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Going Further Afield: Pando Park - the Snurfer Capitol of the World
By Robbie Allen, DCSki Columnist
January 26, 2008

I am a sucker for ski history. I am also, as shown here many times, a sucker for the small local ski hill. So to find a place that combines the two was quite a score. Little Pando Winter Sports Park in Western Michigan packs a lot of history in a small 125-foot local hill. It also is not a bad way to spend on few hours on snow.

The ski area was founded by Richard Bresnahan, one of the members of the famous 10th Mountain Division of World War Two. Anyone who has read “Climb to Conquer” will know that the 10th Mountain members founded many of the great ski resorts in the country. Mr Bresnahan named his ski area after Pando, Colorado where the division trained.

The story goes in 1962 Mr. Bresnahan, who ran a septic tank business, grew tired of driving up to Boyne Mountain, Michigan to take his family skiing. So he and his brothers decided to build their own ski area. Using the septic tank company’s earth moving equipment they carved out a ski area in a wooded hollow near Rockford, Michigan. It has grown ever since.

Pando has always been a forward looking area. It was quick to jump on an early snowboard-like craze known as the “Snurfer.” The board was invented right up the road in Muskegon, Michigan by local Sherman Poppen. The Snurfer was very poplar in Michigan and Pando allowed Snurfers free rein on the slopes. This area went as far as to host the “World Championships of Snurfing” several times during the 1970’s.

They also were early to the snowboarding bandwagon. They were the first in this state to allow snowboards on all slopes. In fact, snowboarding’s “founder” Jake Burton Carpenter came to Pando in 1979 and won what was claimed to be the first competitive snowboard race.

The back story here is that it really was a Snurfer event. However the organizers felt bad that this kid (Jake Burton Carpenter) had traveled all the way from Vermont to compete with this crazy board with water ski bindings on it. So they decided to let him compete in his own “modified” category, which he won as the only competitor. There is a bronze plaque in the lodge commemorating the event.

Is he riding a Snurfer? Photo provided by Pando Winter Sports Park.

Pando also was first to open a tubing hill in Michigan. There is cross country skiing trail starting from the area nearby as well. Calling the area a “winter sports park” is a very apt name for this place as they welcome almost all forms of snowsports.

The wooded bowl that is Pando. Photo provided by Pando Winter Sports Park.

Located in a wooded bowl Pando reports to have seven trails and six rope tows. It really is an open slope with 3 main areas supported by some good-sized tows. The rope tows add to the fun. The hill is way too small for a chair lift. I have always liked rope tows in that I feel like I am still skiing when “on tow.” It can make smaller verticals a real work out.

Ski uphill on the tow! Photo provided by Pando Winter Sports Park.

East Coasters’ jaws will drop at the lift prices: all of $12 for the day. The slopes were as fun as 125 feet of drop can be. A few short turns on the nicely packed powder and you were down and back “on tow.” It was kind of like skiing in your backyard if you had a really big yard.

Pando Winter Sports Park is the kind of place you wished could survive in your neighborhood. More likely depending on where you live it might have back in the 50’s and 60’s (check DCSki Lost Ski Areas for similar areas around here). It flourishes still today because it embraces change (snurfers, snowboards and now tubing) but remains a throwback to the simpler past.

The pipe at Pando; the main slope is in the background. Photo provided by Pando Winter Sports Park.

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Spencer2sam
12 years ago
I had a Snurfer! The snufer was plastic board shaped like a ski with a rope on the front to hang on to. It was hard to control and best for sleding hills
JimK
12 years ago
Fascinating. I liked this letter from Jake Burton that they had on their website: http://www.pandopark.com/downloads/BurtonLetter2007.pdf
When I was much younger I would have loved a place like this in Fairfax or Loudon county to work on my thin repertoire of aerial tricks.
ciscokid
12 years ago
Thanks for the great report Rob on this little local gem with a storied history.Have been on DCSki before but just spotted through a link by JimK on SnowJournal(Nelsap)
I have tubed at Pando a few years back but it never attracted me to ski as it is even smaller than its local neighbor(Cannonsburg)but now with a 3 year old grandson and new found fondness for small areas with NelsapSJ,I plan on getting him started on ropetows here at Pando shortly.
Did you happen to venture to Mulligans Hollow(Grand Haven)or Cannonsburg while in the area?
Ask JimK on how to reach me as I have quite a bit of info on lost Mi.areas and you seem to be the Midwest or vertically challenged “expert” on DCSki.
Thanks again,Ciscokid(Grand Rapids area)
ciscokid
12 years ago
Just to put an added plug for little Pando,a recent event(Nationally rated Mountain Biking sponsoreed by Jeep and on CBS I believe within the last few years!
That’s going full circle,snurfer’s,Jake Burton Carpenter’s first “snowboarding victory”,and national TV exposure of mountain biking while still maintaining that’60s ropetow charm!
Shannon Bresnahan
12 years ago
Richard Bresnahan is my Grandfather and it’s great to know how Pando came about and I grew up on those slopes when I was small cool article!
Trent
12 years ago
have you seen the new snurfboards they are awesome and also this isnt the birthplace The North muskegon block house was

www.novaksnurfboard.com
Bunny Vollmer
12 years ago
I believe my old yellow stripped Snurfer was wood with slightly raised staples in the areas where I was supposed to put my boots, and a yellow rope strung through the front and knotted below the board. Most of the time my boots were in the air and my rear was on the hill. I recal looking at the happy little Snurfer guy on the sticker and thinking that he must be a really good snurfer to be so happy. I miss Michigan. Thank you for bringing back some memories!
Shout it from a mountaintop.
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