As what passes for winter winds down, it is becoming increasingly evident that changing weather patterns is a forecast for uncertainty for some winter pursuits.
This year, there were only five weeks when Orillia area snowmobile trails were considered in good shape, local officials say.
It’s a trend that has become increasingly common over the past five years, where the usual 12-16 week snowmobile season has been whittled away by milder winters marked by wild temperature swings.
Orillia & Lake Country Tourism’s Kris Puhvel said snowmobiling is something his organization promotes for the area, but the decrease in good conditions has had negative impacts on some local businesses.
“It's something we do promote, as we are a four-season destination here. We have a great network of trails in the region and many of our businesses, from our accommodators to our food and hospitality sectors definitely welcome it and (it’s) an important part of their winter revenue,” Puhvel told OrilliaMatters.
“(It’s) very difficult to hear the trails have been open in our region only for five weeks, (and) that will certainly have a negative effect on that income that a number of our businesses rely on this time of year.”
A 2019 study by the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs said snowmobiling can generate $1.6 to $3.3 billion in economic activity provincially in any given season.
Orillia District Snowmobile Club Rob Love said the area might not depend on snowmobile tourism revenue as much as smaller communities in northern Ontario, but said it can still be a “massive impact” for local businesses.
With 265 kilometres worth of local trails, which connect to tens of thousands of kilometres of trails provincially, there is ample opportunity to get out snowmobiling locally during a good season, Love explained.
“The economic impact of snowmobiling is just incredible ... it makes such a huge difference,” Love said. “The Orillia area, when the conditions are great, we've got people in the hotels; we've got people in the restaurants; we've got people coming to this area; we've got people (traveling) through the area.”
“...The places that are up north, the smaller communities, they're almost surviving off of that kind of tourism,” he said. “It's not as much for around here, that we survive off it, but it definitely makes a massive impact.”
For Love’s snowmobile club, the warmer weather of late has meant a number of planned trips together have not been able to happen.
For some local enthusiasts, getting out sledding has meant travelling to areas with more favourable conditions.
Mayor Don McIsaac, who is an avid snowmobiler, said he got a few trips in this winter locally, garnering thousands of kilometres of snowmobiling through the season, but he took weekend trips as far as Minnesota and northern Ontario to find more favourable conditions.
McIsaac participated in the annual ALS Blizzard Tour in Minnesota, where proceeds benefit people living with ALS, and also travelled to Cochrane for a weekend trip.
“(My wife) and I both snowmobile, both have sleds, and we did about 2,000 miles this winter,” he said. “It's hard to (sled) in Orillia because of the snow conditions, but we got to other areas of the province that had good snow conditions, and we've had fun.”
While the past several years have been less than favourable, McIsaac said snowmobiling can be an asset for the area.
“I don't know that it's a huge draw right now, but I think a lot of people come here (because) we've got ice fishing with the lakes. We've got the trails, and we’ve got a lot to offer people who want to snowmobile. All we need is the snow, obviously.”
Moving forward, Puhvel said snowmobiling remains an important part of winter tourism, but he hopes to promote other aspects of the area to continue drawing in winter tourists.
“We're really trying to promote Orillia lake country as a four-season destination, but not just for the outdoor recreation,” he said. “We have a burgeoning culinary scene, and … we have all these events that have been coming back now to Casino Rama, the Opera House, and other festivals that happen during (the winter).
“With the changing climate and weather, we definitely have to focus on many of our indoor attractions to promote the area, I would say," said Puhvel.