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‘We welcome it’ Skiers, businesses celebrate early snowfall

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Bethany Wesley

BEMIDJI — As some area residents were overheard grumbling while scraping their vehicles and shoveling out their driveways, many others were celebrating.

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“We welcome it and we are excited to have the winter weather,” said Denelle Hilliard, executive director of Visit Bemidji.

At least a foot of snow has blanketed the area this week as Bemidji weathered several waves of a snowy storm cell.

“Tuesday was the first time all season we’ve had a real trail to ski on,” said Michael Meehlhause, coach of TrekNorth’s cross-country ski teams.

“Obviously, the kids really look forward to being out on the snow, that’s why they come out,” said Mark Walters, coach of Bemidji High School’s cross-country ski teams.

Resorts and businesses that thrive on tourists will be happy to have the snow to attract traveling snowmobilers and skiers.

“We’re always happy to start our winter season early,” Hilliard said.

At Lake Bemidji State Park, the snow will bring cross-country skiers, snowshoers, and eventually snowmobilers to the area, as well.

“We’re glad we’re seeing snow early this season,” said Susan Olin, assistant park manager.

She expects the ski trails to be packed and groomed by this weekend and the snowmobiles to be ready fairly soon, once they have a good base.

The state park boasts four camper cabins that were open for their first winter last year. Olin said they became increasingly busy once the winter weather arrived.

“We had a real uptick with the camper cabins’ use once we had snow on the ground for skiers (last year),” she said. “Once the snow came last year, they were full every weekend.”

The state park is a popular destination for snowshoers tool, Olin said, noting that the park rents out the equipment and also hosts snowshoe programs throughout the season.

“It’s beautiful,” she said Tuesday afternoon, reflecting on the fresh snowfall. “It’s picture perfect out here.”

Several recent years marked late starts to the winter season, and Hilliard said that can present challenges for businesses and resorts that cater to wintertime sports enthusiasts.

So lots of new, fresh snow now makes things easier moving forward, she noted.

“It’s always welcome,” Hilliard said.

Similarly, that is the case with cross-country skiing.

“Having the early snowfall is fantastic,” Walters said. “It certainly beats having it come four weeks after the season is over, like last year.”

Indeed, Meehlhause recalled several planned December meets last year that were canceled because of a lack of snow.

“It’s especially important (to get early snow) because we’ve got a lot of new skiers and we’ve had years when we don’t have a lot of snow or we get it late and kids can get frustrated,” he said.

That does not seem to be a concern for this year. He has 36 boys and girls in grades 7-12 out for skiing this year, among the biggest teams in TrekNorth’s history.

At BHS, Walters said there are 37 students out for high school skiing, about an even split between girls and boys.

Both schools’ teams have been practicing since Nov. 11, spending most of the time dry-land training.

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