The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

 
 

Winter tourism starts to wind down

 

Cortney Ofstad/Daily Globe

SKIERS RIDE a chairlift at Blackjack Ski Resort near Bessemer Thursday. There's still plenty of snow for skiing.

With many residents thinking spring, local winter attractions are wrapping up in preparation for warmer weather.

Frigid weather dominated the ski season, leading to a drop in numbers at local ski hills and on snowmobile trails, despite excellent conditions.

Snowmobiling

In Iron County, snowmobile trails are set to close on March 31 at 11:59 p.m.

According to Dorrene O'Donnell, executive director of the Hurley Area Chamber of Commerce, it was a "steady year" for snowmobiling, despite sub-zero weather and many other areas having ample amounts of snow.

"In some communities, they received snow after not having it for many, many years," O'Donnell said. "Some people wanted to see what those communities had to offer. The snow conditions here were unbelievable, but with cold conditions, people wanted to stay home, or chose a better time to come to Iron County."

Another hinderance was gas prices, according to O'Donnell.

"Gas prices were rising again, and it affected people's budgets," O'Donnell said. "For some, gas prices don't matter, but to others it does."

According to Tina Brunell, executive director of the Mercer Area Chamber of Commerce, it was a "decent year."

"The cold temperatures were a hinderance at first, but I feel like the riders were on top of it, and dressed accordingly," Brunell said.

O'Donnell said, "People would say to us, 'We always know you have snow.' It's good to be known for snow. We should be catching the last weekend snowmobile traffic. We want to continue to thank the White Thunder Riders, all volunteers, for keeping our trails safe and well-groomed. We also want to thank our businesses for welcoming all of our visitors. It takes a community to make these things happen."

In the southern part of Iron County, the trails are handled by the Mercer SnoGoers.

"Whenever you've got a group of trusted individuals taking care of it, it's a good feeling," Brunell said. "They have dedicated club members that put in a lot of time volunteering, being out there and taking care of the trails. They do a great job."

In Gogebic County, the Gogebic Range Trail Authority handles the snowmobile trails. According to Katina Newberry, group member, the trails will be closed March 31 at midnight.

The group will host a meeting April 6 at 4 p.m. in the groomer shed in Bessemer and new members are welcome.

For more information on the snowmobile trails in Iron County, call the Hurley chamber at 715-561-4334 or the Mercer Chamber at 715-476-2389. To learn more about the trails in Gogebic County, or to join the club, visit the groomer shed, located at 708 West Longyear St. in Bessemer, or visit gogebicrangetrailauthority.com.

Skiing

For many ski hills, "weather and people" determine how long the hills will remain open heading into April.

According to Bruce Noren, general manager of Big Powderhorn Mountain, near Bessemer, the plan is to be open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in April.

"We'll be open at least two weekends in April, but if people are still coming, we'll shoot for Easter weekend. If the conditions hold out and people keep coming, we'll keep skiing."

Cold weather and snow in other locations in the Midwest had an impact on local ski hills.

According to Jim Vanderspoel, director of the Ski Area Management Program at Gogebic Community College, Mt. Zion had an "average year," and the Porcupine Mountains had a "good season."

"Mt. Zion has been closed since last Sunday," Vanderspoel said. "At the Porkies, the rebuilding process is taking place, and good things are going on up there. We're planning on closing on April 6."

Blackjack Resort, near Bessemer, will remain open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays during the first two weekends in April.

Indianhead Mountain Resort, near Wakefield, is scheduled to close March 30.

For Noren, skiing doesn't end in winter, but gives way to a "whole other sport. We hope spring arrives, and we can enjoy great spring skiing," Noren said. "When it's 35 to 40 degrees, the sun is shining and you're out there skiing, it's just like a whole other sport. We hope those weekends in April will give us that. Pent-up spring skiing demand and that will get people out there. We have mid-season conditions right now. The snow is wonderful."