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Cold weather, not COVID, biggest bump on the slopes for ski areas

Coffee Mill and Welch Village hope for more days in the 20s and 30s to keep business booming this winter.

Welch Village
The chairlift runs as a skier comes down the slope Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, at Welch Village in Welch, Minn.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

WABASHA — For a business based on snow, local ski areas are hoping for some warming temperatures.

"This past weekend was pretty cold," Tony Seyffer, financial controller at Welch Village Ski & Snowboard Area, said of the New Year weekend. The week before "was really busy here with 20- to 30-degree weather. That’s when people like to go out snowboarding and skiing."

Seyffer said the single digits — plus or minus — or even colder weather tends to keep people off the slopes.

Welch Village
Snow is made Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, at Welch Village in Welch, Minnesota.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

What hasn't hurt the ski business is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Darren Sheeley, general manager at Coffee Mill Ski Area in Wabasha, said people are eager to get out to the slopes – a great outdoor activity – rather than be cooped up worrying about the virus.

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That doesn't mean there haven't been some changes, likely permanent, at Coffee Mill. For example, tables are kept at a responsible social distance from one another, and sanitizing materials are everywhere to battle the coronavirus — and other germs — that may lurk.

"We try to keep it as safe as we can here," he said. "Our lodge is down in a valley, so it's protected from the wind. We have tables out so people can sit outside if they want."

Seyffer said there are options at Welch Village as well to help get skiers what they need without making them come inside. Outdoor restrooms, ticket booths and food windows allow guests to stay outdoors if they choose.

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"You don’t have to set foot in the building if you don’t want to," he said.

Seyffer said warm weather is a double-edged sword. A warm November meant the ski hills couldn't be covered with snow – even the artificial snow, which is the majority of the snow Welch has — until early December.

Welch Village opened Dec. 3.

Sheeley said Coffee Mill, which usually doesn't open until the second week in December, opened on time.

Like Welch Village, Coffee Mill relies on artificial snow to cover its runs.

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"We're basically at 100 percent man-made snow," Sheeley said. "We got 10 inches a couple of weeks ago, and then we lost it. We've got about 15-18 snow machines. Our hills are a pretty good size, so we have to cover a lot of ground."

Both ski areas not only rely on recreational skiers, but also high school racing teams. Welch Village is home to teams from the Twin Cities and surrounding areas, Seyffer said.

"It’s big in the terms of weekday business," Seyffer said. "We get a lot of traffic during the week, but it’s nothing like the weekends."

A team of about 35 skiers, mostly from Wabasha-Kellogg High School but also from Wisconsin and other area schools, trains at Coffee Mill, Sheeley added.

But both ski areas are hoping for more warm weather through the remainder of the winter ski season.

"If the weather’s nice, people show up," Sheeley said. "If it’s cold, they don’t show up."

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