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Outdoor sports retailers worried Ottawa's unpredictable weather is freezing business

Mathieu Emond, manager of Greg Christie’s Ski and Cycle Works in Chelsea, Que., says the number of customers coming to the store has dropped significantly compared to last year. (Jean Delisle/CBC - image credit)
Mathieu Emond, manager of Greg Christie’s Ski and Cycle Works in Chelsea, Que., says the number of customers coming to the store has dropped significantly compared to last year. (Jean Delisle/CBC - image credit)

As Ottawa jumps between mild and freezing temperatures, some outdoor sports retailers say the unpredictable weather is pushing customers away from their businesses.

Over a span of five days in mid-January, Ottawa's mean temperature ranged between -12 C and -14.6 C, according to Environment Canada. Now, the weather agency is forecasting a stretch of warmer weather as high as 2 C until Friday.

Earlier this year, multiple ski trails in the Ottawa area were stuck waiting for snow, despite usually receiving some in November and early December.

Mathieu Emond is the manager of Greg Christie's Ski and Cycle Works in Chelsea, Que. According to him, the lacklustre snow kept customers away from his business and they haven't caught up yet.

"I mean really slow. We are truly waiting for people to come through the door," Emond told CBC Radio's All in a Day.

Last year, people were coming regularly for ski rentals and purchases, Emond added. But this year is different.

A man travels along a ski trail. Emond says that sometimes bad weather conditions in Ottawa can actually be decent weather conditions up north in Chelsea, Que. where his business operates.
A man travels along a ski trail. Emond says that sometimes bad weather conditions in Ottawa can actually be decent weather conditions up north in Chelsea, Que. where his business operates.

A man travels along a ski trail. Emond says even if there are bad weather conditions in Ottawa, there could still be decent weather conditions in Chelsea, Que. where his business operates. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

"A lot of people are looking but not necessarily purchasing, because even if they do purchase right now they're not able to go out and actually use their equipment," he said.

Emond also estimates half his customers live in Ottawa, which creates the additional challenge of customers believing Ottawa's warmer temperatures also exist in Chelsea, Que.

"People do forget that there is constantly winter up here…bad conditions in Ottawa can actually be decent conditions here for skiing," Emond said.

He said the business is on social media trying to spread the word about the better conditions up north. However, Emond thinks "a big chunk of that crowd is literally just looking out their window going 'Am I going skiing today or not?'

"I think they're often picking 'not'," Emond added.

Some optimism despite the challenges

The freezing temperatures allowed the Rideau Canal Skateway to open on Jan. 21, but the opening only lasted a few days. Since then, milder conditions have temporarily closed down the skateway until further notice.

Freddy Allport, the store manager at Kunstadt Sports in the Glebe, said the closure was "a big bummer" but he's staying optimistic that the skateway will reopen soon.

Allport said that "it's a bit tough" and "always a bit of a gamble" for weather-dependent businesses like Kunstadt that have to purchase supplies for future seasons.

"You can look at the numbers all you want, but at the end of the day, Mother Nature kind of rules all," he said.

Freddy Allport, the store manager at Kunstadt Sports on Bank Street, says that despite this year's unpredictable weather, he's optimistic the business and the industry overall can handle the challenge.
Freddy Allport, the store manager at Kunstadt Sports on Bank Street, says that despite this year's unpredictable weather, he's optimistic the business and the industry overall can handle the challenge.

Freddy Allport, the store manager at Kunstadt Sports on Bank Street, says despite this year's unpredictable weather, he's optimistic the business and the industry overall can handle the challenge. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Allport also said he's concerned about climate change and its impact on winter activities overall.

"I want to be able to enjoy the outdoors for the rest of my lifespan, so it's worrisome both for the business and for my own fitness and activities," he said.

But despite the weather, Allport said the ski industry is still growing and there are "great volunteer teams" that manage ski trails in the city.

"Even though we're always a little nervous this time of year ordering and forecasting, I think if we can get through the mayhem of bike shortages and ski shortages during COVID we can get through anything," Allport said.