At J.T.’s Snowmobile Repair, around 30 kilometres west of Barrie, they’ve sold only two snowmobiling permits since Dec. 1.
“Normally this time of year, we’d sell 40 by now,” says general manager Trevor Bronee.
The Saturday after Christmas is typically one of the shop’s busiest days of the year, yet this year, amid a near absence of snow, only a dozen or so customers came in.
The snow-free landscape throughout much of Ontario is affecting all sorts of winter businesses, from snowmobiling to snow removal. It’s a stark contrast from last year’s holiday weather, when a historic ice storm paralyzed southern Ontario just before Christmas. This holiday season, there has barely been a dusting.
“We call the snow ‘pennies from heaven,’ ” says Larry Richards, president of East-West Snow Services, a Toronto-based family business that’s been around since 1958.
Last December, the company salted city streets around 15 to 20 times. This year they’ve only been out four or five times.
The lack of snow has a trickle-down effect throughout the economy, Richard says, and it’s affecting a whole slew of businesses.
“No one’s buying salt now, no one’s buying shovels,” he explains. “Snow plows aren’t being used, and if they’re not breaking, guys aren’t selling parts.”
There are also snow plow drivers on standby, making only 30 to 40 per cent of the income they could rake in during a snowfall, he says.
One winter business near Barrie had to close down entirely.
Hardwood Ski and Bike, which has a popular network of cross-country ski trails, was only open until Dec. 22 owing to the area’s lack of snow. Indeed, the company missed the entire Christmas season.
“We would normally have 400-plus visitors each day and didn’t have any over (the holidays,)” says Jack Saffeville, president and general manager.
Saffeville is hoping for snow over the next few days because the first weekend in January typically brings in Hardwood’s biggest numbers, with two $30,000 days in a row. For a $2-million business, losing those few days would mean a huge financial hit.
“I’ve had a few sleepless nights,” says Saffeville. “But there’s really not a heck of a lot we can do about it — we don’t make snow.”
The expense of making powder for the area’s cross-country trails would be too great, he explains.
For alpine ski resorts, snow-making is a blessing. Ashley Amis, public relations manager at Blue Mountain Resort near Collingwood, Ont., says the resort is tracking on budget for December.
“We have a range of snow guns that can help us combat mild temperatures,” she explains, adding 19 of the resort’s 42 trails are open.
It’s a similar scene at Horseshoe Resort in Barrie, where snow-making teams are going full tilt. Jonathan Reid, director of partnerships and events, says the resort’s hotel has been at 95-per-cent occupancy since Dec. 20, and 15 of their 27 ski runs are currently open.
The biggest hit, he says, has been on cross-country skiing. Like Hardwood, they’ve had to shut down their trails.
And it’s not just Ontario businesses that have been hit. The Associated Press reported Monday that New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his entourage called off a trip to popular snowmobiling destination Ridge View Lodge because there was no snow.
But with snowfall in the forecast throughout Ontario later this week, winter businesses are hoping for a boost — and in the meantime, they’re making the best of the warm weather.
“The snow plow guys are happy. They got to spend Christmas with their families,” Richards says.