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Waiting for Winter
By Leif Enger
December 8, 1998
Click for audio RealAudio 2.0 14.4

It's another lovely day across Minnesota: Sunny skies and temps into the 40s in much of the state. Nightmare weather if you sell snowmobiles or downhill skis for a living, but not bad if you prefer bicycling or fishing from a boat.

IF MORE ANGLERS KNEW HOW STRONG the bite is at this time of year, says Bob Keding, they'd be getting their boats out of storage while there's still time.
Keding: Usually it's just the hard-core fishermen, sneaking out on the ice when they shouldn't actually, but the fish are very active. In the past we just haven't been able to take advantage of it and this year, the people who haven't put their boats away are taking advantage of it.
Keding owns the Trading Post bait shop and sporting-goods store in Crosby. He says many of the area's good fishing lakes are still ice-free, and walleye and northern pike are coming into the shallows to feast on spawning baitfish. He says no one's interested in his ice-fishing gear yet, but it's okay, the various autumn hunting seasons have been long, warm, and profitable.
Keding: Grouse hunting's been excellent, and that's been extended. The deer season was excellent because of the conditions. Also the muzzleloader season, which is the first three weekends in December, has been unusually warm, so they're having more success.
The Fall of '98 has played tricks on retailers. Forecasts of the so-called "La Niña" winter, coupled with several November snowfalls, had ski and snowmobile dealers all revved up. An extra-cold winter, the prognosticators claimed; a foot more snow than average! In reality, bicycle and rollerblade rentals prevail. Theresa Dullum is the store manager at Martin's Sport Shop in Nisswa where the warm, dry pavement of the Paul Bunyan Snowmobile Trail beckons the adventurous.
Dullum: We got some Schwinn bikes here: we got the ladies' style as well as the men's mountain bikes, eighteen-speeds, and then the cute little kid carriers. All our bicycles we had in storage, ‘cause we got some snow once and thought we were gonna keep it. Now on these beautiful days and weekends we keep bringing them back out.
Near the bikes is a full rack of rental skis and snowshoes. They're actually dusty. On the retail racks, skis are marked down in red ink. Nobody's shopping. At Easy Riders, a sporting goods store in Brainerd, owner Ken Shepherd says its the kind of winter that makes buyers cautious and sellers inventive.
Shepherd: We ran an auction sale last Sunday that caused some excitement, brought in a lot of people, and was a lot of fun. We try to be creative, you bet. Long as we get snow by Christmas, we won't feel we've lost too many customers.
Those wishing for more Christmas-like weather took encouragement from predictions of snow this Wednesday and Thursday. In fact, Minnesota Public Radio wanted this story on today - just in case. Turns out we could've waited. The updated forecast through Friday calls for sun, and highs in the 30s and 40s again.