- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 15, 2004

MINNEAPOLIS - From snowmobiling on alfalfa to strapping on cross-country skis with wheels, Minnesotans are finding ways of coping with a frustrating lack of snow.

It’s been a mostly brown December in the southern half of the state, and northern Minnesota hasn’t recorded snow depths of more than 8 inches this season.

“We’re not living up to our winter reputation,” said Joan Hummel, a spokeswoman for Explore Minnesota Tourism, the state’s tourism office.

While Minnesotans wait for thick snow cover, some are pretending it’s already there.

“People are getting creative,” said Bob Sass, manager of Midwest Mountaineering.

At the Minneapolis outfitter, winter sporting equipment has taken on a snowless twist: People are skijoring [cross-country skiing behind your dog] with mountain bikes and roller skiing [cross-country skiing on wheels].

Also growing in popularity is Nordic walking, which involves using poles and basically imitating a cross-country ski stride.

“People just need to get out of the house in the winter,” Mr. Sass said. “They’ll find ways to do that even if the weather’s bad.”

According to state climatologists, brown Decembers aren’t all that unusual.

“December’s usually not your best snow month anyway,” said Pete Boulay, assistant state climatologist.

Peak snow depths rarely occur before late January, and Mr. Boulay likes to remind people that winter doesn’t officially start until Dec. 21.

Some have prepared for dreary days of brown and gray while waiting for the snow to fall. Miss Hummel said Minnesota businesses have made themselves “weatherproof,” offering such things as dog-lovers’ weekends, wine tasting and other snowless activities.

In northern Minnesota, where there’s less snow than usual, people are learning to cope with a little less.

“As soon as they see a couple of flakes fly, they really get excited,” said Jenny Moorman, director of Lake of the Woods Tourism. Most of northeastern Minnesota has 3 inches to 6 inches of snow. A foot of snow is needed before snowmobile trails can be groomed.

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