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Published: Friday, 12/29/2006

Ohio, Michigan resorts wonder: Where's winter?

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
A hill at Mount Holiday, near Traverse City, in northern Michigan, has only patchy snow. A hill at Mount Holiday, near Traverse City, in northern Michigan, has only patchy snow.
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Usually the week between Christmas and New Year's Day is Mount Brighton's busiest, but this year, the southeast Michigan ski resort looks more like a vacant golf fairway with patches of snow standing in for sand traps.

It hasn't been cold enough for the Brighton-area resort to make snow lately, and ski runs have been open just eight days so far this season, not the normal 21 to 30 days.

Although holiday gift-certificate sales were brisk, coats are piling up in the ski shop, said Joe Bruhn, general manager for the ski slope 75 miles north of Toledo at U.S. 23 and I-96.

"It's been pretty quiet around here the last couple of weeks," he said. "We're looking forward to a change. It's on our New Year's wish list."

Many northern Ohio and southern Michigan businesses that rely on snow for winter recreation sales are struggling in the continued warm temperatures. The contrast with last season's early snow and cold makes this season especially tough, some said.

Brandywine Ski Resort near Peninsula, Ohio, southeast of Cleveland off the Ohio Turnpike, was open just two days this month, and runs at sister Boston Mills Ski Resort have been closed. The last time the resorts delayed opening until January was the 1997-1998 winter, said Kim Laubenthal, marketing manager.

"We're used to being at the mercy of Mother Nature," she said.

Ski sales are below last year's at Mountain Man Sports in Toledo, and rentals are down, too. But ski sales are not that far off a five-year average, and people are starting to rent gear to go to Boyne Mountain and other northern Michigan resorts 300 miles and more from Toledo for New Year's weekend, said Marshall Pifer, assistant manager.

"I think a lot of people are waiting to see what happens to snow conditions before they rent," he said.

Yet at Red Sky Surf & Snow in Toledo, snowboard sales are up at least 30 percent from a year ago. Snowboarders think nothing of driving five hours for powder, and they build practice runs from ice-rink scrapings in their back yards, said Holly Podzinski, manager.

"This has been a really good year for us despite the weather," she said.

In northern Michigan, cross-country trails were not open yesterday at Boyne Mountain near Boyne Falls nor at Boyne Highlands near Harbor Springs, but alpine runs and lifts have been open daily since Dec. 8.

No attendance records are being broken, but the resorts have movies, indoor water rides, spa treatments, and other diversions for customers, said Erin Ernst, spokesman.

"We've had a really decent amount of people for temperatures not being ideal," she said.

Snowfall has not been a problem for ski resorts in Minnesota and Wisconsin, let alone in Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Utah. Colorado, though, is facing a second major snowstorm, which will hurt skiing, said Molly Cuffe, spokesman for Colorado Ski Country USA.

Still, the holiday ski season is spread out over three weeks this year because of the way the dates for Christmas and New Year's fall, and reservations for February and March are looking very strong, she said.

Although Honda East Yamaha Suzuki in Maumee hasn't had any interest in snow-removal equipment for all-terrain vehicles, it has sold some late-season motorcycles that normally would be in stock until spring.

Because 90 percent of the dealership's snowmobile customers take trips to northern Michigan in January and February, sales should be fine if there is snow next month, said Gabe Miller, sales manager. "It all is based on what happens in the next couple of weeks."

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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