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Warm No Profits Alaska*

Alaska: Warm weather melts snow-based profits

Sarana Schell

Anchorage Daily News

Published Dec. 6, 2002 ALAS06

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Snow-based business owners are wincing at green ground that ought to be white, as record-breaking warm weather melts their income. Motorcycles and outboard motors are still moving, sales staff report, but a trickle of summer items still selling is no compensation for anemic winter sales.

Winter going absent without leave is at fault in more ways than one, Matt LaMoth, manager at Boarderline snow- and skateboarding retail store hypothesized.

``There's something about snow being on the ground'' that conditions people to shop for the holidays, LaMoth said.

With no snow, it makes sense that typical daily snowboard sales have slipped from five to two, one or even zero. But the day after Thanksgiving, Boarderline's biggest day of the year, was half of what it was last year, LaMoth said. Parents are not buying the stocking stuffer locks, tuning kits and tools that go with boards.

LaMoth said the store has shifted orders to lighterweight clothing and fewer snowboards, and cut staff hours. No layoffs, though.

``I have a sneaking suspicion it's going to rebound,'' LaMoth said. ``At least it's not cold,'' something that made the 1995-96 low-snow winter worse, he said.

Snow-removal businesses are also hurting. And there are no repairs to do.

Since Ray Belanger, general manager of Quality Equipment Sales & Service sells all kinds of equipment - highway stripers, street sweepers and school buses - only part of his income is drooping. Hurting worse, no doubt, are smaller snow-removal businesses that he said bought plows from him on credit, planning to finish paying after the first snow.

Gearheads who buy the latest model before the snow falls and dividend-fueled sales to the Bush have kept snowmachine sales on track at Polaris dealer Alaska Power Sports, sales manager Andie Corbin said. Recent snow in Eureka and Paxson has helped, too.

If rivers remain iceless, though, Bush traffic will be seriously curtailed, and Corbin said repairs and parts sales may lag.

Dudley Benesch, president of Skidoo dealer Alaska Mining & Diving Supply Inc., said business is mixed. Local snowmachine business is down a quarter, but phone orders from the Bush are on track. Honda snowblowers are going nowhere, but ATVs are still moving.

Benesch said he moved four outboard motors before noon Wednesday. And five customers seemed interested in high-end boats, $50,000 to $100,000 fully enclosed cruisers. This time of year usually sees one such customer in a week or two, Benesch said.

Motorcycle sales at Alaska Cycle Center were higher this year than in the last 10 Novembers, said Tony Gatts at the Honda dealer. On the other hand, ATV snowplow sales have plummeted.

In Girdwood, Alyeska Resort's ski slopes are closed. General manager Chris Van Imhof said snow-making equipment was poised midmountain, waiting for another storm to beef up snow in the resort's upper reaches. While a crew stands by for requisite temperatures of 27 degrees or lower, Van Imhof said everyone is trying to stay positive.

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