“Major influence,” “living legend,” and “a force of nature” – these are just some of the words used to describe Keith Rex Van Duzen, Crystal Mountain’s first mountain manager. He passed away at the age of 92 on Jan. 13, surrounded by his four adult children in Traverse City.
“Of course when I heard the news, my eyes swelled up. He was my best friend,” George Petritz Jr. said. “Everyone grieves differently, and in this situation I’ve found that I grieve and then I can’t help but start laughing, thinking about all of the crazy, fun memories I have with him and Barb.”
Mr. Van Duzen and his wife of 69 years, Barbara, moved from South Haven to Beulah where Keith coached the Hilltoppers and taught at Benzonia High School. During that time, he became one of the original founders of Buck Hills.
“Keith and Barb were my go-tos for any Crystal history questions,” Nancy Story, former public relations director of Crystal Mountain, said. “I always knew where to find them – down at the 10 a.m. coffee klatch in Clipper or hosting a tailgate party in the Buck parking lot. That’s what I loved about them, they always embodied the spirit of Buck Hills’ beginnings and carried that exuberance through every winter at Crystal Mountain.”
When Buck Hills made the leap from community ski area to Crystal Mountain Resort in 1960, Keith was tasked with installing the first chairlift. This was no easy task because the chairlift was imported from Switzerland and the instructions were written in German.
“I didn’t know German and I wasn’t a construction engineer either,” Van Duzen said when he was interviewed in 2016 for the 60th anniversary of Crystal Mountain. “So I took the plans over to Karl Luedtke in Frankfort. I’d say, ‘Now Karl, if you were doing this, how would you do that?’ He’d tell me and I’d go back and do it.”
The Van Duzens loved the outdoors and spent countless hours camping, hunting, gardening, entertaining, and of course, skiing – which they did well into their eighties.
“Some of my favorite memories are when they would host sledding parties at their house. I remember sledding down on two toboggans one time, and a picnic table,” said Petritz. “Keith had such a can-do attitude whether he was out having fun or building up Buck Hills.”
In July 2020, Barbara passed away. To honor her, Crystal Mountain named one of the 58 downhill trails Eden Hill, after the road the family lived on in Beulah from 1965 to 2019. Today, the run holds even more meaning as the Crystal community remembers Keith and the legacy he left behind by laying a wreath at the top of Eden Hill run.
“Keith was a great storyteller and would always leave me laughing, but those stories helped frame the architecture of Crystal’s roots and are invaluable to our archives,” Story said. “It’s sad to have him pass, but anyone who loves Crystal Mountain can be so thankful and appreciative of the magnitude of his influence on the resort.”
A visitation will take place Saturday, Jan. 22 at the Bennet-Barz Funeral Home in Beulah. A graveside service will take place in the spring.