2017-03-23 / Outdoors

‘Unusual’ winter ends too soon for county skiers, snowmobilers

By Jay Bushen
Of The Enterprise staff

Cedar snowmobiler Ron Novak measures winter exhilaration in miles.

The new sled Novak bought in 2015 hasn’t had many to count, however.

“This year I put on a mere 40 miles,” said Novak, a 45-year snowmobile safety instructor and member of the Cedar Hilltopper’s Club. “My overall odometer reading is 942 and it should be 1,500, at least, in one year. Conditions haven’t been very good.”

Opportunities to zip through fresh powder with exhaust-filled nostrils have been frustratingly infrequent for county snowmobilers this winter.

Sled heads have had just three quality chances to hit the trails in Leelanau County, Novak said: the second week in January, the first week of February and the first week of March.

“It was a very unusual winter to say the least,” he said. “We had as much snow this year as we had last year, but the frequent thaws killed the snow base and ruined the trails. In fact, on the state trail from Maple City to U.S. 31, there were periods where the groomer was shut down for two weeks at a time due to the lack of snow. We never really got the base, and that killed us.”

The lack of snow not only impacted snowmobilers but also local business.

Snowmobilers, as Novak put it, can be “big spenders.” That’s particularly the case at gas stations and restaurants.

The lack of snow also meant fewer skiers at The Homestead.

Vice President Jamie Jewell said fickle weather led to a decision to close Bay Mountain down on March 5.

“The toughest thing has been no snow downstate for several weeks,” Jewell said. “People’s mindsets move from winter to spring and golf. We had a fairly good season. The holidays were good, but the back-and-forth weather and thaws did not help. We’re anxious to move on to the next season.”

What about cross-country skiers?

Steve Christensen, vice chairman of the county’s parks and recreation commission, said it’s been a “light snow year” for skiers at both Myles Kimmerly and Veronica Valley parks.

“We’ve groomed a bit, but there wasn’t a whole lot of opportunity to get out there,” Christensen said. “We had a melt, a real warm week, in every month. The ski hills made their own snow—that probably worked to their advantage to some degree—but for us, we need snow. It wasn’t a really good year; it was an OK year.”

The new trails at Myles Kimmerly didn’t see much usage as a result.

Nonetheless, groomers stand by in storage at both parks, just in case.

Who else was impacted by the unusual winter? Ice fishermen.

“You had to pick your spots,” Christensen said. “You had to have safe ice, and it took a long time to get it. You had to be creative and move around a bit more than you normally would.”

Unfortunately for winter sports enthusiasts in the county, the Snow Miser may not return anytime soon.

Monday was the first day of spring.

“I guess we can wish for next year,” Novak said.

Return to top