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Snowmobile businesses look to benefit from area's excellent snow conditions

The winter of 2008-09 should be a snowmobiler's dream - if only economic conditions weren't bordering on a nightmare.

There's snow everywhere, but, so far, sled-buying and selling, and sled traffic on the trails, has been slow.

"I was out this weekend, and the traffic was much lighter than I would have expected - especially for the quality of the conditions," said Mike Parta, Hoot's Sports, which carries the Yamaha line of snowmobiles. "And that's too bad, because we have terrific trails and they are in excellent shape."

There's still plenty of winter remaining, and things could easily change. But the economic conditions of the state and nation could be a factor in preventing people from taking full advantage of the winter.

"People need to make winter fun. It's good for the economy," said Parta.

"Snowmobiling really helps out the economy. It helps the restaurants along the way. There's a lot of food eaten, and a lot of gas purchased by snowmobilers."

Despite all the hassle in shoveling snow, Parta firmly believes that Minnesotans generally have a better mental attitude if there is good snow cover. Snow is also good for the clothing business, hardware, auto, auto repair, and other businesses, he noted.

Interest in used snowmobiles is high, said Parta. But new sled sales are slower - despite unusually aggressive incentives from the manufacturers. For example, he noted, a retail $11,200 Yamaha can be purchased for $8,300 - a savings of nearly $3,000.

"We're basically selling them for cost," said Parta.

For anybody who recalls the early days of snowmobiling, the new models are "night and day...They're quiet, clean, with great suspension--you don't get beat up on the trails the way you used to."

Dan Wegscheid at Bluffton Hardware said although new snowmobile sales haven't been great, used snowmobile sales have been better this year than recent years. Wegscheid added, the snowmobile parts and repair side of his business, as well as clothing, has also been good.

Wegscheid said the times have changed in the snowmobile business, which saw its biggest years in the 1980s and 1990s, where he'd sell 60-70 sleds each year. So far this year, Wegsheid said he's sold around 20 used snowmobiles.

One thing he's noticed is years ago, people would buy snowmobiles early in the season and that trend has shifted to these days, where most people tend to wait until after the first of the year to make their purchase.

That trend could change again as the region continues to see favorable snowfall in December.