By Pete Wurdock

Across the Eastern Upper Peninsula, the winter of 2023-24 is going down as the winter that never was. The absence of snow has kept the tourists away and put pressure on those in the hospitality industry. Rental cabins and motels are near empty, restaurants that normally feed snowmobilers and ice fishermen are operating with skeleton crews, and all of the area sled dog races have been cancelled.

This strain on the hospitality industry has hit area businesses hard. Admitting that Mother Nature won this round has been a difficult pill to swallow. Everyone has been holding out hope that somehow this El Niño inspired winter will turn around so sledders can get back on the trails, fishermen back on the ice, and snowshoe and cross country ski lovers can muscle over local routes.

That’s why Rob Stein, owner of Pine Stump Drink Shack and Cookery, took matters into his own hands. Always the innovator, Stein held a Heikki Lunta Party.

According to Finlandia University, Heikki Lunta is a fictional snow god that was said to live in the woods in Tapiola, Mich., a Finnish community about 20 miles south of Houghton. Legend said Heikki Lunta could perform a snow dance that would make the skies send down snow.

“We needed to do something different to try and bring people in, so I decided we were going to sacrifice a snowmobile,” Stein said.

Stein’s Heikki Lunta Party at Pine Stump on Saturday, February 10 was packed, both inside and out.

Chants of “Light it up” from the crowd of 100 people made Stein’s entrance seem like that of a rock star.

Stein had taken proper precautions, removing all gas and oil from an inoperable sled so there wouldn’t be any surprises. He used a flame thrower to ignite the pile of wood and cardboard beneath the sacrificial sled. Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire played over speakers.

Will the sacrifice work? It’s too early to tell, but as of this printing the Midwest Weather website has indicated that a northwest flow will set in next week, bringing the chance for multiple clippers over the next 7-10 days.

There are no major winter storms immediately anticipated, but models are starting to hint at something larger in the next weeks.