The Minnesota tourism industry is facing a disappointing year for snow so far this winter.
Already, the lack of snow in northern Minnesota forced the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon to push back the race by more than a month. It had been scheduled for Jan. 27 and is now set to begin March 10.
Rain made the marathon's route icy and too dangerous for the dogs and mushers.
Race coordinator Pat Olson said Duluth should have enough snow by March, adding that she saw the lack of snow as bad luck, not a sign that the race needs to find a new location.
"I would hope that this is not a permanent situation," Olson said. "I've lived in Duluth all my life, and I live here because I love the snow and I love the winter season, and I am hopeful that this is just unusual and we're not going to continue to see this kind of drought."
As for the race, Olson said: "There is no snow. The little bit that we had disappeared when it rained all weekend, and then the temperatures dipped down and it got pretty cold, and that rain froze and the conditions were dangerous."
The Beargrease race, in its 29th year, has been cancelled only twice.
Olson said postponing the race means more work for organizers, but she said it was worth it to protect the dogs' and mushers' safety.
Duluth is not alone in its lack of snow. Maps provided by the State Climatology Office show most of the state has 4 inches of snow or less.
"The snow does have a significant impact," said John Edman, director of Explore Minnesota Tourism. "Cross-country skiers alone spend about $41 million on their trips, and snowmobile trips generate about $172 million. But tourism itself is a big industry in the state. It's about $11.9 billion. Twenty-four percent of that expenditure is in the winter."
Edman said snowless winters are becoming more common.
"I hear from the industry all the time that this is an entirely different era in promoting winter tourism — that we just can't rely on the snow that we used to get year after year," he said.
Edman said even though some businesses that rely on winter tourism are rethinking their strategies, many winter events are taking place this weekend without the snow. That includes the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships in Minneapolis, the Ice Fishing Extravaganza in Brainerd and the Freeze Yer Gizzard Blizzard Run in International Falls.
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