By Don Nelson
Winter didn’t let down the Methow Valley’s economy.
Thanks to snow that came early and hung around just long enough, the valley’s 200-kilometer Nordic trails system had a record-breaking year, according to Kristen Smith, marketing director for Methow Trails.
Loup Loup Ski Bowl opened before Christmas 2014 and managed to do “a little better than last year,” when late-arriving snowfall truncated the downhill slope’s season, according to general manager C.P. Grosenick.
The Winthrop Ice & Sports Rink (WISR) broke even and had “a pretty decent season considering that Mother Nature didn’t cooperate,” said rink Manager Sharla Lynn.
Mother Nature wasn’t kind to several of the region’s winter recreation destinations, but the Methow stood out as one place cross country skiers could count on snow. In fact, Methow Trails was out grooming the system before Thanksgiving.
“It was hard for some people to believe that the Methow had snow” because it was so scarce elsewhere, Smith said.
Smith said that although final figures weren’t complete, Methow Trails’ system’s usage was “far above last year.”
Smith’s other perspective is more hard-core economics: she is also marketing director for the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce.
By an important benchmark — hotel and motel taxes that are devoted to promoting tourism — the valley boomed all winter. November and December were record-breaking months for the occupancy tax, Smith said. In fact, December’s tax collection matched last June’s she said.
Additionally, retail sales taxes collected locally are also up compared to last year, Smith said.
This winter’s success will help build momentum for next year, Smith said, even if the snow accumulation is uneven. “People love it here … they’ll come no matter what,” she said.
As for some local businesses that currently don’t operate year-round, Smith suggested that they reconsider. “The days are done when it’s not worth staying open in the winter,” she said.
Lots happening at Loup
Grosenick said the Loup Loup season lasted from Dec. 21 to Feb. 11, when “we decided we really needed to shut down.”
But the snow held up long enough for events like the popular Wolf Chase race, and catching the holiday season was big boost, he said.
“Everybody just loves the hill … parents can watch their kids coming down.”
Grosenick had compliments for the Methow Valley Ski Team volunteers, the lift crew and the ski school instructors. He said teaching efforts will increase next year, in part to encourage the development of more instructors. “We need to bring younger people into learning how to teach,” he said.
Now that the snow is gone, Grosenick is looking at developing more summer-related activities such as mountain biking. This year, the Ragnar trail running race will take place at Loup Loup on the weekend after Labor Day, and is expected to draw 1,500 participants, he added. There will even be an archery event in May.
As for next year? “Pray for early snow,” Grosenick said.
Long term, he said, the Loup hopes to develop a “master’s” race for older skiers.
Ice firming up
Lynn said the Winthrop rink was open for 39 days — from Dec. 27 to Feb. 5 — and saw nearly 4,300 visitors. In a report to the Winthrop Town Council (the town owns the rink and contracts with WISR to operate it), Lynn said that new shades have been acquired for the rink’s lights, to reduce nighttime glare that had generated complaints from some town residents.
Referring to a campaign to raise local cash and in-kind donations to match a state grant for installing a permanent refrigeration system at the rink, Lynn said that “we will have ice next year.”
The project to install refrigeration and make other improvements has been scheduled for completion in time for the 2015-16 season, meaning that the rink can stay open much longer at either end of its operating season.