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Seaberg Power Sports mechanic Justin Sazama, right, talks with LeAnn Fraedrich of Enderlin, N.D., about the brand new Ski-Doo snowmobiles she and her husband, Dwight, recently bought. The couple said they bipass Fargo and Hawley dealers to buy their snowmobiles and accessories in Detroit Lakes. "These are the best people in town," Dwight said. Brian Basham/Record

Benefiting from blizzards

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Moans and groans from all over the area can be heard from residents sick and tired of winter. But then there are those who are way too busy to complain -- busy cashing in.

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Minnesota winters are crucial for some businesses that were deprived of it last year and the first part of this season as well. But recent snowfall and accompanying snow snaps are at least partially making up for lost time.

"The last few weeks my guys running the light towing have been running just about around the clock," said Leroy Howard of DL Towing, who was himself busy running out the door Thursday to help fetch a semi tanker full of molasses out of the ditch after it overturned near Winger.

For him, almost his entire business in the wintertime relies on the stranded, the stuck and the sliders who find themselves off the road.

"The first half of the winter was really slow," said Howard, "but now we're so busy we've had to turn a few things down."

But for as many vehicles he and his crew have plucked from stuck-ville, even he has been humbled.

"I got my heavy duty truck stuck trying to get to a waste management truck," said Howard, laughing.

He's laughing all the way to the bank, too, as ice storms and blizzards never seem to stop everybody from testing their luck on the roads.

"But it's been so bad I've pulled my guys off the roads twice."

In the meantime, many of those vehicles that unexpectedly go "off road" exploring need some adjustments and repairs afterwards, which has local auto body shops and mechanics busier than normal.

Matt Modrow, owner of Classics Car Repair and Restoration, ends up seeing some of the vehicular victims of winter, including some collision repairs.

"But it's the cold weather more than the snow that has us busy because when it's really cold, mechanical parts just don't last," said Modrow. "People get in when it's 30 below, start it up and go right away without letting it warm up, and they end up wrecking something."

Owner of Chaney's 2 Jon Mickelson says he is experiencing the same thing at his auto repair shop, where cold snaps are wreaking havoc on vehicles that are as tired of winter as their owners.

"Automobiles just don't like it when it's extreme hot or extreme cold," said Mickelson, who says he and the Chaney's 2 guys are working extra hours these days to keep everyone on the road.

"We're seeing a lot of cooling system stuff...anything with anti-freeze or heating systems, hydrolic systems because everything is building so much pressure right now," said Mickelson, who says they've also been doing some front-end alignments after a vehicular visit to the ditch.

Everything snowmobile is also a hot commodity, as most sleds have been sitting in sheds collecting dust for a couple of years. This means area dealers are busy trying to keep up with snowmobile enthusiasts trying to fit those lost months into only a few now.

"It's good to hear the phone ringing again. We've been selling a lot of new snowmobiles over the last few weeks, but also what's happening is people are just getting their old ones out for the first time in a long time, and they'll get just down the road and something happens and they break down," said Charley Okeson of Okeson Offtrail, who says their shop continues to be extremely busy.

"The snow the Lord blessed us with is awesome. We haven't had this much in a long time," said Okeson. "And now we just have to hope that March is also a winter month this year."

But he says the verdict is still out on whether this winter blast will be enough to make up for the late start -- an issue shared with fellow dealers at Seaberg Power Sports.

"We have done three weeks of business in four days this week," said Seaberg Sales Manager Rich Liebelt. "And while we did miss most of it with the late winter, it's good now...not fantastic (for the year) but good."

And as quickly as winter started, Seaberg employees are just as quickly getting ready for its end.

"Apparel and accessories are really selling because we have everything discounted," said Liebelt, "I mean, in two weeks I'm taking jet skis to the Fargo Dome."

And while Liebelt says there are many snowmobilers who are hoping the winter stretches out well into spring this year, so are folks at Maplelag Ski Resort.

The family-owned resort known for its beautifully groomed ski trails is also doing well right now, but more isn't necessarily better when it comes to snow at Maplelag.

"People have that misconception that just because there's a lot of snow we must be really busy, but the fact is, most of our reservations are made a year in advance, so they're coming anyway," said Jay Richards, who founded the resort. "But, we lost the first weekends of December when there was no snow, so we had two high school ski teams of 280 kids cancel. We've taken quite a hit because of that."

Richards says business that's lost in December doesn't get made up with last minute reservations in March. His son, Jim Richards, says while their guests are really enjoying the snowy trails and views, the extra inches actually end up being a cost for the business.

"Over the past 12 days we've spent about 100 hours grooming because there's so much snow, and when you have to pay $50 to $80 an hour for groomers, it ends up becoming a big expense," said Jim Richards, who says a few inches for them is more than enough.

But while this winter has not been ideal for the Maplelag bottom line, Richards is happy his guests are happy and is already looking at next year's books.

"We're 90 percent full for the President's Day Weekend," he said.

And it's that frame of mind that sets these winter business owners apart from the majority of population here -- already excited for the return of winter next year.

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