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

Mind if we ski through?

If they had their choice, they'd golf every day of the year at Saukie Golf Course in Rock Island, Ill.

"Weather permitting, we're open year-round," says Bill Fetty, manager of golf services for the par-66 municipal course situated on 100 acres of beautiful woodlands.

But don't let that "Island" in the town's name fool you. There's nothing balmy about this city in the middle of February. Rock Island is one of the Quad Cities straddling the Mississippi River and the Illinois-Iowa border. So when the snow hits and the golfers go inside (or south) for the winter, the cross country skiers come out to play.

"It's a nice way to get some usage out of the land in the winter," Fetty says.

And it's easy. Skiing at Saukie is do-it-yourself: no groomed trails, no rentals, no lessons.

"We just turn them loose," he says.

Fetty says he wasn't always so happy to see skiers out on the links.

"I had a problem with it in the past," he says. At the time, he was working at a course in north suburban Chicago that attracted hundreds of cross country skiers every winter. But he didn't like the idea of all those skies and poles roughing up his course.

"But they're really not doing that much damage," he says. "Mother Nature repairs herself fairly quickly if you have a good plan."

And that plan includes restricting skiing when the snow on the ground is less than four inches deep and keeping skiers off the tees and greens all the time.

"We've got a hundred acres of course out here and maybe seven acres of greens and tees," he says. "The skiers still have plenty of room."

The problem, he says, comes from "sledders out on the back nine where we can't see them" and "the bozos with snowmobiles and four-wheel trucks."

"The skiers have a minimal impact," he says. "They're very cooperative."

Since Saukie is a municipal course, Fetty doesn't have to worry about turning a profit in the winter. But keeping the course open for skiing gives people an opportunity to use public land year-round. And it brings an entirely different crowd out to the links.

"Very few skiers play golf, and none of my golfers ski," he says. "One group likes exercise; the other doesn't. I won't tell you which one is which."

Then he adds: "I do think some of my golfers would ski if they could do it in a cart."

Go west

A scenic Lake Tahoe trail is a perfect setting for a summer hike.

Any discussion of four-season facilities has to include Lake Tahoe. The California-Nevada resort area has been attracting year-round vacationers for more than 100 years. But there's always room for improvement.

Take Spooner Lake, a rather small operation by Tahoe's larger-than-life standards. Its two year-round cabins are nestled in Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park. Skiers have been enjoying the resort's amazing views and 80 kilometers of groomed trails for decades. But in the last two years, Spooner Lake has added mountain biking to its offerings. Head ski instructor Nina Macleod says the owners had to acquire the financing and the permits from the state to go ahead with biking.

"There are lots of rules and regulations," she says.

But slogging through all the red tape has been worth it. The 14-mile Flume Trail down to Lake Tahoe attracts bikers far and wide. Spooner Lake's Web site calls it "one of the premier trails in the world," and who can argue, with its breathtaking views of the lake and pristine setting?

"It absolutely draws a big crowd," Macleod says. "People come from all over the world. [The operation] grew very much from two summers ago to last summer."

The new emphasis on biking is a change for the resort and quite a departure for Macleod too.

"Skiing has been my life," she says.

She was born in Norway and her father, Sigmund Ruud, and uncle, Birger Ruud, both won Olympic medals in ski jumping in the 1920s and '30s. Macleod came to the United States to teach downhill skiing in Vermont in 1965.

"I met a man and stayed here," she says.

Now she's working year-round in Lake Tahoe, introducing amateur athletes to all the area has to offer.

"It's a really nice place," she says.

No matter what the season.