Warmer Winter Brings Woes to Seven Oaks Ski Range

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BOONE, Iowa - Loving the warmer winter weather so far? Many people are. But some local businesses are feeling the pain.

"I mean the phone's ringing, everyday. The emails are coming in, Facebook, Instagram. People are asking - unfortunately, their guess is as good as ours," said Joel Bryan, co-owner of the Seven Oaks Recreation ski range.

Bryan said he's dealt with this before, but it's never easy.

"We have had a December like this before; our latest opening is December 26th, our earliest opening was November 22nd," he said. "We're still fairly busy, but this time of year, we're normally working seven days a week, you know 16 hours a day, and so we're just not used to it."

Seven Oaks stays busy because it offers more than snow-reliant activities. A large indoor space allows for event bookings year-round. During the summer the recreation site stays busy through canoe rentals and other water sports. But a typical Iowa winter allows for a 12- to 14-week ski season; this one will likely be closer to eight to 10 weeks.

"I still have a lot of faith that we'll get open," Bryan said. "I think things are going to shift once we get into January. It's just going to be a shorter season."

The key is to make as much snow as you can when the narrow window of opportunity presents itself.

"On a typical season, we'll start making snow at about 26 degrees. And anything below that is decent snow-making. This year, with it being so warm, we'll start at 28 degrees - we'll start making snow. And that's only if we know the temperature is going to continue to drop," he said. "The snow that's behind us right now was made almost three weeks ago. And so, being in the valley, we're north-facing, the snow doesn't melt real fast. So if we can get it on the ground, it sticks around for a long time. It's just a matter of us getting enough on the ground to feel confident to push it all out, to then open the doors."

In the meantime, Bryan is watching weather reports up to 15 times a day to make sure he doesn't miss a chance to pump out some snow.

"I mean, we're having people sit, on-call, basically every night just to wait for those temperatures to drop," he said. "I wouldn't say it's sleepless nights yet. That'll come around December 26th if we're not open."

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