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Midwest Revels in December Powder


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Dec. 12, 2000–Winter hit the lower Midwest with a vengeance on Monday, dumping upwards of 20 inches of snow from Iowa through Michigan. Wind chills plummeted into the minus-teens, as schools closed and airports such as Chicago’s O’Hare and Detroit’s Metro shut down. The white stuff was an early Christmas present for the region’s skiers, who seldom see such conditions until mid-season, if ever.

The storm swept out of the Rockies and through the Midwest before exiting into New England.

“This was definitely one of our bigger storms in recent memory,” said Laura Nelson of Sunburst Ski Resort, WI. “The weather has been cold and we’ve made a ton of snow, and now we’ve gotten eight inches or more of natural snow. It’s great to be 100 percent open so early in the season.”

Ski areas in Michigan’s southwest and southeast sections not only received snow, but the lake effect enhanced their totals. Cannonsburg, just north of Grand Rapids, for example, received almost a foot and a half of snow. The ski areas around the Detroit area were particularly fortunate. Mt. Brighton, Pine Knob, Alpine Valley, and Mt. Holly all reported 12-14 inches of new snow.

“I can never remember it being so good so early,” said Joe Bruhn, Mt. Brighton’s owner. “We made snow twenty-four hours a day for seven straight days and then the storm dropped twelve inches on us. Last year at this time we weren’t even open.” Schools around Detroit cancelled classes, giving Bruhn another reason to smile. “Today was like a Saturday,” he beamed. “All the kids had the day off so they came skiing, and many of them brought their parents. We had a lot of families here today.”

The good fortune in the lower Midwest comes on the heels of a great opening for ski resorts further north in the region, most of which opened for the Thanksgiving weekend. Lutsen Mountains, MN reports more than a 40-inch base. Devil’s Head, WI has 48 inches. The resorts comprising Big Snow Country (Whitecap Mountains, WI, and Big Powderhorn and Black Jack in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula) reported 42-inch bases prior to Thanksgiving.

“The conditions are really incredible for this early,” said Holly George of Big Snow Country. “We average over 230 inches of snow per year, so the skiing will only get better.”

In northern lower Michigan some resorts have already reached snow depths higher than at any point last year. Boyne Mountain, Boyne Highlands, and Shanty Creek all have 48 to 60-inch bases.

Nub’s Nob in Harbor Springs has even ceased snowmaking for now. “We have a 65-inch base on every slope,” said general manager Jim Bartlett. “I’ve been here since 1970 and in that time we’ve never quit making snow this early. We’ll be 100 percent open on Friday, with absolutely tremendous conditions.”