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REGIONAL—When it comes to the winter economy in the North Country, those who cater to outdoor enthusiasts have a common refrain: “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.”It’s …
REGIONAL—When it comes to the winter economy in the North Country, those who cater to outdoor enthusiasts have a common refrain: “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.”
It’s been called the region’s “white gold” and the abundance of snow this winter has left plenty of extra nuggets in the pockets of everyone from restaurant owners to hotel and resort operators.
“I think it’s been a really, really good season,” said Eva Sebesta, executive director the Ely Chamber of Commerce. “That early snow really set us up for a good winter of riding overall.”
Snowmobiling, in particular, has attracted large numbers of visitors to the region, so many, in fact, said Sebesta, that it was nearly impossible to book a room in Ely this weekend, although the Wolftrack Classic sled dog race is another event that’s filling rooms in town right now.
The impact of snowmobiling, in particular, is felt by any number of businesses. “Gas sales have been strong at the Y Store, and our resort has been very busy with both smaller and larger snowmobile groups,” said Brian K. Anderson, public relations director for Fortune Bay Resort Casino. “When we’ve been sold out, we steer business to our fellow Lake Vermilion Resort Association members, and they do the same for us.”
That influx of visitors during the snowmobile season doesn’t happen by accident. “As always, a ton of credit goes to the area snowmobile clubs who keep the trails in pristine condition,” said Anderson. “I don’t think people realize the importance local snowmobile clubs play in our economy,” Anderson added. “It’s more than just putting heads in beds. It’s also about steering business to local bars, restaurants, and shops that would otherwise experience a slowdown in business during winter months.”
Sebesta echoed that sentiment. “When you think about what the DNR and the local trail clubs do, they’re just doing an amazing job. They not only support the local riders but also provide a big boost to the tourism business.”
While the land-based trails have been generally outstanding since mid-January, getting there took a considerable amount of effort, much of it volunteer. The big mid-December snowfall left a hefty snowpack, but it also brought down or bent over countless trees and brush. “There was a lot of cleanup to do. That took at least a couple weeks,” said Derek Lossing, who operates Lossing Power Sports in Babbitt. Lossing, who rents snowmobiles and keeps a close eye on conditions, said the lack of bitter cold following the heavy snow proved another hurdle as it left many swamps slow to freeze, which hampered grooming operations.
Eventually, however, it all came together and since then, the conditions have been getting rave reviews. “The trails have been fantastic,” said Carla Koch at Melgeorge’s Resort on Elephant Lake. “We’ve actually been really busy.”
The good times looked like they might come to an end earlier this month after rain and temperatures in the 40s prompted a distinctly un-February-like meltdown that left trails icy and bare in spots. But a timely snowfall ahead of the President’s Day weekend and this week’s more substantial snows have replenished the base, filled in bare corners, and left the trees draped in white once again.
The DNR puts current trail conditions on the Arrowhead and Taconite trails at good to very good.
With the excellent riding, enthusiasm for winter doesn’t seem to be diminishing. “Folks are pretty happy right now,” said Rick Oveson, who operates Oveson’s Resort on Pelican Lake in Orr. “Looks like we’ll have at least a couple more good weekends.”
Lossing said demand for snowmobile rentals has been strong in recent weeks, with all 13 of his sleds booked for all three days of the recent holiday weekend and the same for this upcoming weekend. And it’s been bringing in people from far and wide, notes Lossing. “We’ve now had people from three countries and 17 U.S. states who have rented snowmobiles this year,” he said. “It’s kind of fun to see all the different people who are coming up.”
With many of the visitors unfamiliar with the region, Lossing has started offering guided tours and he had four guided groups out this week on Tuesday. “People really seem to be embracing snowmobiling…more so than before COVID,” he said.
The good times appear slated to continue for at least a couple more weeks. The area is supposed to remain in an active weather pattern with seasonable temperatures through the first weekend in March. That means good chances of additional snow with little sign of a thaw.
The region’s average high for Feb. 24 is 28 degrees, with an average low of minus one.
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