WisBusiness: New snow, plus cold, gives winter tourism a boost

By Brian E. Clark

This week’s continuing snowfall – which brought between five to 10 inches to much of the state on Monday and more Thursday – is a shot in the arm for Wisconsin tourism. Resort operators and innkeepers hope it will put locals and visitors alike in the mood for skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, ice fishing, outdoor skating and other activities.

“This is like money falling out of the sky,” said Jerry Huffman, communications director for the State Department of Tourism.

During the warm weather of December and the early part of January, he said most of the state’s tourism advertising was focused on non-outdoor activities such as museums, theater and festivals that didn’t require snow.

But with the return to winter weather that began last weekend, he said advertising buys now are focusing on outdoor cold-weather sporting activities.

Vicki Baumann, manager of the Granite Peak Ski Resort in Wausau, said the new snow improved conditions at the state’s largest ski and snowboard area.

“It really whitened things up and made it pretty again,” she said. “This is a real stimulator to get people out here.” In addition, Baumann said frigid temperatures means snowmaking machines can run 24 hours a day. She predicted 100 percent of the resort will be open by this weekend.

Darien Schaefer, executive director of the Wasau/Central Wisconsin Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the new snow means that the Badger State Winter Games cross-country skiing events planned for the weekend of Feb. 3 and 4 will go forward.

“The snow means the trails in Nine Mile Forest are open again,” he said. “The Nordic events will happen, barring a warm spell or rain between now and then.” Most alpine skiing events will be held at Granite Peak.

Schaefer said Marathon County’s 300 miles of snowmobile trails still do not have enough snow to open, however. “We still need another good storm or two,” he said.

The situation in much of central Wisconsin is the same, with most snowmobile trails needing more snow to open.

And in Eau Claire, the 121st anniversary ski jumping tournament at Silver Mine Hill has been cancelled for lack of snow. It was scheduled for next Friday and Saturday.

It is the city’s major winter sports attraction, but an inability to make snow in December and early January caused the club to scratch the event.

Further north, Conrad Heeg, executive director of the Eagle River Chamber of Commerce, said the five inches of snow that fell Monday improved conditions on the region’s snowmobile trails. Rain had washed away snow during a warm spell from Jan. 3-10.

He predicted as many as 30,000 visitors will come to Eagle River this weekend for the World Championship Snowmobile Derby on the town’s half-mile snowsled track.