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No snow has hampered many outdoor winter activities but at Buena Vista Ski Area in Bemidji the snow makers are being used to allow the hill to open on Saturday with limited runs. Bemidji Pioneer photo.

Minnesota weather: Doing the blizzard boogie

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Polly Merhar believes her husband must hold some kind of record for the number of days he has spent roller skiing on pavement this year, the president of the Bemidji Area Cross Country Ski Club said.

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Snowmobilers, snowshoers and area skiers are restlessly waiting for Mother Nature to deliver a thick blanket of snow on the area so they can play.

The weather forecast for the Bemidji area calls for mostly sunny skies with highs in the mid-teens for the rest of the week. Wind chills could bring today's low to minus 16, but there is little chance for snow in the near future.

After early season snow melted, there's only a dusting of the white stuff left, prompting the cancelation of some events - like the ski club's wax and ski clinic scheduled for Friday and Saturday.

For the second consecutive year, the ski club has offered a ski clinic featuring John Bauer, a Nordic ski national champion and Olympian. But this year, with no snow on the ground, there were not enough people who signed up for the clinic.

"If there's not snow on the ground, people aren't as interested," Merhar said. "Maybe instead of a ski clinic, we need to learn how to snow dance."

Learning to adapt

A lack of snow would seem like a big problem for a cross-country ski team, but Coach Mark Walters' team at Bemidji High School has learned to adapt.

Now one month into their season, the skiers have been using all-terrain skis, which work on grass, asphalt, sand and dirt paths, as well as roller skis, which are a cross between a roller blade and a ski. The skiers have also been walking the trails with ski poles and running on a local mountain bike path through the woods.

"We are working hard at trying to stay working hard," Walters said. "We try not to just run. We do strength workouts, which involve plyometric training with resistance cords and other different things that simulate the motion of skiing."

The team is preparing this week for its first competition, set for Saturday at the Mount Itasca Winter Sports Center in Coleraine, Minn.

While the Coleraine facility has the ability to make snow, it's undetermined if it will have enough to make even a 2-kilometer course.

Despite the challenge of a lack of snow, Walters said he is optimistic Bemidji will have snow before the team's home meet Dec. 17 at Bemidji's Montebello Ski Trail.

"Three inches of wet snow is ideal," he said.

Walters said two snowfalls will likely be needed before the first home competition. Last year's first snowfall dropped 8 or 9 inches of snow on the area, but he said the snow was so light and fluffy it compressed to about 1 inch on the ski trails.

Snow guns working full time

Despite the lack of white stuff, colder temperatures and low humidity levels have meant Buena Vista Ski Area finally has what it needs to put artificial snow on its slopes. The ski area will be opening for the season Saturday.

Two snow guns are working full time to whiten the Bunny Hill and Julia Vista run, said Director of Operations Suzanne Thomas.

"We are excited it is snow time," she said.

This is a late start for the ski resort. Last year, it opened nearly one month earlier after several inches of snow fell.

For the Girl Scout troop scheduled to stay at the Buena Vista chalet this weekend, no natural snow could mean the their planned sleigh ride could be switched to a wagon ride, but at least they will have opportunities to ski or snowboard.

Unreliable snowfall

As of last Thursday, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reported most of the state's 22,000 miles of groomed snowmobile trails remain closed due to an absence of snow.

Collin Strain, manager at Bemidji Sports Centre, said snowmobilers have been hoping for snow since early November and have shown excitement about some of the new snowmobile styles coming out.

But no snow oftentimes means consumers are less likely to purchase snow equipment, which could negatively impact businesses that sell winter recreation.

"(No snow) affects everything, from people wanting to sell gas to snowmobilers to hotels that don't get booked by them," Strain said.

Strain has noticed some ice fishermen have decided to purchase an all-terrain vehicle instead of a snowmobile in order to get their equipment on the ice.

At Bemidji State Park, naturalist John Fylpaa said the park office has been receiving more calls about people wanting to know the ice conditions of Lake Bemidji either for ice fishing or recreation.

"Lake Bemidji has not frozen over yet and I would caution anyone thinking about going out on the smaller lakes around the area," he said.

Fylpaa said he is not surprised by the lack of snow.

"I guess I've found in the last five to 10 years our reliable snow fall has switched from late November to mid-to-late December," he said. "A few years ago we didn't have snow until Christmas."

"I'm hoping the long-range forecast that called for a good, snowy winter comes through," Fylpaa said. "I'm counting on it. That's all I can do beyond snow dancing."

Anne Williams reports for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Detroit Lakes Newspapers.

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