Feature Article - July/August 2002
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Always in Season

How some facilities market themselves year round, attracting patrons for seasonal activities and turning off seasons into profitable ones

By Zach Finken

Perking up Sleepy Hollow

When the Enman family bought their small resort in southern Vermont, they knew they'd have to attract outdoor athletes year-round. So they borrowed a tried-and-true business plan from other facilities in the area: skiing in the winter, mountain biking in the summer. They even named their resort the Sleepy Hollow Inn Ski and Bike Center.

The beautiful Vermont scenery serves both two-wheelers and skiers at the Sleepy Hollow Inn Ski and Bike Center.

"They complement each other really well," says general manager Eli Enman. "It goes hand in hand. It's an easy fit for us. They attract the same type of crowd."

Sleepy Hollow is near Huntington, Vt., about a half-hour southeast of Burlington, the state's largest city.

The site has had something of a checkered commercial past, Enman says. A grandiose plan for the land in the late 1980s collapsed under its own weight, and the developers went bankrupt. They had planned an 18-hole golf course and 72 luxury condos. But the land proved to be too hilly for golf and neighbors nervous about pesticides from the planned course spilling into their groundwater fought the plan off. Loggers took over the site in the mid-'90s, which Enman says was something of a blessing in disguise.

"The thin forest makes it prettier for skiers," he says. Besides, he added, "the forest will recover."

So the Enmans (that's 24-year-old Eli and his parents, David and Sandra) took over in 1999 and "reclaimed the ski trails from the weeds and prickers," Eli says. Now they have two types of trails: a 45-kilometer circuit for skiing and mountain biking and a 25-kilometer path for snow shoeing and single-track biking. Eli Enman says the more difficult single track is really catching on with mountain bikers.

"You have to hop over logs," he says. "It zigs and zags, inches away from big trees."

Sleepy Hollow also offers weekly biking and skiing races. A weekly bike series in the summer brings out the after-work crowd. On Wednesday nights in the winter, they offer night skiing, with lights illuminating two one-kilometer loops. Enman says most of their day users are locals, but they are attracting vacationers from all over the East Coast.

"Twenty-five percent of the people out here we see in winter and summer," he says. "They're the outdoorsy types. We see more families in winter than summer. Skiing equipment is really big around here. Biking is newer. It's rarer to see families with bikes."

Snowshoeing is also making an impact, but it probably won't make or break Sleepy Hollow's business, Enman says.

"Ten to 15 percent of the people here snowshoe," he says. "But people can do it out their back door. You don't need much. You don't need groomed trails."

Hot time in the Windy City

Each summer, Navy Pier is one of Chicago's favorite places to play. Built in 1916, it has been everything from a World War II pilot training facility to a campus of the University of Illinois. Today it is 1.5 miles of bike and walking paths, restaurants, theaters and shops stretching into Lake Michigan. On the busiest summer days, it's tough to navigate through all the bikers, baby strollers and runners. Ships dock up and down the pier waiting to take passengers out on the lake.

During the crisp midwestern winters, Navy Pier in Chicago lures tourists and locals with its outdoor ice rink.

Since the refurbished facility reopened in 1995, it has become one of the city's top tourist attractions, annually drawing about 8 million visitors, according to spokeswoman Maura Sheahan.

But it's not just a fair-weather facility.

"We provide entertainment 363 days per year," Sheahan says.

And that entertainment includes a rather creative use of the pier's outdoor theater—as a skating rink. From May to Labor Day, the Skyline Stage is a 1,500-seat venue that hosts top names in music and comedy. Now from January to early April (depending on the weather), skaters can practice their figure-eights on the same stage that has hosted such greats as Cheap Trick and the Beach Boys.

The rink covers the stage and, thanks to a scaffolding that stretches out into the crowd, several rows of seats. The ice time is free, and skate rentals are available. The skaters are protected from the midwestern winter by the stage's tented roof.

Navy Pier will probably always see its biggest crowds in the warmer months. But officials are hopeful that the rink will lure a few more Chicagoans out to the lake in the winter.

"It's one more aspect of all the attractions we have," Sheahan says.