At Fresh Air Experience in Ottawa, a sporting goods store that specializes in bikes in the summer and cross-country skis in winter, the demand for ski equipment doesn’t traditionally take off until the first flakes of snow have fallen.
But business is already booming, months ahead of schedule.
After record bike sales during the first part of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fresh Air owner Jon Digney is seeing the same phenomenon with cross-country skis. He’s booking appointments for in-store shopping up to three weeks in advance.
“Traditionally, when we transition from bikes to skis, we have a lull during October and November. The Christmas season kicks it off early December,” Digney said.
“This year, it’s already full speed ahead. We didn’t have any transition. We went straight from bikes to skis in a day.”
If there’s a silver lining eight months into the global pandemic, it’s that Canadians have embraced the outdoors.
But winter will present new challenges. While we know the importance of fresh air and movement for physical and mental health, the cold and shorter darker days will push people indoors.
Gabor Csonka, president of Calgary’s Foothills Nordic club, isn’t surprised that cross-country ski equipment is flying off the shelves. The sport’s benefits, he said, are numerous.
“You’re outdoors usually in a beautiful environment with trees and hills. Humans need to connect with nature,” he said. “And you don’t need to be in close contact with anyone, but you can still go for ski and have a conversation with someone.
“It’s just a fantastic feeling to go and ski quietly, with decent space, through the woods.”
After seeing parks crowded with summer hikers, Csonka hopes there’s the infrastructure to handle a potential influx.
“Do we have enough parking spaces, toilets, and trails that are groomed or maintained?” he said. “That’s a challenge.”
Across the country, federal and municipal governments are still hammering out winter plans.
The City of Toronto’s ActiveTO program of road closures was extended into October because of its popularity. Now, Toronto will switch gears to promote its toboggan hills, snowshoeing trails, and the city’s 50-plus outdoor ice rinks.
“Embrace fall, embrace winter,” said Howie Dayton, Toronto’s director of community recreation. “There’s so many great things to explore outdoors in Toronto, so it’s a chance to really connect with nature this fall and winter and try some outdoor sport and outdoor activities that you’ve never done before.”
Precautionary measures around issues like skate rentals at the popular Nathan Phillips Square rink are still being ironed out.
Quebec continues to be Canada’s COVID hot spot. And with the situation evolving, Montreal has prepared various scenarios to enable residents to enjoy outdoor activities safely, the city said in a statement.
“For the time being, and provided that all conditions remain unchanged, only individual outdoor activities will be promoted,” the statement said, listing hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, fat biking, and skating.
A busy summer gave Blue Mountain Resort staff