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Tom Robertson, Minnesota Public Radio, Published January 14 2012

Brown winter cuts profits for some businesses

BEMIDJI, Minn. – Every January, snowmobiles are typically everywhere in much of Minnesota – bouncing along ditches and trails, pulled on trailers or parked at hotels and restaurants.

But this year is different. Except for the far northeastern corner of the state, there’s not enough snow on which to ride. The machines that are a big part of winter tourism in Minnesota have been mostly idle.

For communities that rely on snowmobile tourism, a snowless season means the loss of millions of dollars in economic activity.

“Here we are sitting, waiting,” said Rick Crow, who owns a Polaris and Ski-Doo dealership in Walker, Minn. “It’s going to be 40 degrees.”

Crow said pre-season snowmobile sales at his dealership were great last fall. But since then, he said, sales have crawled to a standstill. Parts and service are way down, too.

If Minnesota does not see snow on the ground in the next few weeks, Crow said he may have to lay off some employees.

Meanwhile, he said, some avid snowmobile enthusiasts are taking their business elsewhere.

“We’ve got people going to Michigan,” Crow said. “We’ve got people already out in Yellowstone and the mountains riding, so the diehards right now are having to haul them. You live in Minnesota in the wintertime, you’re supposed to have snow.”

While the economic challenges of having no snow are apparent throughout much of the Midwest, there are isolated regions that are in better shape. Members of a snowmobile club in Grand Marais report they have 4 to 8 inches of snow on the ground and people are still out riding their machines.

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