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Local skiing industry struggles through warm winter

"This is probably the worst January we've ever seen."

Those are the words of Jeff Kiehle, marketing director at Mad River Mountain Ski Resort near Bellefontaine. He tries to convince people to ski regardless of the weather. Despite his best efforts, Kiehle says the near record-high temperatures and lack of snow are keeping many skiers off the hills.

"The biggest problem that we have is when you don't have snow in the front yard or the back yard, that deters the enthusiasm of our skiers and snowboarders," Kiehle says. "They tend to not want to come out because they think if they don't have snow, we don't have snow."

Mad River has not had to close this year thanks to what Kiehle calls the largest snow-making system in the state. They were able to make enough snow during early cold periods to get them through recent warm spells. Other businesses with smaller snow-making capabilities, such as the Clear Fork Ski Area near Mansfield, have closed periodically to ration what snow they have left. Kiehle says it needs to be about 26 degrees to make snow, a temperature rarely seen in the last month.

But the warm temperatures are not keeping everyone away. Erin Wyckoff, a local snowboarder who recently won her first competition, says she snowboards four or five days a week regardless of the weather.

"We come rain or shine," Wyckoff says.

Kiehle is grateful for customers like Wyckoff, saying it's people like her that have kept business going lately.

Other businesses in the skiing industry are experiencing problems similar to Mad River. Butch Reber owns the Ski Smith, a ski shop on Old Henderson Road. He says he and his crew of workers remain busy fitting and altering skis despite the weather. He admits cold weather would bring more people into his shop, but says he's grown accustomed to unseasonable weather.

"It's bad, but it's not terribly bad. It's bad now that we've had the second warmest January on record, and that definently takes a toll on you," Reber says. "I know a lot of the shops in the Midwest, and they're talking about how everybody's down. We're used to it; it happens periodically. Next year it may snow like mad."

The weather forecast may help ease Reber and Kiehle's concerns. The temperature is expected to drop below freezing by the weekend. Until then, Reber has one request.

"Just pray for snow, everybody."