Nova Scotia

Why no snow is bad news for some Nova Scotia businesses

Winter tourism is off to a slow start as businesses and recreational groups wait for snowfall. Snowshoes, snowmobiles and snowblowers are gathering dust. Meanwhile, businesses are seeing a change in customer buying habits.

'We are really trying to stay positive, but we're all hurting,' says ski operator

The entrance to this rural trail system has no snow on the ground, grass is visible.
The North Highlands Nordic trail system in Cape North, N.S., is usually open to cross-country skiers and snowshoers at this point in the year. (Submitted by Katie Fougere)

The ground is bare in much of Nova Scotia this winter, as frequent rainfall quickly washes the snow away. That's bad news for businesses that sell snow-related gear.

There's been little use for snowblowers and snowmobiles, and winter sport enthusiasts are wishing for snowfall as the season's tourism gets off to a slow start.

David Mackley, the owner of Mackley Equipment in Blacketts Lake, said snowblower sales are down about 15 per cent compared to the last 35 years in business. 

Some customers are even selling their used snowblowers to buy generators instead. 

"We're seeing a large percentage of people now focusing more on generators because of [post-tropical storm] Fiona and the frenzy that it caused with the lack of power," he said.

Nova Scotians haven't had to use snowblowers very often this winter. (Robert Short/CBC)

Snowmobile sales down

People who sell winter sporting equipment are also seeing changes in buying habits. 

At Cabot Powersports near Sydney River, snowmobile sales are dropping, while all terrain vehicles and dirt bike sales are still going strong. 

"You can drive an ATV, even a dirt bike, through most of the trails still in the woods," said Jeff Hawkins, the store's sales manager.

He said customers are buying parts for machines that are typically put away in December. 

"You're not usually thinking about picking up a new sled, picking up a new snowblower, whenever it's raining sideways and 10 degrees outside," he said. 

But for those who rely on lots of snow for their winter activities, the conditions are not ideal. 

Snowmobilers usually hit the trails from late-December to mid-April, but so far this year, there hasn't been enough snow cover.

"With no snow in the lowlands, very few snowmobilers have been out on the trail by now," said Clifford Aucoin, president of the Cabot Snowmobile Club in Sydney.

He estimates the snowmobiling season will start about five weeks later than usual, which is bad news for rural businesses that rely on winter tourism sales.

Aucoin said tourists who come to the island to snowmobile are calling off their trips.

As a result, motels, gas stations and food establishments in Wreck Cove, Chéticamp, Margaree and Whycocomagh are missing out on business. 

Aucoin said many motels have seen many cancellations in January due to no snow. 

A man stands in front of a sign for his group. It reads, "always purchase your membership and trail passes. You'll get smoother and safer trails."
Clifford Aucoin, president of the Cabot Snowmobile Club in Sydney, N.S., says the season is about five weeks behind schedule. (Emily Latimer)

Trails are bare

At North Highlands Nordic in Cape North, their snowshoe and cross-country ski trails are in rough shape with ruts, twigs, sticks and rocks coming through a patchy covering of snow. 

The sports complex has yet to set an opening date, as they wait for a solid base of snow.

"We are completely dependent on Mother Nature for that," said Katie Fougere, manager of the ski rental office. "We are really trying to stay positive, but we're all hurting that it's taking so long to start."

Last year, their trails opened Jan. 9.

A wooded trail has a very light covering of white snow with grass sticking through.
The trail system at North Highlands Nordic has yet to open for the season. (Submitted by Katie Fougere)

Fougere said while it's not uncommon to have cyclical weather systems without snow coverage in January, she thinks it's happening more often due to climate change.

In the meantime, the non-profit is adapting their youth and seniors programming — just without the snow.

"Hopefully, this is a one-off and in the next couple of years, we'll be fine," she said. "Everyone's hopeful."


Emily Latimer is a reporter for CBC Nova Scotia based in Cape Breton. She's interested in all kinds of stories on the island. Ideas are welcome. You can reach her at

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