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Shops suffer as winter weather lags

 It’s been a long winter for local businesses that rely on snowy conditions to make ends meet.

With more than a month still left in the winter season, it’s hard to say exactly how much snow will eventually fall at ski resorts like Dodge Ridge, Bear Valley and Badger Pass. But the numerous other businesses that rely on the white stuff are already seeing profits well below average.

Eric Aldridge, owner of Earth and Ocean Boardshop in Sonora and Jackson, said his sales have been lower than at any point since he opened in 2005. Sales are particularly down from last year, when heavy snowfall had customers coming to his shops in droves.
“We’ve been able to overcome this bad economy, but I don’t know how to deal with no snow,” he said. “It is the gnarliest thing I’ve ever seen.”

He has had to slash prices and offer special deals to customers just to move his inventory. Aldridge said there isn’t a lot of profit in selling snowboards, but he makes up the difference by maintaining and waxing the boards and by selling gloves, jackets and other apparel.

“The margin has always been small, but if you can consistently sell through the season, you can make it work — but not this year,” he said.

For example, he said he sold more than 300 snowboards at his two shops last year, but this year is on track to sell less than half that.

“You don’t need a new board if there’s no snow to go riding on,” he said.

The Rivers Resort off Highway 108 in Strawberry has seen its worst year in three decades, according to owner Martha Weathers. The resort rents out 12 cabins that typically cater to skiers and snowboarders during the winter months.

“(The weather) has been way too nice. People aren’t even thinking about the snow,” she said. “Up the hill businesses are really suffering.”

She said she has several customers who booked cabins for Christmas with the expectation of a winter wonderland. Instead they spent their time going hiking and horseback riding and sampling the many local restaurants.

“They were surprised how much fun they could have without any snow,” Weathers said.

There have been far fewer bookings compared with last year, when she said there were more people looking to book a cabin than she could handle.

“For the most part, everybody is surviving,” said Twain Harte Chamber of Commerce President Pamela Jones. “I haven’t heard of anybody being laid off.”

Jones, who also owns J.P. and Associates cleaning business, said hotels in the the high country have seen about 15 percent cancellations due to the lack of snow.

“People are doing alternative things to try and drum up more business,” she said.

Shawn Seale, owner of Sierra Nevada Adventure Co., said he has had to discount most of his inventory of snowboards, skis and snowshoes.

He has been in business locally for 17 years and owns three stores in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties.

He said his stores in Sonora and Murphys — which specialize mostly in backpacking gear — have seen sales remain flat compared with last year.

His Arnold store, however, has suffered from the lack of snowfall, because it focuses almost exclusively on winter sports gear and rentals.

“It’s our Arnold store that has definitely taken the biggest hit,” Seale said.

He said that few people are patronizing that store despite the fact that there are several ski runs up and running at Bear Valley and Dodge Ridge.

“It’s a lack of awareness — people don’t know the ski resorts are open,” he said.

Contact Ryan Campbell at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it or 588-4526.

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