For Jackie Glaser, the oodles of snow that has fallen this season means more work and more play.
Glaser is an avid snowmobiler but also patrols the Lake Minnetonka area on a snow machine as a Department of Natural Resources conservation officer.
"I love snowmobiling,'' she said.
The nearly 40 inches of snow that have fallen so far in the Twin Cities might be a pain in the neck for commuters, but it's been a godsend to snowmobilers and a snowmobile industry hurt in recent years by rising gas prices, a recession and a lack of snow.
Snowmobile trails are bustling.
"It's been busy,'' said Glaser, 33, who patrols on her 800cc Arctic Cat. "More people are hitting the trails. Whether it's weekdays or weekends, there's someone out there all the time.''
With the additional 6 inches of snow that fell in the Twin Cities area Monday and Tuesday, it's shaping up to be a busy season. Glaser said she'll likely spend 75 percent of her time this winter patrolling snowmobilers and the rest of the time checking anglers.
Will snow boost sales?
For Minnesota's quarter-million snowmobilers and the snowmobile industry, the near-record snowfall here is a bonanza.
Minnesota snowmobile registrations have stayed steady in recent years, though registration of new machines has fallen from 17,000 in 2004 to 10,000 this year.
Meanwhile, nationwide snowmobile sales have been sliding downhill. Sales have fallen 64 percent since 1997, when the industry sold 170,000 sleds. Last year it sold 61,600. Total sales in dollars are down 46 percent.
Officials blame several factors for the decline, primarily a lack of snow, but also a poor economy and higher gas prices. (Michigan, No. 1 in snowmobile registrations, has been devastated economically by the downfall of the auto industry.)
"We don't sell snowmobiles when there's no snow,'' said Ed Klim, president of the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association in Haslett, Mich. And for most of this decade, there's been a dearth of snow.
"We haven't had a real good long snow season like we did in the '90s until maybe now,'' he said. "In Minnesota, sales and use is really driven when there's snow in the Twin Cities. Because if it's brown in their backyards, they think it's brown everywhere.''
The lack of snow probably has pushed some consumers to ATVs, too. Minnesota snowmobile makers Polaris and Arctic Cat both now make much more money selling ATVs than snowmobiles.
But Klim said he thinks the snowmobile industry has hit bottom and weather forecasters are projecting a 10-year pattern of snowier winters.
"Sales are increasing this year over last year,'' he said. "We're optimistic.''
Be careful out there
There is a downside. For Glaser and the DNR, the snowy start to the season could mean more accidents.
"Unfortunately, the number of accidents fluctuates with the length of the snowmobile season,'' said Capt. Mike Hammer, DNR enforcement education program coordinator.
Last year -- with a snowy winter -- the state recorded 19 fatal snowmobile accidents, the same number that occurred in 2008 and 2009 combined.
One fatal accident has occurred this season.
Last year there were 212 snowmobile accidents, including 161 with injuries. There's no mystery why most occur. "Most of our accidents happen in the darkness, most involve high speed, and alcohol is involved a lot of time,'' Hammer said.
Thirty-two percent of accidents last season involved a snowmobile striking a fixed object, and 22 percent involved the operator being thrown from the machine.
"Usually people hit poles in a ditch or a tree; rarely is it snowmobile-on-snowmobile,'' Glaser said.
Fifty percent of the accidents occurred on the weekend. Alcohol was involved 19 percent of the time, but it was a factor in 72 percent of the fatalities.
Still, with nearly 257,000 snowmobiles registered in the state in 2010, a tiny fraction were involved in an accident.
Said Hammer: "If you look at the number of sleds out there, the number of hours [they drive] and the number of operators, it's a safe recreational activity.''
Meanwhile, Glaser is looking forward to spending more time on her snowmobile this winter -- whether for work or play.
"It's definitely a fun job,'' she said. "I love it.''
Doug Smith • firstname.lastname@example.org