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Jay Reuss, a salesman with the Motor Sports of Willmar store on north Highway 71, discusses a Polaris line of snowmobiles during an interview Thursday at the store. Reuss says the business is diversified enough that it remains busy even when the temperature drops to the point outdoor enthusiasts even stay inside. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

Brutal cold keeps people off trails, but winter sports businesses active

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news Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR — Once the temperature heads south of 10 below, it seems even the most dedicated snowmobile enthusiast thinks twice about heading out on the trail. That doesn’t mean businesses that cater to winter sports are quiet this time of year, though.

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At Motor Sports of Willmar, the business is diversified enough to stay busy most of the time, said salesman Jay Reuss.

“If something’s not selling, something else is,” he said.

The business is always dependent on weather to some extent, Reuss said.

Winter clothing is selling well with this winter’s unrelenting cold, he said. Even people who would never get on a snowmobile like to wear the wind-proof snowmobile clothing.

Snowmobiles have hand warmers, and helmets can be equipped with visor heaters. And with the right clothing, a rider could be fairly comfortable riding at 20 below, said Nathan Nielsen, co-owner of Spicer Sports and Marine.

“But at that type of temperature, it’s dangerous,” he said. “If you break down, you better have friends with you.”

Reuss agreed. “If you’re going 50 mph on a snowmobile, on any exposed skin, it doesn’t take long to get frostbit.”

Most people don’t want to take the risk of being stuck out in open country if they have a breakdown, said Terry Myhre, co-owner of Steve’s Equipment Co. in Montevideo.

“Every year is different, but it totally depends on the weather,” Myhre said.

While customers may not be looking at snowmobiles as much this year, she said, Polaris side-by-side ATVs have been more popular.

“We sell lots of those, equipped with cabs, heaters, some with tracks,” she said of the Polaris Ranger vehicles. “They can go across anything a snowmobile can go across.”

The vehicles aren’t only popular in the snow. “We have a lot of customers in Arizona right now, playing with their Rangers and RZRs in the desert.”

Cold weather keeps service departments busy, too. Things break in the cold, so Motor Sports of Willmar has seen a lot of business in its service department, Reuss said.

People who may have been putting off maintenance work may find their machines won’t start in the cold, Nielsen said, and that brings them into the service department for thawing and maintenance.

The sports vehicle business depends on the weather in another way, as farmers’ purchases can be dictated somewhat by the size of their crops and by drop prices, Reuss said.

In December 2012, the business had a record month, with farmers investing in all sorts of recreational vehicles — not just snowmobiles but ATVs or other utility vehicles. With lower prices last fall, business was off a bit from that all-time high, too.

Nielsen said he expects that there will be nicer weather soon, and there’s snow out there for riding, so he thinks more machines will be on the trails in the coming weeks.

And he’s not too worried about some slower January sales, because there’s a big boat show in the Twin Cities this weekend.

“Then people will start calling about boats, pontoons and docks,” he said, and the business and its customers will be moving on to the next season.

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