WisBusiness: Winter tourism and sports are up

By Brian E. Clark

WAUSAU – More than a few Wisconsinites are getting a little tired of winter, wishing it were May and the flowers were out.

Not Vicky Baumann, operations manager of the Granite Peak Ski Area in Rib Mount State Park.

“The way we look at it, this winter has been exceptionally good and our numbers are up well over last year,” said Baumann, whose resort has 500 snowguns to make snow when Mother Nature isn’t cooperating.

But Mother Nature is more than doing her part, with many places in the Badger State breaking snowfall records – to the dismay of some and delight of others.

“With all the natural snow we’ve had, it’s really stimulated the skiers and snowboarders to come out – not just from Wisconsin, but from surrounding states, too. We’ve even gotten some visitors from St. Louis.”

And as for the griping about this winter being harsh?

“Storms have limited travel somewhat,” said Baumann, whose ski and snowboard resort is Wisconsin’s biggest. “But this is why we live here. We love the four seasons, especially winter.

“More snow? I say bring it on,” said Baumann, who noted that Granite Peak will be open until March 30.

Elsewhere around the state, interviews show business is up because – or in spite – of the winter weather.

At the Lodge at Cedar Creek south of Wausau in Mosinee, sales manager Patricia Kemner said her hotel and its waterpark resort are doing better than last winter, too.

“People come up to ski and snowboard at Granite Peak during the day and then play in the waterpark afterwords,” she said.

Or, some just come to frolic in the warm water and on the slides to forget about the snow and cold outside, she said.

Kemner said her resort is nearly full for the next few weekends, but she acknowledged the heavy snowstorms earlier this winter had caused some travelers to change their plans.

“But we’re doing well,” she said.

That sentiment is echoed in the Wisconsin Dells, which is reporting a booming winter business and sold-out resorts – thanks to this season’s storms and chilly weather.

Joe Eck, of the Wilderness Resort, said this winter has been unprecedented. He said the water parks are packed and rooms are booked.

Most of the 8,000 hotel rooms in Wisconsin Dells were booked solid this past weekend, according to Dells officials.

“It’s 100 percent cabin fever,” Eck said. “You can get away and escape to a place that’s 85 and sunny. You can go swimming with your kids.”

Melanie Platt-Gibson, of the Wisconsin Dells Convention and Visitors Bureau, said this winter has helped many realize that Wisconsin Dells really is a year-round destination.

“In Wisconsin Dells, it’s always 85 degrees and sunny,” Platt-Gibson said. “You can go from playing in the snow, downhill skiing, and snowmobiling to being on a tropical beach.”

In the far north at the Wild Eagle Lodge outside of Eagle River, manger Derek Burzinski said snowmobilers have been coming out of the woodwork.

“I’d say we’re up 30 percent in December and January over last season,” he said. “And February is strong, too.

“Snow is like gold up here. We’ve also got a good number of events up here, like January’s World Championship Snowmobile Derby, which draws 10,000 people.”

At Johnson Creek’s Performance Motorsports, owner Rob Strauss said his store is struggling to keep up with business from snowmobile owners.

“Our sales for new snowmobiles are up 25 percent over last winter,” he said. “But we’re noticing the effect of this snowy winter even more on our service department.

“People want to get out,” he said. “So we are seeing everything that has been locked in the barn for the past five years. It’s been a great winter for us.”

Likewise, sales of skis, snowboards, snowshoes and winter clothing are up at the Fontana Sports store in downtown Madison, said manager Jeff Bedermann.

“It’s much more brisk this year than last,” he said. “Our customers are enthusiastic and our staff is having a lot of fun getting out there and playing, too.

“Sure, some people are complaining about shoveling all the snow that’s fallen and that winter is getting old,” he said. “But not the people who come in here or work here.”

At Tyrol Basin, a ski and snowboard resort near Mount Horeb, manager Don McKay predicted the season will turn out to be a bit above average.

“Yes, we’ve had a lot of natural snow which gets people thinking about skiing, but we’ve also had a lot of bitter cold,” he said. “The down side is that when it’s below zero, people don’t want to come out.

“Then, it doesn’t do us much good when it warms up to 45 degrees and rains,” he said.

McKay, whose resort gets most of its business from southern Wisconsin, said the “diehards” have been loving this winter’s weather.

“But a 12-inch snowstorm keeps a lot of people off the roads,” he said. “Especially schools, because they are worried about the liability of dangerous roads. So I guess you could business has been both really good and really bad.”