Is the current snowfall too late in the season for some businesses?

Brandon Powers of Powers Plowing back-plows a driveway on the south side of Cedar Rapids on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. Powers says that, because of the number of clients he has, this winter has been slow but not bad for business. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Brandon Powers of Powers Plowing back-plows a driveway on the south side of Cedar Rapids on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. Powers says that, because of the number of clients he has, this winter has been slow but not bad for business. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Eastern Iowans hadn’t seen a lot of snow to speak of this winter. And then they did.

Snowfall across the eastern portion of the state ranged from 1.5 inches to almost 10, according to the National Weather Service.

Last Monday, Cedar Rapids ended up with about 4 inches while Iowa City saw closer to 6. Then more fell late Friday and early Saturday.

For much of this winter season, though, a number of activities — from snow plowing to snow shovel sales to cross-country skiing and sledding — were on hold.

“As soon as the snow flies, people start asking if we’re going to start grooming our ski trails,” said Ryan Schlader, community outreach director for the Linn County Conservation Department. “The expectation is that there might be some opportunities this weekend.”

In the wake of the heaviest snow event in two winters, crews groomed trails last week at the county’s Morgan Creek, Wickiup Hill, Pinicon Ridge and Matsell Bridge parks and recreational areas. Sledding hills at Squaw Creek and Pinicon Ridge also should be ready.

“If the snow can stick around, I think everyone’s going to be pretty excited,” said Schlader.

But for some, especially those in the business of selling wintertime tools and services, last week’s snow could be too little, too late.

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“It’s a little late in the selling season,” acknowledged Aaron Doan, owner of Gary’s Ski-Doo in Independence. “They’re already looking at boats and stuff.

“We’re not dying over here, but it’s not good,” said Michael Bauer, sales manager at Midway Outdoor Equipment in Hiawatha, which sells snowblowers among other power equipment. “Luckily, we have a lot of (product lines) to offset it, but it does impact sales when there’s no snow.”

For snow removal, it’s been a slow, but not completely idle, winter.

“It’s not as much as normal, but it’s still been pretty decent,” said Brandon Powers, owner of Powers Plowing of Cedar Rapids.

He said the key is having plenty of accounts signed up at season’s start.

“Some bigger companies will pay us X amount of dollars for the whole season, whether it snows or not,” said Powers, in his 13th year plowing snow. “With others, though, we get paid a lot less.”

Powers said his crew of “under 10” is ready to go whenever more than 2 inches of snow falls.

“The larger companies that have multiple front-end loaders and skid loaders, they might be struggling a bit because they have all their payments,” said Powers, who has one of each. “We’re not in any debt.”

“It’s not too bad,” echoed Dan Hewitt, owner of Hewitt Lawn Care and Snow Removal of Cedar Rapids. “We keep busy doing other things. I do handyman stuff — a little bit of everything.”

Fat bikes, snowy owls

Outdoor sports enthusiasts will be ready.

“They’ve been waiting all winter, so as soon as they get the opportunity they’re going to be hitting the trails real hard,” said Jeff Hildebrand, a ranger at the Volga River State Recreation Area.

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The trails in the park near Fayette, in Northern Iowa, have seen little use by skiers and snowmobilers this winter and last, although others have taken advantage.

“I just had fat-tire bikes out here last week and this weekend,” Hildebrand said last week. “They kind of like not having the snow because the snowmobiles aren’t out on the same trails.”

“Cross-country skiing around the Midwest has always been a little touch and go,” noted Geoff Perrill, owner of Geoff’s Bike and Ski in Iowa City. “So whenever there’s been suitable conditions, you just have to get out.”

Brad Freidhof, conservation program manager for Johnson County, said he expected Iowa City’s Nordic Ski Club to groom trails at the county’s McBride Nature Center and F.W. Kent Park. He said the parks have seen steady use by hikers and birders, drawn out by an “explosion” of snowy owls.

“That’s been kind of a hot topic,” he said. “They’ve been everywhere.”

New snow resumed snowshoe rentals at Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids, said Lindsey Flannery.

“This is our second snow this year where we’ve had enough snow to snowshoe” after New Year’s weekend, said Flannary, the nature center’s marketing and development director.

“We still have people through our doors every day,” she said. “It’s a great place to come if you went to spend some time out in the cold and then come in where it’s warm.”

Local wildlife appears to be doing just fine, Flannary added.

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“As long as the weather fluctuations are within the range of average they really don’t affect wildlife a lot,” she said. “They’re used to adapting.

“It’s when we see temperatures that are really far outliers from average for a consistent time that it can affect wildlife. It’s just hard to say, ‘Here’s a point where it becomes a big factor.’”

And despite bouts of warmer weather, single-digit overnight temperatures have kept ice conditions generally safe for fishing.

The Department of Natural Resources warns anglers to be aware of ice thickness, avoid areas of old, off-color snow and ice and never go out alone. Small ponds usually freeze faster and thicker than larger lakes or river backwaters, which may have warmer currents moving through.

The DNR posts weekly fishing reports, including ice conditions, at http://www.iowadnr.gov/Fishing/Fishing-Reports.

“It can turn on a moment’s notice — but if it’s 4 inches or more, that’s what we recommend for people to walk out on the ice,” said Schlader.

The Wapsipinicon River’s backwaters along Pinicon Ridge County Park near Central City, he added, “are starting to be popular.”

Meanwhile, others are keeping their hopes up — different hopes than commuters and snow-shoveling homeowners, maybe, but hopes nonetheless.

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“It could snow like crazy next year,” said Doan. “We’re always optimistic in this business — just like a farmer.”

“There’s a lot of winter left,” Perrill agreed. “We usually get a few sizable snowfalls in March.”

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