This winter’s lack of chilly temps and snow have given the Sault area a winter without known precedent, but not without negative impacts.
People and activities based around a more typical Sault winter are feeling the pinch.
Asked about the current state of Algoma’s vast snowmobile trail system, John Breckenridge, President of the Sault Trailblazers Club, was quite frank.
“Everything in our section of Algoma is closed,” says Breckinridge. “Talking to everybody, everywhere, we’ve never seen a winter like this in the 55 years our club has been grooming trails.”
The Bon Soo Kids Ride, where local youngsters are taken on snowmobile rides around a track at the Machine Shop, had to be canceled this year due to the lack of snow.
“We’ve never had to cancel it before,” says Breckenridge. “We typically get about 300-400 riders come out with police officers, MNR officers coming out to take the kids around and they love doing it. It’s disappointing.”
Back in November, it appeared a typical winter was in the offing with a substantial dump of the white stuff. Snow on the ground looked like it was here for the duration of the season. Then unseasonably mild temps rolled in and save for a short chilly spell, have basically lingered since.
“Our permit sales are probably going to plummet next year,” saids Breckenridge. “A lot of people bought their permits early this year because it looked like it was going to be a great year. Then the snow didn’t come and they’re disappointed.”
The dearth of snowfall during the prime winter months has been startling. Since Jan. 1, just 45.4 cm of snow has fallen locally. With daytime temps often climbing above freezing since the new year, there’s less and less evidence of that snowfall around.
“I’m really worried with what’s going on right now,” says Sahil Sandhu, manager of the Ambassador Motel, which is actually located on a snowmobile trail and sees plenty of snowmobile enthusiasts from southern Ontario and the upper U.S, every year, save for this one.
“I think it’s been more than a month without snow, a dusting here and there. It really affects the business and the city as well,” adds Sandhu. “People who booked with us three, four months ago, have been really sad, and they’re canceling all their bookings.”
Fairfield Inn general manager Kristin Barker, says the hotel takes about 100 bookings each winter primarily from snowmobilers from southern Ontario, Michigan, Wisconsin and other states.
“We’ve had cancellations for sure. It’s been tough,” says Barker.
Right now, eight bookings remain for this month, but unless “real winter” weather arrives – and soon – she expects more cancellations.
“We rely on snow because it brings a different sector, much like fall brings in visitors for fall colors,” Barker says. “If we get snow, we’re going to get enthusiasts coming. They’re going to change their holiday and they’re going to come. I’m keeping my snowmobile rate open. I’m keeping it open for people who have a permit and can’t snowmobile and still want to visit.”
The unusually warm temperatures have wreaked havoc on the five of the city’s city’s six outdoor rinks. The Downtown Plaza rink has endured thanks to refrigeration technology at its on-site Co2 plant. It can offer good ice in temperatures up to 6 C provided there’s no rain involved.
“We’ve had the Downtown Plaza rink going since Nov. 16, and public turnout there has been quite strong,” says Brent Lamming, Director of Community Services.
As for the city’s other five outdoor rinks, Lamming says there is no line in the sand – no one has given up on a resumption of the skating season – just yet.
Parks Manager Travis Reid says his department is monitoring weather with an eye for sub-zero temps. Restoring the rinks, said Reid, would be a week-long process.
As for Algoma’s snowmobile trails, Breckenridge said the club, with about 30 volunteers, is ready to go to work if/when Mother Nature changes up the big picture.
“We need some cooler weather and we definitely need some snow,” he says. “We would definitely get our trails open as soon as possible. For the most part, our (trail) bases are staying. Where it’s frozen and packed, it’s in pretty good shape. If we can have a foot of snow, my groomers will start rolling.”