Winter tourism a bust for many operators in northern Cape Breton
Weird winter weather means little snow and few skiers or snowmobilers
Wildly fluctuating temperatures, lots of rain and little snow have stalled winter tourism in some parts of northern Cape Breton.
Skiers and snowmobilers are a rare species this season.
At Wreck Cove General Store on the Cabot Trail, Brent Partland and his partner Jenn Rhodes invested heavily this year, building winterized cabins to extend their busy fall season.
"Before this season, I would say 85 per cent would have been snowmobile business through the winter," said Partland. "We had a little bit around Christmastime and then the mild weather set in, the rain and the freezing rain and the ice; kind of stalled it out."
Partland said they are taking an economic hit as a result.
"We're just crossing our fingers that Mother Nature will bless us with a little bit of snow."
Smokey all but bare
Down the road in Ingonish, Ski Cape Smokey has not been able to open yet.
Larry Dauphinee, the head of the Ski Cape Smokey Society, said the community organization has its own snow-making equipment but can't afford to use it.
"As a volunteer group," he said, "we definitely do not have the funds to finance snow making."
Even if it started snowing now, Dauphinee is not sure whether the hill would open. With no skiing, the group has not been able to raise the $5,000 to $7,000 needed to pay for insurance.
"As we go into the next couple of weeks, we will be looking very closely at can we afford to take the chance on operating for a short period and making that money back," he said.
A bright spot
Further north at cross-county skiing venue North Highlands Nordic, things look a little brighter. Manager Mallory Grover said they've managed to preserve the snow they've had.
"It seems like we still have a great group of people coming here and the groomers are working harder than ever to maintain the snow," she said. "Currently, we have a good amount of snow on the trails, considering the conditions."
Grover said North Highlands Nordic has been working hard to make up for any business lost due to weather, inviting local groups to visit and adding programs and special events for seniors and people with disabilities.
"We're really trying this year to make it a community place for anyone," she said.
As a result, local businesses are still benefiting.
"Our gas station is just at the bottom of the hill. That's seeing a lot of people," said Grover. "There's a local store. Their numbers are up on the weekends. And there's local accommodations here and they are also seeing quite a few people."