Wednesday, Jun 29, 2016
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U.P. winter tourism off to hot start

Early, plentiful snow boon to Mich.’s seasonal businesses

HOUGHTON, Mich. — There’s no business like snow business so far this winter in Michigan's Copper Country, and many in winter recreation and related businesses say things are just starting to build momentum.

“The rentals haven’t been crazy yet because people don’t expect the snow, but sales have been awesome,” Brad Barrette, rentals manager at snowmobile dealership Houghton Powersports, told the Daily Mining Gazette of Houghton.

Last weekend, he said, rentals were booked solid, and reservations were strong into January. His first sleds went out a full month ahead of last year’s.

Businesses that depend mostly or entirely on the snow, like snowmobile dealerships and ski hills, say it’s night and day compared to last year, when there was no snow — and no business at all — in December.

In a seasonal business, that one-month swing makes a huge difference in the end-of-year bottom line, noted Chad McIntyre, manager of M&M Powersports in Hancock.

Related businesses like hotels, restaurants, and equipment and apparel retailers are also showing gains.

Diane Peterson, president of the Keweenaw County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and manager of the AmericInn hotel, both in Calumet, said her December room occupancy rates at the hotel were up about 10 percent to 15 percent over last year’s.

That’s a significant jump, considering that Houghton and Keweenaw County hotels were on average only about one quarter full last winter, according to numbers compiled by the visitor’s bureau. Summer is generally the busiest season, Ms. Peterson noted, with about 40 percent occupancy this year. Spring is the slowest season, with only about 10 percent occupancy.

At Mount Bohemia ski hill in Lac La Belle, company president Lonie Glieberman said season pass sales are nearly double last year’s total of about 2,200 passes. About 550 skiers and snowboarders were on the hill on opening day Dec. 14 — more than a month ahead of last year’s opening day.

“We haven’t really got into our busy days yet for daily ticket sales, but that opening in December was equal to one of the top five days for the year every other year,” Mr. Glieberman said.

“We’re having our best December ever,” he added. “We expect it to be the best in our 14 years.”

Not all parts of the Copper Country can match the 100-plus inches of snow that Mr. Glieberman’s seen in Keweenaw County, but snow-related businesses throughout the area are booming. Many others can relate to Mr. Glieberman’s final thought.

“It really is all about the snow — we live and die with the snow.”

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