Employees in Steamboat Springs hope Mother Nature will come through soon | SteamboatToday.com

Employees in Steamboat Springs hope Mother Nature will come through soon

A team of eight dogs from the Double-T Kennel tear down the trail near Stagecoach Reservoir. Many of the dogs used are from Tom Thurston’s Iditarod teams.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The lack of snow is making Oak Creek resident Stephen Mailhot nervous.

"The weather is not putting us in a good spot,”said Mailhot, who works for Double T Kennel, a dog sledding operation in Oak Creek. “We would really like to have some snow, and it's going to definitely going to affect us if it gets to be Christmas time and we can't take people out. It's going to be a big problem."

Mailhot, a carpenter in the summer, said he is ready to  get back to work running dogs near the Stagecoach Reservoir and in the Flat Tops for his boss Tom Thurston. In the past, the combination of jobs has worked perfectly for Mailhot, but this year not so much.

"I've found that it's a pretty good transition," Mailhot said. "I'll finish up the projects that we do in the summertime and then roll right into dog sledding. Hopefully, we will get some snow here pretty quick."

He is not the only employee living in the Yampa Valley who has been waiting for winter to arrive. Employees at businesses like the Steamboat Ski Touring Center and the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., where many of the 1,542  employees are still waiting for shifts to start, also find themselves dreaming of snow.

"In our business, we rely on Mother Nature," said Kajsa Lindgren, whose family owns and operates the Steamboat Ski Touring Center, which employs 14 people.  "She has a 1-800 number, but unfortunately, it's disconnected right now."

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That's bad news for Ralph Whittum, who operates a groomer at the Nordic trails the Touring Center operates at Haymaker Golf Course.

"It's one of those love-hate things," Whittum said. "I'm glad the sun is shining, but I sure do need to get to work."

This winter will be Whittum’s third season setting track at Haymaker.

"I depend on this for income, but I also have Social Security," he said. "I can lull around for a little bit on vacation, but the bank account gets a little slim."

Snow Buddies Dog Sled Tours, run by Sarah Piano, who has one employee that lives on her property in South Routt and two part-time employees, is open but has been impacted by the lack of snow.

"We have been running since the first of December," Piano said. "Our trail is up at altitude, so we don't have very much snow, but we do have enough to fly the sleds down the trail."

The trail she uses has a few thin spots that have forced her to make a few changes in the way she operates.

"We have had to modify our format, so we don't offer the entire trip as a drive-your-own-team, learn-to-mush," she said. "There are large swaths of the trail, for both dog safety and guest safety, we have had to say without exception that people don't get to drive this part of the trail."

She said the snow conditions at Steamboat Ski Area have scared away a few potential customers who decided not to come to Steamboat, and she has seen more cancellations than normal as a result of the limited terrain available on the ski mountain. 

Whittum, a longtime local, has seen it all since moving to Steamboat in the 1970s and has learned that all anyone can do is smile when it comes to weather in the Yampa Valley. 

"I was here for the drought of ’76-’77 and for the drought of ’80-’81," Whittum recalls. "Both of those years it finally did snow, so we can't fall on our swords just yet.”

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.