Big storms on the Bering Sea have funneled unseasonable fall warmth through Southcentral Alaska, and local retailers are feeling the effects.
"We have a warehouse full of snow shovels," said Scott Miller, manager of Soldotna Trustworthy Hardware. "But with the type of weather we've had, we've made up for shovel sales in sand and ice-melt."
Usually, if shovels and children's sleds do not sell by Christmas, they do not sell at all, he said.
"But that's just part of doing business," he said. "We've sold more sand this year than we did all of last year, and ice-melt is the same."
Christmas sales are doing well, he said.
"I thought it would affect Christmas sales with no snow, but it hasn't," he said.
While children's sleds have been slow to sell, snowmachine accessories have not.
"Snowmachine covers are flying out of here, and so are snowmachine sleds," he said. "I think people are still expecting it to come."
Snowmachiners have been grumbling about the weather, he said. Some have traveled as far as Petersville, northwest of Talkeetna, to find snow.
Diehard sledders of the motorized variety are still keeping at least one snowmachine dealer busy.
Lyle Winter, general manager of Randy's Ramada Yamaha in Soldotna said the lack of snow has slowed most everything down but hasn't hurt sales of new sleds.
"I would attribute that to people who come in every year to pick up a new sled," Winter said. "And there have been quite a few first-time buyers."
He said changes to the Yamaha line of snowmachines also have brought back former Yamaha owners.
The sale of used snowmachines is what has really slowed down for Randy's, Winter said, but he noted sales of four-wheelers are better than most winters.
Beemun's in Soldotna just started selling cross-country skis and snowboards.
"It's slower than we would have anticipated," said owner Steve Beeson. "We typically would sell a lot to high school kids that are on ski teams. We've had quite a few sales, but not what you'd anticipate if they were practicing. Snowboards are the same."
Beeson said he had hoped the city's new snowboard park in Soldotna would help his business. That still lacked snow Monday. However, snowboarders have been traveling to places like Tincan Mountain to find snow, so snowboards still are moving.
"Given the weather, I'm not disappointed with where we are," Beeson said.
He said he has not given up on selling his stock of snow shovels.
"If we all of a sudden get a whole bunch of snow, people are going to buy shovels," he said. "Last year, the road closed and all of a sudden people wanted to shovel their roofs. We sold every shovel we had in one day."
Winter clothes are selling well, said Jeanne Bates apparel manager for Fred Meyer in Soldotna.
"We're doing real well," she said. "I think it's been cold enough, so we're still selling hats and gloves."
Cross-country skiers accustomed to gliding along Tsalteshi Trails in Soldotna are biding their time and searching for alternatives. Penny McClain, assistant cross-country ski coach at Skyview High School, said her athletes have been doing a lot of running.
"We've been running a lot on the beach for some variety," she said. "We also went ice skating at Headquarters Lake and over the weekend we took the kids to Summit Lake, where there's six inches of snow. We're trying to make it fun for them."
She said her team is "fairly restless," but despite some grumbling, they all continue to show up to run.
"It's not their favorite thing, but they still do it. They're great," she said of the endless running. "They're just like us, they like to run in the running season and ski in the skiing season."
Even with snow, Soldotna's new snowboard hill would not be ready for business, said City Manager Tom Boedeker.
"Obviously, we'd like to have been open by now, but two issues are holding us back," he said. "The lack of snow, of course, and some of our materials have not arrived yet to finish up the course."
The mesh fencing with flexible fence posts to line the schussing course were due to arrive Monday and should take a couple of days to set up, but unless there is enough snow, the hill will remain closed.
It will take extra snow to open the hill thanks to ruts caused by people running up and down the hill before the ground froze.
"Some people just have to screw it up for everybody, I guess," Boedeker said. "We would like two feet, but if the condition of the snow is right, we would check it at 18 inches."
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