PETOSKEY -- Sometimes, a chilly reception suits a community's visitors just fine.
Winter sports enthusiasts may embrace those cold conditions particularly when they're accompanied by snow.
"The winter this year has been significantly better than last year," said Jim Bartlett, general manager at Nub's Nob Ski Area in Harbor Springs, adding that attendance increased noticeably.
The Christmas-to-New Year's week turned out well for Nub's business, Bartlett said. Despite rainy conditions during part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday weekend, Bartlett said many skiers turned out during that timeframe as well.
Snow that has accumulated in late January should position the ski area well as the winter progresses into February, the Nub's manager added.
"If we can keep the winter part of winter here instead of some of the up-and-down (temperature patterns) that we saw I think we'll be in really good shape," he said.
Boyne Resorts, owner of Boyne Mountain in Boyne Falls and Boyne Highlands in Harbor Springs, has seen sales of lift tickets and season passes for those resorts rise this year, company spokeswoman Erin Ernst said. Boyne's lodging business this year is about flat compared with last year's results, she added.
Peter Fitzsimons, executive director of the Petoskey Area Visitors' Bureau, said room rental statistics for the lodging properties his organization represents aren't yet available for the winter season. But based on verbal input from lodging operators, "all I've heard was, the Christmas season was terrific."
Along with Christmas and New Year's Day falling on Tuesdays this year -- an arrangement that can bring a longer break for many than if the holidays occur on a weekend -- "Mother Nature chipped in and gave us a lot better snow than she did last year," Fitzsimons added.
The "January thaw" that took place soon after New Year's seemed to cut into room rentals, "but if you're going to lose a weekend, then that's the weekend to use," he added.
All in all, the combination of weather and economic conditions this season is the best that the local tourism industry has seen in several winters, Fitzsimons noted.
Reg Smith, vice president of hotels at Stafford's Hospitality, noted that the 2012-13 winter season is his company's first full one as owner of the Crooked River Lodge hotel in Alanson -- and it's turning out to be a "great" one for the property.
"That's what we were hoping for when we purchased that property, that it could be a good winter destination," Smith said.
Crooked River Lodge is proving popular with skiers and snowmobilers alike, he added. The company's Perry Hotel in Petoskey also is doing well, Smith said. There, rentals are about 20 percent higher so far this season compared to the mild winters of the recent past.
Stafford's dining operations have seen more modest sales growth this year, "but it's safe to say we're ahead of the last two winters," Smith added.
Last February, Mark Doernenburg said the 2011-12 winter's mild temperatures and limited snowfall were creating a "terrible" business trend for his A-1 Outdoor Services, which focuses seasonally on snow removal. This winter, though, is shaping up among the better ones in recent memory for the Petoskey-based business.
"I haven't had a month like this in a long time," he said. "Hopefully it will last through next month."
The snowy conditions' economic benefits can trickle down to other businesses, too, Doernenburg noted, including those that repair and maintain plow vehicles.
Nick Schwartz, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Gaylord, noted that the Petoskey area's snowfall total for the season to date remains below normal, although not as far behind as at this point in 2011-12.
From November up until Monday, Schwartz said the weather station at North Central Michigan College had measured 54.8 inches of snow. The normal snowfall for the area in that timeframe is about 80 inches.
Schwartz said the shortfall relates to the relatively warm weather patterns seen through much of late 2012 -- with jet stream patterns tending to keep cold air locked up over Canada.
It was only in the past couple of weeks or so that the jet stream shifted, Schwartz said, allowing southward movement of the cold air and triggering lake-effect snow when it arrived over the Great Lakes' comparatively warm waters.
Looking into February, Schwartz said the Climate Prediction Center's long-range temperature outlook tends to favor colder-than-usual temperature conditions, while chances of above-normal or below-normal precipitation remain about equal to one another.
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