Winter sports enthusiasts patiently wait for snow


The Sault’s green Christmas was a hot topic the past week. November’s dump of snow, which looked like it just might be here to stay, was reduced to mere splotchy remnants in a few days by unseasonably mild
temperatures.

Everyone likes the clear roads and overall better driving experience. But not everyone likes rain, and most, even some self-declared winter-haters, will say they prefer a White Christmas.

The mild weather has its plusses but it can wreak havoc on a host of traditional outdoor activities including skiing and snowmobiling.

John Breckenridge, Sault Trailblazers Snowmobile Club President, is keeping close eye on forecasts. The club’s trails typically open in mid-to-late January but he’ll welcome the snow when it comes, and sooner the better. “We have been having quite a few issues with these late winters,” says Breckenridge. “It disappoints riders. All of Northern Ontario is in the same boat. Quebec has some snow, but not the amount they usually have.” Snowmobilers follow the weather, but not just on TV. They pack and go where there’s snow. They also provide a boost for local economies. The prime season for snowmobiling last only about 8-9 weeks, so time is of the essence.

“If we had snow here, now, we’d have an influx of riders from the U.S. and southern Ontario,” says Breckenridge, lamenting a missed opportunity. “It’s great for restaurants, hotels…all that.”

When the snow does return in earnest, Breckenridge says his club needs “18-24 inches to make a good, solid and safe base” along its nearly 600 km of trails.

“We’re running over old, old roads, so the infrastructure is not in the best shape,” he says. Breckenridge and a select few others will open up the trails. There are a number of items on the must-do list beyond grooming trails, including ensuring proper signage is up, various gates are open, and perhaps most importantly, land use permission documentation is complete.

While the vast majority of trails are on government land, some do cross over portions of private property, and every year, permission must be secured. With it comes liability insurance, which Breckenridge says is of major importance.

He says two grooming machines are ready to roll with another due to come west from Sudbury. When Mother Nature delivers ample snow, Breckenridge says the Sault Club’s trails could be ready after one week’s work, if conditions are good.

Local business owners that cater to outdoor enthusiasts are patiently awaiting real winter weather to make an appearance, and stay a while. Jason Goodine, general manager at Rivercity Motorports says sales
remain strong at his Great Northern store. “We are seasonal, so (winter is) just one season of our inventory that is slow moving,” he says. “We still move and ATVs and that, and tractors. People are still buying boat motors and that kind fo stuff. Winter’s short, so we’ll get through it.”

Goodine is unfazed by all the green around town at the moment. He’s confident a white blanket is coming.

“I never worry. Winter always comes,” says Goodine. “It always gets cold and the lakes always freeze. It inevitably happens. I was just reading last night that on Dec. 30 last year, it was nine degrees. It’s not really abnormal. What’s abnormal about this year is we don’t have the precipitation.”

The Sault and area got a major snowfall last Christmas but Goodine notes by the end of the month it had mostly melted away. Ideally, before the snow shows up, some cold weather causes the ground to freeze.
“Last Christmas, yeah, we had snow, but not good snow,” Goodine says. “When it’s warm the machines don’t operate properly. It doesn’t move the track properly. That snow just turns to water as soon as you ride over it. We need cold and snow.”

Good snow on frozen ground?

“We call it sugar,” says Goodine. “That’s the snow with the best properties for the sleds. That’s good riding.”

The more snow, the better, too.

“They need the snow to pile into creek beds and ditches to make bridges. We also have huge rocks all over the trail, too, so we need the snow to cover those so you don’t have damaged sleds, adds Goodine. “That’s what it really takes to turn a trail green.”

At the Duke of Windsor, the longtime sporting goods store renowned for its customer care for skiers and cyclists, business has slowed, but not by much.

“Things are always a little slower with this kind of weather,” says Chris Theriault, the Duke’s owner. “We’re quite busy with ski and snowboard tune-ups. That’s down a bit. But with Searchmont (Resort), they had the
ski hill open on the American Thanksgiving which made our shop quite busy to get stuff ready early. It’s okay but we’re hoping certainly to get some snow. It’ll be busier when we get some snow for sure.”
Theriault says people are making plans to ski for the prime winter months of January and February.

“This is a weather business,” he says. “It can make and break us, you know. Sometimes it’s funny, you can have a rainy day and you can still be busy because people go shopping on rainy days, too. Too much bad
weather is always gonna hurt business, especially in winter.”

An avid skier and cyclist, Theriault recalls Sault winters where the cold arrived sooner and seemed to stay longer, compared to more recent ones. “I find the inconsistency of weather seems to be a big change. I don’t remember a lot of rain in the winter like we’re having now.”

Olivia Lingle with her eight-month-old daughter, Octavia.

Thursday saw the rain come to an end and the pleasant afternoon weather attracted quite a few skaters to the oval at the downtown plaza. Olivia Lingle, planter operator at GFL Memorial Gardens, enjoyed a day off to skate at the plaza with her eight-month-old daughter, Octavia Stewart.

The Plaza’s Zamboni driver, Lingle was clearly enjoying the hint of mild in the air and is thrilled with the quality of ice in spite of it. “We actually have a CO2 plant kicking in behind the operator’s building
and it works at like four times the power of all our other plants so like we’re pushing from anywhere like 700 to 800 psi,” says Lingle. “It’s insane to see there’s even ice out here right now. It’s super cool and it’s new and innovative technology for the refrigeration. We’re hoping to introduce it into more of our plants. Step one is the new downtown plaza so we’ll see how this all goes. Hopefully we can start integrating it into future builds.”

How high can the temperatures get before the ice would suffer?

“It really all depends on the weather,” says Lingle. “If we get rain it’s really difficult to keep up with. We can’t really stop the puddling and that also speeds up the melting process for the ice. We could probably do it to about 10 degrees, might be the max and that would be really pushing the plant. I would love to see this…I’m thinking this might go until April or May. That would be super awesome.”

Temperatures forecast for the next three months will be cooler than the past week. Some will be downright chilly. That would take the rink into March.

April and May weather, in the Sault? You never know.

Author

  • Ron Jokelainen

    Ron has returned to writing and reporting after 27 years with Ontario Lottery & Gaming. He began as a staff writer with OLG in 1994 before moving to Sports Marketing in 1997. He retired as a Senior sports analyst in 2021. Prior to OLG, Ron worked in radio and print journalism in the Sault and Simcoe. Folks may remember Ron "Williams" with CFYN-CHAS in the early 90s A graduate of Windsor's St. Clair College Journalism program, Ron lists drumming, gardening and walking among his favourite hobbies.

One thought on “Winter sports enthusiasts patiently wait for snow

  1. El Niño says no snow. The multi millionaire stuck with the badly overpriced snowmobiles should have known better.

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