There’s No Business Like Snow Business By Laura Billings Coleman | Photography by Justin Wohlrabe
he latest forecast from the experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration called for a cold, dry winter for Minnesota—the kind of long-range weather pattern that can make an ice fisherman’s heart glow with anticipation. While this has augured well for the Brainerd Jaycees $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza and all the businesses around Gull Lake that rise on the tide of the world’s largest charitable ice fishing contest, not everyone was ready to celebrate just yet. “The weather report says there’s some snow and cold weather coming this weekend,” said Nancy Krasean, the marketing manager at Cragun’s Resort and Hotel on Gull Lake, said in early December. “But that doesn’t always mean it will happen.” Krasean had good reason to be cautious. Last year, weather dowsers from the Farmers’ Almanac said the region would see average snowfall and very cold temperatures—perfect conditions for the skiers, snowmobilers and ice fishing enthusiasts that pump more than $507 million into Minnesota’s winter economy, according to the National Resources Defense Council. Instead, 2012’s unseasonably brown winter compelled organizers to cancel the annual Mora Vasaloppet nordic ski race, postpone the Ice Fishing Extravaganza for three weeks and force the crew at Mount Ski Gull to work overtime making snow that never got any traction. The new fleet of 30 snowmobiles Cragun’s purchased to plow through the season’s predicted powder sat unused all winter. Though the weather may be unpredictable, there’s no question the cold plays an important part in central Minnesota’s economic forecast. The region is rich in businesses that benefit from snowy weather, from snow machine maker Arctic Cat in Thief River Falls, to Little Falls Machine, which manufactures snowplows that clear winter roads across the country, to Brainerd-based Mills Fleet Farm, which sells snow-blowers, tire chains and shovels to snowbound customers across the upper Midwest. An estimated 8,500 jobs statewide are dependent on winter tourism, ranging from the small family operations that rent ice fishing houses on Mille Lacs, to large resorts like
Snow, or the lack of it, can cause a perfect storm in the regional economy.
4th Quarter 2012