the week at the time, so it was as if they had closed the entire resort for the athletes, giving them the uninterrupted, focused training time every professional athlete dreams of having.
The feedback they received from the athletes and coaching teams was outstanding; the biggest complaint from their guests was that they were fed too much food! Bedells hasn’t ruled out hosting another event like that in the near future, but realizes there would definitely be a few changes.
“I don’t know that we’ll build a 22 again,” said Bedells, chuckling. “Big air and rail are where the push is right now. And the 22-foot halfpipe is very expensive to build. So, maybe an 18.
“Some may see the decision to go from a private to public ski resort as the beginning of the end. The Otsego Club and Resort has chosen to see this change as the ultimate opportunity to not only continue providing phenomenal amenities and services to their long-standing patrons but to also gain many more new patrons from the public and showcase the club’s unique history to the world. Given their dedication to their club and positive attitude toward implementing this change, new opportunities abound for Otsego Club and Resort; in other words, going public has never looked so good.