- Associated Press - Sunday, December 13, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Warm weather in December has meant an extended season and extra revenue for golf courses in the Madison area. But the balmy start to the season has ski hill operators in Wisconsin worried.

Nearly a dozen golf courses in the Madison area are earning some extra money by staying open, or re-opening this month, the Wisconsin State Journal (https://bit.ly/1RiYHIx ) reported. Pleasant View in Middleton had more than 170 golfers show up to play Dec. 5 and the Oaks near Cottage Grove had more than 100.

“I never could have predicted that we’d be that busy,” said Pleasant View general manager Jeremy Cabalka. After one of the warmest Novembers on record, temperatures in Madison have averaged 11.6 degrees warmer than normal through the first 10 days of December, according to the National Weather Service.

But the warm weather has operators of ski hills worried if they’ll be open for Christmas. Most of the ski hills are closed in Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

While Little Switzerland in Slinger and some other hills have runs open for skiers, snowboarders and mountain bikers, most ski hills in Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula will stay closed until temperatures drop into the 20s for at least 12 hours and they can make enough snow to supplement what’s already on the ground.

Christmas Mountain in Wisconsin Dells has already used 3.5 million gallons of the 5 million gallons of water it needs to cover the resort in man-made snow, but it can’t open until it fills the gaps, said Matt Vohs, director of retail recreation.

“Those nights of single-digit temperatures are what we need to complete the job,” Vohs said. “We can’t miss Christmas. That would be a significant hit. We could lose 25 percent of the revenue for the entire winter if we miss Christmas season.”

Workers at Tyrol Basin in Mount Horeb were hoping to keep one run open over the weekend while finishing work on a new people mover that has replaced the old rope tow on the bunny hill. The hill is a weird combination of man-made snow, mud and lush green grass.

“Until it gets cold, we’ll try to stay open on the weekends but to what extent I don’t know,” said Jason Cushman, the outside operations manager.

The warm weather is courtesy of El Nino, the warming of waters off the coast of South America that affects weather around the world and usually leads to mild winters in Wisconsin. Weather experts predict this El Nino could rival the strong one that occurred in 1997-98 the led to such a mile winter in Madison that mosquitoes were biting in January and tulips were pushing through the soil in early February.

“I remember that winter was rough,” recalled Joe Vittengl, general manager at Devil’s Head Resort in Merrimac for the past 26 years. “We opened Dec. 20 that year. That was the latest we ever opened, and we closed sometime in February.”

But it wasn’t a financial disaster, Vittengl said. He said the key to survival for ski hills during mild winters is to open before Christmas and keep enough man-made snow around to stay open through the holidays and every weekend in January and February.

“Those are the money-making times,” Vittengl said. “The rest of the time you’re just hoping for profits to cover expenses.”


Information from: Wisconsin State Journal, https://www.madison.com/wsj

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