New Year brings snow to northern Michigan

Traverse City, MI – Unusually mild weather throughout the fall and early winter meant a slow start to the winter sports season in northern Michigan. It was the least-snowiest November and December on record.

But that all changed over the past couple of days. The new year brought several inches of snow to the area.

In Traverse City, Julie Clark couldn't be happier. She's executive director of TART Trails, a network of hiking, biking and cross-country ski trails in Grand Traverse and Leelanau Counties. WKAR's Gretchen Millich talked with Clark about making the most of what's left of the season.

JULIE CLARK: It is beautiful up here now. Actually, I can look out my window and see a great, thick blanket of snow on the ground, which is beautiful and I think what people are hoping for when you come up north.

GRETCHEN MILLICH: There was a very, very slow start to the snow season up north for skiers and snowmobilers. Does that affect the entire season, even though we have snow now?

CLARK: Well, it certainly impacts the beginning of the season. We're used to having a very snowy December. It gets people excited about the holidays. It attracts tourism. I think that is our second season. We have our summer season and our winter season. So, certainly it does have an impact on tourism. What it will do for the entire season that remains to be seen. It could go until all the way through March. So then instead of having a snowy December, we have a snowy March, which maybe can play a little havoc on people's psyches, but I just don't know what it will do for the entire season. But, heck, nothing beats skiing in the sun of March, so we'll just see. We'll have to wait and see.

MILLICH: Last week, you and I talked about what you would plan if there was no snow in January, and you were talking about cancelling some events. Has that actually happened, or have you been able to plan for January?

CLARK: We have been able to plan for January. Actually, we had talked about what would happen without snow, because we have what's called "Winter Trails Day" on Saturday, this coming Saturday. It's an introduction to winter sports such as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and now snow biking. Instead of cancelling, what we though it we'd just turn it around and talk about the trail systems that are out there, because snow or no snow, you can enjoy the trails all year long. In fact, a lot of people kept on mountain biking until Saturday, so it would have been a different type of winter sport, but the point being you can still get on the trails and have fun. What we're hoping for now is the snow keeps coming, so we can get that base set up for a good ski trail.

MILLICH: What is everybody doing today? Are they dancing for joy over this snowstorm?

CLARK: I think so. We've gotten a lot of calls asking what our groomers are doing and what the conditions are. So we're trying to catch up and post the information on the website, so that people all around the state have an idea of what's going to happen should they come up north this weekend.

MILLICH: One thing I was interested in, I noticed that there are some snowshoeing programs in Sleeping Bear Dunes. In wonder if those are going to be up and running.

CLARK: I think so. What's great about this area is you never know what you're going to get. A lot of places because of lake effect get different levels of snow. So Sleeping Bear, I believe their snowshoe trails, or their outings, are still going to be conducted. And that is a fantastic way, by the way, to see Sleeping Bear Dunes. It is just gorgeous. It's stunning scenery, and if you haven't experienced Sleeping Bear in the winter, it's something not to be missed. It's interesting, because we're building a trail in partnership with the Leelanau Scenic Heritage Route Committee. There'll be a 27-mile trail that is starting construction, and next July the first five miles should be done. So, in the next couple of years, not only will there be snowshoeing in the park, there'll be groomed cross-country skiing as well.