Snowless Winter Hurts Seasonal Tourism, Retail Biz

For snow-removal companies, outdoor recreation retailers, and other businesses that rely on snowmobile or winter tourism, the unseasonably mild winter is taking a toll.

The brown, mostly snowless winter has made life easier for Twin Cities drivers and cut down on plowing costs for local municipalities.

But for snow-removal companies, outdoor recreation retailers, and other businesses that rely on snowmobile or winter tourism, the unusually warm winter is taking a toll.

According to the Star Tribune, Blizzard Plowing owner David Melquist has pulled all of his advertising for the year, cancelled his vacation plans, and stopped performing maintenance on his equipment. He owns five snow plow trucks and hires seven other contractors-but this year, none of them is making money.

The brown winter offers a stark contrast from last winter, when repeated snowstorms and snow emergencies cancelled events throughout the Twin Cities and contributed to numerous accidents. Many local auto-repair shops, snow-removal companies, and towing companies were overloaded and reported record or near-record sales.

This year's lack of snow has put a serious damper on winter recreation-which, in turn, has hindered Minnesota retail and tourism.

At George Nitti's Hunters Point Resort on Lake Mille Lacs, there's open water-and Nitti told the Star Tribune that he's cancelled 50 to 60 bookings and business is down $150,000 compared to last year. The resort has 20 employees working two or three days a week instead of four or five; Nitti himself is reportedly working seven days a week to keep expenses down.

Similarly, Jan Guenther, who owns the Gear West Cross Country Ski and Run store in Long Lake, told the Minneapolis newspaper that sales are down 30 percent from what she planned in a worst-case scenario.

“This will toughen retailers up, and some will probably go out of business,” she told the Star Tribune.

Rick Crow, who owns a Polaris and Ski-Doo dealership in Walker, told Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) that pre-season snowmobile sales in the fall were great. But since then, sales have reached a standstill and parts and service are down as well. If there isn't snow on the ground within the next few weeks, he may have to lay off some employees.

According to MPR, a 2008 University of Minnesota study found that snowmobiling contributes nearly $130 million to local economies. Additionally, Minnesota has more than 250 snowmobile clubs and leads the nation in the number of registered snowmobiles.

Ingrid Schneider, director of the U's Tourism Center, which commissioned the study, told MPR that winter accounts for nearly a quarter of all tourism in the state, and snowmobilers are a major component.

Much to the dismay of Melquist, Nitti, Guenther, and Crow, temperatures on Tuesday are expected to hit the 40s and possibly even the 50s. They'll dip down to more normal levels on Wednesday, but a big snowfall isn't in the forecast.