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For seasonal businesses, snow is white gold

By Matthew F. Smith 1:34 AM November 11, 2013

Despite slick roads; snow plows, tire shops and ski areas relish winter weather

ANCHORAGE – The first snowfall of the year blanketed the city Sunday, and while it may have caused headaches for drivers—to the tune of more than 150 collisions and distressed vehicle calls to police—the snow was white gold for seasonal businesses looking forward to winter.

“It’s great!” said a smiling Steve Remme with Hilltop Ski Area Monday. “We’ve been waiting for it. We’re ready to go. We’ve had a lot of phone calls and people are excited about winter finally arriving.”

He was standing near one of the three snowmaking machines currently dumping snow on the trails. There are eight on the premises, but he said it’s still too early—and too warm—to run them all. He said the weekend snow was a good first step, but it won’t be enough to get people on the slopes.

”I’d say we still have about a week’s worth of snowmaking to get us to getting one run open,” Remme said. That’s only if the temperature stays where it is, or gets colder, he added. “Maybe 10 days,” he said, smiling again.

The weather brought long lines to auto shops changing cars over to winter tires. Retailers like Costco have been busy every day since the first snow and ice fell Saturday. Customers were getting in line more than two hours ahead of the shop’s opening to ensure they got their tires changed, booking the shop through the day within an hour of opening.

Also relishing the snow was Alaska Snow Removal. “This is good!” laughed manager Wesley Schlueter. “We had an excessively long time to prepare for it this year around.”

Schlueter said crews spent the weekend spreading sand and ice melt, but when snow started falling Sunday, more than 30 workers spent the night clearing snow across the city. Monday, they were taking care of several 11th-hour customers.

”People are calling up at the last minute and saying, ‘Oh hey, I forgot! I need someone to sign up and plow for me this year!’”

The snow also means jobs at Hilltop, where nearly 90 seasonal employees get to work once the snow starts falling.

”Until the temperatures drop, I don’t have this winter job,” said Andrew Long, who mans the snow cannons at Hilltop. As he set up the third cannon Monday afternoon, he said despite the snow, the weather is still far from ideal. “When it’s between 10 and 10 below, we can form a 30-foot whale that’s 12 feet deep in [about] 16 hours,” he said. “When the temperatures are right, it produces a whole lot of snow.”

That’s leaving plow trucks getting rid of the snow as Hilltop hopes for more.

”When we start making snow, we go seven days a week, 24 hours a day, until we get open,” Remme said.

For some, the winter business is already here, but at Hilltop, they’ll have to keep making snow and hoping for colder weather to get the lift moving and skiers on the slope.

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