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Snowfall could spur cross-country ski sales, snowblower repairs

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Lots of snowfall during the winter can be good or bad, depending on the eye of the beholder.

Recent snowfall has been a positive sign for retailers who sell outdoor sporting equipment. But it has caused some irritation for those who couldn’t get their snowblowers — long neglected after last year’s mild winter — to start. That trend will buoy business for small-engine mechanics who will be called to fix them.

Black River Adventurer’s Shop, 129 Mill St., saw its cross-country ski and snowshoe sales drop by more than 50 percent last winter because of the mild weather, owner Todd J. Phelps said. Although this week’s snowfall came too late to capitalize on Christmas shoppers, he is still looking for a better season.

“Everyone was doing their shopping before the snow got here,” he said.

But the robust winter predicted by meteorologists has him feeling optimistic sales could rebound this year.

“It’s going to have to be a steady, constant snow to build people’s confidence that there’s going to be enough snow and an opportunity to go cross-country skiing,” he said.

Those who remember last year’s mild winter may still be reluctant to spend $300 on a new pair of cross-country skis, he said. But rentals at the shop will climb if the winter yields plenty of snow. The shop charges $10 to rent boots and skis.

“Rentals will be up, especially because people didn’t buy skis last year,” he said.

If the winter is indeed strong, Mr. Phelps said, it likely will translate into more business in the winter of 2014. He called customers’ habits of gauging the amount of snowfall during the previous winter a predictable trend.

“Last year’s lack of snow has everyone still wondering, ‘Is it worth it to buy skis?’ Everyone’s always skeptical, but if the snow sticks around through March and April this year, then that will help next year’s sales,” he said.

Snowblower owners who have left their machines in storage since last winter could be in for a surprise this season, said Benjamin W. Zawatski, small-engine manager for Cheney Tire, 839 State St. On the morning of Christmas Eve, he received about 20 phone calls from customers who reported malfunctioning snowblowers. This winter, he and other local mechanics could be overwhelmingly busy fixing snowblowers that have been sitting around much longer than usual after last winter’s uncharacteristically mild weather.

“We’ll get swamped,” he said Monday. “A lot of people are just not starting their snowblowers, and I’ve had a lot of phone calls.”

Ethanol-infused gasoline that sits in snowblowers for long periods causes oxidation and corrosion of carburetors, Mr. Zawatski said. He advises owners to empty their machines after the winter and regularly use gasoline treatment to prevent fuel from causing damage. He also recommends starting the machines at least once a month to ensure they’re working properly.

“It helps contain the ethanol fuel and prevent tarnishing of fuel,” he said. “Most people with problems have left ethanol fuels (in snowblowers) three or four months at a time.”

Mr. Zawatski called last year’s mild winter a perfect recipe for snowblower problems because most owners were finished using them by the end of January.

“They’ve sat there through the end of summer,” he said. “And if they’re stored in hot places, the gas will evaporate faster” and cause corrosion.

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