The temporary closing of Summit Lake Lodge means fewer rest stops for winter travelers, but it could be a boon for other highway businesses.
Jeff Kilgore, general manager of Summit Lake Lodge, said there are several reasons that business closed for the winter. The owners plan to build a partial wall to separate restaurant customers seated near the door from those entering and leaving the business, he said. They also are considering installing booths in the restaurant.
Chris McKern, who used to rent out snowmachines from the lodge, moved away and took the machines, Kilgore said. Meanwhile, the lodge needs eight cabins formerly rented to guests as quarters for employees. The lodge closed Oct. 16 for the winter, he said. It will reopen in March.
During summer, Summit Lake Lodge sees about 350 visitors per day and employs about 50 people, he said. It includes a restaurant, bar, ice cream and espresso service, gift shop, cabins and six motel rooms.
During winter, Summit Lake and nearby slopes are popular with snowmachiners, skiers and snowboarders. Those users are likely to return, but if they're looking for a hot meal and warm lodging, they will have to go elsewhere.
"With Summit Lake Lodge closed, I'm the closest to Anchorage," said Robert Siter, owner of Gwin's Lodge & Restaurant/Bar in Cooper Landing.
Siter said Gwin's had six overnight cabins when he bought the business in 1995, but it has grown. He has 13 cabins now and plans to add two deluxe chalets and four economy duplex units this winter.
"We support a lot of snowmachiners with those cabins," he said, adding that the price of overnight stays is about 75 percent less than during the summer.
That is a good deal for snowmachiners, he said. He hopes they will talk up the good accommodations with the summer anglers who spend big bucks to fish the Russian and Kenai rivers.
"It's a good introduction, and of course, they're going to eat in the restaurant," he said.
Siter said the previous lodge owners closed Gwin's completely each winter. But now, offseason business has grown enough to support restaurant business on the weekends, and through the winter, Gwin's will be open Friday through Sunday from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.
Before the big-box stores opened on the central Kenai Peninsula, peninsula residents visited Anchorage all winter to shop. Highway businesses must have missed that traffic after Kmart and the new Fred Meyer opened, Siter said.
Now, businesses are beginning to target weekend travelers and build shoulder-season business. Siter praised the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council's new Weekender visitor guide as a good first step toward building winter tourism.
"It's going to target Alaska residents," Faron Owen, KPTMC executive director, said last March. "We're the only organization in the state to target resident Alaskans. It's going to encourage them to come down on Friday, stay till Monday. It's going to focus on calendar events and shoulder seasons."
Siter said it makes sense to court Alaskans, since it is nearly impossible to convince Lower 48 residents to come during winter.
Other highway businesses also await winter travelers. The Crown Point Restaurant and Lodge on the Seward Highway is open Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday to 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. and Tuesday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., said Kim Shumaker, who helps owner Jackie Denny run the business. The lodge has a restaurant, video store, a bunkhouse and several rooms for overnight guests. But few travelers stay the night during winter, she said.
"People get avalanched in during spring. Then we get them," she said.
Moose Pass Inn owner Wes Sherrill said his business, which includes a restaurant, liquor store and soft ice cream, is open every day all winter.
Neither he nor Shumaker said they had seen much additional business since Summit Lake Lodge closed for the winter. Sherrill said snowmachiners, skiers and snowboarders stop while traveling to and from sites such as Manitoba Mountain, Lost Lake and Carter Lake. As of Thursday, though, there was little snow to bring them through.
"When the snow comes, I'm going to see an increase in business," he said.
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