Skiing and snowboarding require a certain level of skill, with young adults representing the lion’s share of the market.
But snow tubing? All you need is a willing body and spirit, and everybody in the whole family can possess those traits.
In 2011, Wilmot Mountain, Inc. was eager to tap into the much larger market of winter activities. But there was a sizable obstacle in the path of the regional attraction’s desire to reinvent itself. Would be-lenders were reluctant to float the funds necessary for the project to materialize.
Enter the Kenosha Area Business Alliance (KABA) and its revolving loan program.
“This was a pretty challenging project to finance and traditional funding sources were leery of the business because it was very cyclical and traditional lenders covet consistency,” said KABA President Todd Battle. “We viewed it as an important business and quality of life amenity that we could help support.”
KABA’s backing was instrumental, said Wilmot Mountain Marketing Director Ryan Church.
“It would have been really hard on us to do with our own funding,” said Church. “I don’t know if we would have been able to build a brand new building and facility which separates us from other resorts that offer snow tubing.”
Through Community Bank & Trust of Sheboygan, KABA loaned $800,000 to Wilmot Mountain so it could embark on the $5.37 million project. In all, KABA manages approximately $30 million in revolving loan funds. Over the last five years, KABA has loaned more than $14.3 million to area businesses supporting their expansion, real estate or equipment projects. The average loan is $550,000.
At the centerpiece of the loan to Wilmot Mountain was a multiple lane winter tubing run on the southwest corner of the property that will now have more than 20 lanes.
Also part of the project was related ticketing, concession and rental facilities, as well as upgrades to the existing snow-making equipment to accommodate the new runs and the infrastructure supporting energy use and efficiency.
The expanded operation was ready during the 2011-2012 season and is about to embark on its third full season.
“The snow tubing addition opens up a new customer base and gives them something else to do in the winter time,” Church said. “It has become a family-friendly environment and is available to pretty much anybody who wants to go out and do something in the winter time. It is also a good entry point for people to our business as a whole. The only skills needed are the ability to sit down and stand up. Laughing and having fun will come naturally.”
In operation since 1938 under the same family ownership, before its expansion the business has grown to 8 chair lifts, 3 rope tows and 2 conveyors with 25 distinct “runs” and a lodge that offers food and entertainment.
A new feature this year will be party rooms in the basement of the building, available for birthdays and other celebrations and group gatherings. “In the future, it is set up perfectly for banquets, weddings, and corporate events,” Church noted.
Wilmot Mountain cross-markets between the existing and new amenities: when customers purchase a ticket to either “side” of the business, the business offers a discount to the other side.
Tubing, skiing and snowboarding is expected to start back up in late November and, depending on the extent of this year’s season, to last until mid- or late-March, Church said.
While the length of any ski, snowboard, and snow tubing season always depends on the weather, Wilmot Mountain leaders are clear about the benefit it is reaping from the perfect economic storm triggered by the KABA loan.
“There are a lot of businesses like ours—such as small family-owned ones—that don’t know if they can afford to take a risk and expand their business the way we did,” Church said. “But our experience is proving that you can take a risk and be successful.”