Porcupine Mountains
Is ski resort ownership and management a proper function of state government?

SILVER CITY-People who ski the Porcupine Mountains Downhill Ski Area call it a unique experience, with its breathtaking view of the world’s largest freshwater lake. So popular has the resort become that last winter “the Porkies” had its third-best season ever in terms of revenue.

It only lost $140,000.

Why the poor performance? It may be because the Porkies resort is state-owned and operated. Any privately owned resort that posted such results might go out of business or be taken over in short order by somebody who could run it at a profit. But when the state mismanages matters that properly belong in the private sector, its government-owned status makes change easier to put off.

Yet, the realities of the marketplace can’t be completely ignored, and to the state’s great credit it is looking at ways to make the resort more solvent. For instance, state officials have considered closing the resort on weekdays, cutting costs, and raising ticket prices.

At Indianhead Ski Resort, tickets are $36 on weekends or holidays; at Boyne Mountain, they cost $43 on Saturday and $45 on holidays. At the Porkies, the price is $28, and the price last year was $25. Indianhead charges for children older than six; at the Porkies, children ski free until age 12.

Of course it’s nice to go to a ski resort that costs much less than usual. What skiers-and the rest of us who don’t ski-tend to forget is that state ownership of such recreational facilities are precisely the kinds of investments that make our tax bills go up.

The state might consider privatizing the resort as a way to save money and ensure that people get access to the ski area. Greg Hokans, tourism director for the Western Upper Peninsula’s Big Snow County studied privatization of the “Porkies” ski resort and concluded that its management might be best placed in the hands of a private vendor. “Does the state really belong in the ski business?” he asked.