Outdoor gear tricky to find as families hunt for ways to stay busy this winter

Melanie MacDonald, a mom of five kids in Calgary, says as her family isn't busy with their usual extra-curricular activities this would be the winter to try new things. 

Some Calgary stores say they are sold out of cross-country skis and snowshoes

Heather Ahl, co-owner of Abom Ski & Board, shows off what’s left of their cross-country ski stock. She says they are completely out of snowshoes but still have plenty of downhill skis. (Colleen Ahl)

Melanie MacDonald, a mom of five kids in Calgary, says as her family isn't busy with their usual extra-curricular activities this would be the winter to try new things. 

But, when she made the decision to try ice fishing, wild skating and cross-country skiing, she didn't realize how many other people were thinking the same thing.

MacDonald said she found it nearly impossible to buy her family six pairs of cross-country skis after calling around to nearly a dozen stores around Calgary.

"Everybody was sold out — most people laughed when I asked if they had any skis, cross-country skis in stock," said MacDonald.

Melanie MacDonald’s five children carve up Gap Lake — the first of many outdoor sports they’re trying this year. (Submitted Melanie MacDonald)

MacDonald said she eventually contacted friends and family in her home province of Prince Edward Island to purchase skis, boots and poles, and ship them to her.

"It was a little bit of a challenge, but now we officially have six pairs of everything," she said. 

Equipment tough to find

MacDonald's efforts highlight what many people are finding this year as they search for cross-country skis and other outdoor gear.

"Apparently, a lot of the stores, they usually sell out in February. But this year they sold out in October," said MacDonald.

Some Calgary stores that sell new and used gear for winter sports say they are swamped with requests for anything outdoor related.

"I've been so busy, it's insane," said Christina Cooper, general manager of Rapid Rent Outlaw Sports.

"They're all looking for stuff to do outside that's inexpensive, family friendly, that different performance levels can do."

Cooper said they usually rent and sell outdoor cross-country gear, but, unfortunately, she said they've already sold off most of their new stock and rental equipment. 

"I have odds and ends, but if you came in and you are Jane Doe, average, five-foot-six-inches, size eight foot, 140 lbs., I have nothing for you," said Cooper.

Cooper said the store is currently waiting on another shipment of cross-country skis but it's already nine weeks late so she's not sure it will even arrive.

One of the owners of Abom Ski & Board in northwest Calgary said the store ordered three times its usual supply of cross-country gear in anticipation of an increased COVID-related demand, but that's now nearly all gone. 

"We can't order anymore, we can't just call up our suppliers and say, 'hey, we need more cross-country skis,' because they don't exist," said Heather Ahl, co-owner of Abom Ski & Board.

Christina Cooper says her store Rapid Rent Outlaw Sports is out of cross-country skis for both sale and rent, but it still has plenty of snowshoes and downhill skis. (Submitted by Christina Cooper)

Ahl said orders for the ski season are usually made in February or March and suppliers will make skis based on those orders — plus a little extra.

"But they don't make thousands and thousands and thousands of extra pairs .. .right now they're starting to make stuff for next year," said Ahl.

Ahl said they are also sold out of snow shoes. But they still have downhill skis in stock.

The manager of Play it Again Sports, which sells used gear, said they have one pair of cross-country skis right now and are sold out of snowshoes. 

"Obviously, it is sort of luck of the draw coming into the store. For example, right now we have someone trying to sell us a pair of 160 centimetre skis, which are going to be pretty popular, it's just if you are in at the right time when they're in the store," said Shea Heximer, manager of Play it Again Sports.

Rentals might be an option  

Cooper said while they may not have cross-country skis for rent at Outlaw Sports:Rapid Rent, they still have skates and snowshoes for rent and sale.

Two other places to try renting skis and other outdoor winter gear include Norsemen Outdoor Specialist and Sports Rent in Calgary.

Staff at Sports Rent say sometimes the store runs low or out of certain sizes during peak times such as the Christmas break and on holiday weekends, but otherwise they tend to have lots of supply on hand.

"It's definitely picking up more and more,  especially since the [University of Calgary] shut down their rental shop and some of the ski hills shut down their rental shops," said Adam Barge, supervisor at Sports Rent.

Barge encourages people to reserve their items if renting for at least two consecutive days. 

Otherwise, he said one day rentals are first come first serve.

The U of C's Outdoor Centre, which rents gear, is closed over the holidays.

MEC stopped renting out equipment during the pandemic. 

MacDonald said she plans to try to rent her husband cross-country skis over the holidays — if they're available.

If not, she said they all have snow shoes.

"We're going to make sure we have hot chocolate for everything — that's our advice, bring some hot chocolate," said MacDonald.


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