Snow business slow

Written by ED MERRIMAN, Baker City Herald December 05, 2008 04:42 pm

Ski area, local businesses banking on a blizzard


It looks like a winter wonderland on the drive to Ski Anthony Lakes, but the snow isn’t deep enough to open the ski runs. (Baker City Herald/Ed Merriman)
It looks like a winter wonderland on the drive to Ski Anthony Lakes, but the snow isn’t deep enough to open the ski runs. (Baker City Herald/Ed Merriman)
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Those lyrics from a traditional Christmas song reflect the hopes of Ski Anthony Lakes staff and ski shop owners in Baker City whose sales are lagging due to lack of snow.

Last year was a good year, with enough snow at Ski Anthony Lakes, the resort in the Elkhorn Mountains about 35 miles northwest of Baker City, to open runs Thanksgiving weekend.

But with snow slower to arrive this year, Bill Junilla, the resort’s general manager, said he’s now hoping for enough snow to open on Dec. 13.

“We’ve got 10 inches of snow on top right now, and there’s some storms and colder weather forecast this weekend and into next week, so we’re shooting for a Dec. 13 opening,” Junilla said during a Wednesday interview at the ski resort.

The National Weather Service’s seven-day forecast for the Elkhorns calls for snow showers on Sunday, then a chance of snow, ranging from 20 percent to 50 percent, through Thursday.

Junilla and Perry Batten, the new mountain manager at Ski Anthony Lakes, said they’re eager see the empty chairs on the idle ski left filled once again with skiers riding from the base elevation of 7,100 feet — highest among Oregon ski areas — to the upper runs which top out at 8,000 feet.

“We’ve spent the last couple of months making some improvements on the lodge, cleaning up the runs and doing some maintenance on the lift. Now all we need is more snow,” said Batten, who moved back to his hometown of Baker City in September after working for 15 years as lift maintenance supervisor at the Kirkwood Mountain Resort near Lake Tahoe.

“This is the first place I ever put skis on, and I went to the top with my buddy to Upper College (an expert run) and he pushed me over,” Batten said.

Junilla said he plans to have live music in the Ski Anthony Lodge on Dec. 13, if the weather cooperates.

“We are excited,” Junilla said. “The mountain is in good shape, and it looks like snow is on the way.”

Junilla, Batten and other staff at Ski Anthony Lakes aren’t the only ones hoping for more snow on the mountain.

The owners and staff at two sporting goods stores in Baker City said sales are sluggish for winter gear such as snowboards, alpine and cross country skis, poles, goggles, and ski apparel.

“We are suffering through a very slow time due to lack of snow, and the perception that the economy is bad,” said Mark Larson, who has owned Flagstaff Sports on Main Street for three years with his wife, Barbara.

He said winter sales of cross country skis, snowboards, snow shoes and all of the ski accessories and apparel have been a major source of annual sales at Flagstaff Sports in previous years.

“In a good year the winter equipment and apparel probably represents 35 to 40 percent of our annual income,” Larson said. “It’s been good every year we’ve owned the business, but this year is starting off bad.

 “Hopefully sales will pick up,” he said. “We’re early into the season. It can turn around if we get snow pretty soon.”

The back room at Flagstaff Sports looks like Geppetto's workshop from the classic Disney flick “Pinocchio” but instead of building wooden boys, Larson installs bindings on downhill and cross country skis and snowboards, sets up bikes and other equipment sold in the shop.

Snow on the mountains will also be a welcome sight to the staff at Kicks Sports Wear in Baker City.

“We just picked up the Rome/SDS line of snowboards, boots and apparel. Everyone who knows a little bit about snowboarding is really excited,” said Don Everson, an employee at Kicks Sports Wear.

However, Everson said between recession fears, and the lack of snow to trigger snowboarding or skiing fever, most customers look at the Rome/SDS lineup and say they’ll be back in before Christmas, or when the snow comes.

“So far we’ve sold one Rome package - boots, bindings and board,” Everson said. “People don’t see snow yet, so they’re not thinking about it.

While sales of the $400 to $500 snowboards or $900 to $1,000 top-of-the line Rome/SDS packages have been slow so far, Everson said cold weather gear is flying off the racks.

“We’ve been selling Hot Chillys (thermal under layer) like crazy,” along with Hot Pepper thermal socks and other items people want to stay warm — snow or now snow, Everson said.

Other Baker City businesses that derive some sales directly from Ski Anthony Lakes include Mad Matilda’s Coffee House, which sells locally roasted coffee, fresh baked goods and other foods in the Nordic Lodge; Sorbenots coffee, which is served in the lodge cafeteria; and Barley Brown’s Brew Pub, whose beers such as Tumble Off pale ale (named after a ski run) are on tap in the lodge’s Starbotttle Saloon.

Several area motels also pick up guest visits when the ski resort is operating and offer discount ski packages in association with Ski Anthony Lakes.

Junilla said if the snow arrives and the ski resort opens next weekend as planned, skiers traveling up the mountain via the Anthony Lakes Highway will notice the smooth new section of blacktop.

“Everyone involved in this project deserves kudos for a job well done,” Junilla said.

The 2.3-mile project, completed at the end of October, created a wider, straighter, safer road between the North Powder River Bridge and Gorham Butte Road, with more shoulder room and banked curves, plus additional pullout areas, bank stabilization work, new culverts and flood and runoff controls.

“We’re tickled with how it all turned out,” Junilla said. “It provides a safer, easier drive, which is important, especially during the winter.”

Given the nationwide economic concerns, Junilla said skiers may want to consider taking advantage of discounts lift ticket prices and packages Ski Anthony Lakes is offering this season, including the Half-Day Thursdays lift ticket prices and the Four-For-$79 package which includes four Friday lift tickets for $79.

Regular prices lift tickets are $35 for adults for all day or $28 after 1 p.m.; $31 and $28 for students 13 to 18; $22 for all day or afternoon skiing for youths age 7 to 12, $5 for youths age 6 and under, and free for senior citizens age 70 and up.

Bunny hill rope tows are $15, nordic trail passes for cross-country skiing are $13 and a one-ride lift pass for snow shoers costs $6.

Ski lessons cost $45 for a private lesson or $28 dollars for group lessons, with special pricing available for lesson packages for youths and adults, according to information posted on the Web site.

Ski Anthony Lakes also has 30 kilometers of groomed and track set cross country trails.

“The cross country trails at Anthony Lakes are excellent. Dick Knowles, the Nordic manager, has done a wonderful job up there. He is the Nordic guru,” said Larson.

“Cross-country skiing is not nearly as severe and jarring as downhill skiing or snowboarding. Mostly it’s kick and glide,” said Larson. “What I like about it is the quiet and solitude.

“It’s an excellent aerobic workout,” Larson said, adding that most of his sales in cross country equipment is to people in their late 30s to late 60s, although some folks continue to do nordic skiing into their 70s and older. 

Generally, once the ski resort opens, it operates a Thursday through Sunday weekly schedule. A visit from Santa is planned Dec. 24, and then the resort will be closed Christmas Day. Weather permitting, it re-opens Dec. 26 and is open every day the week after Christmas, which Junilla said is typically the busiest week of the year, when school’s out and college students come home for the holidays.

Despite the optimistic forecasts for snow over the next week, Junilla urged skiers to call 856-3277 or check the Web site at  www.anthonylakes.com, when planning a ski trip.