Winter activities intensify in the northwest

Much of northwestern Ontario has already experienced a taste of winter in November.

This made some people involved in outdoor activities very excited.

Dave Suttie is one of those people.

He is the general manager of the Kamview Nordic Ski Resort in Thunder Bay and said the season is well ahead of schedule.

“Things seem really picky here,” Suttie said. “We were able to ski on November 17, which is very early for us, and what we opened is in pretty good shape.”

Suttie said they spent a lot of time prepping the ski area before the snow arrived. He said that includes keeping the grass short and doing a bit of reconditioning on the trails.

“We cut trees, take down dangerous trees and make sure the equipment is set up to work,” he said.

Suttie said with the early snow and cold, the transition to skiing happened fairly quickly and there were lots of people enjoying the slopes.

However, he said he fears a warming trend predicted for late November will make early-season skiing short-lived.

He said that although Kamview has snowmaking equipment, they need winter temperatures for snow to occur.

On Wednesday, the Kamview Nordic Center announced it would be closing trails Nov. 24-27 due to forecasted warm weather.

The ski slopes opened earlier this year on November 17, but were closed again due to mild weather. (Kamview Nordic Centre/Facebook)

“It’s not quite the same technology they would have in (alpine) ski areas,” he said. “So I need fairly consistent temperatures with highs of -10 and below that to produce a decent amount of snow.”

Another person happy with the early arrival of winter in the northwest is Adrian Tessier.

Tessier is the groomer/coordinator of the Thunder Bay Adventure Trails snowmobile club.

The group is part of the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs and runs an extensive network of groomed trails in the northwest.

Tessier said they prepared the trails before the snow arrived, using all-terrain vehicles to access areas where trees had been felled or bushes needed to be trimmed.

He said the early snow was exciting trail runners, but there was still some way to go before any of them could be opened.

Tessier said the trails cross a number of swamps and they must be frozen over before a trail can be groomed.

adventure trails grooming
A Thunder Bay Adventure Trails groomer prepares a snowmobile trail. The club’s grooming coordinator says there are still a few weeks before people can ride. (Thunder Bay Adventure Trails/Facebook)

“Now we have to go out on snowmobiles and pack down these swamps,” he said. “Snow is an insulator in some ways, and it’s like putting a big blanket of insulation over swamps. Those swamps create a bit of their own heat, so you have to fight that as well.”

Tessier said the club is coming off a near-perfect winter for trail runners.

He said it was also one of the longest seasons due to several late blizzards in the spring of 2022.

“We even had trails that couldn’t open because there was too much snow,” he said. “But once they were nursed back to health, we had a massive base and it ended up being one of our last closing seasons.”

Tessier said the trails are usually open in mid-January, depending on snow depth, amount of frozen swamp and general cold.

He said he still felt good about a reasonably early start to the 2023 driving season.

Corey Hayward is also watching the weather this month and hoping for more cold weather.

Hayward owns and operates Bear Trak Outfitters on the shores of Lake Superior’s Black Bay.

He said he could see ice on the bay and hoped it would stay.

Still, Hayward knows that a warming trend and a little wind can set things back pretty quickly.

He said it’s too early to tell if he and his crew will be able to start moving huts on the ice next month.

ice on black bay
This photo, posted to the Bear Trak Outfitters Facebook page on Nov. 21, 2022, shows a layer of ice on Lake Superior’s Black Bay. (Bear Trak Outfitters/Facebook)

“We had a few years where we were around December 15, and then some years you go out well until mid-January,” he said. “So it’s really when you feel safe there. Which we’re very careful about.”

Hayward said they have prepared the ice shacks for the 2022/23 season by painting them, checking the stovepipes and lining them up near the lake so the ice becomes thick enough to remove them.

Hayward said Lake Superior is a big, unforgiving body of water, so he’s waiting until there’s a lot of ice to start moving cabins.

“The fishing grounds are about five kilometers offshore,” he said. “So I want to see 10 to 12 inches of ice before we start going out there. You see recommendations that say four to six inches is OK, but when we’re on Lake Superior and we’re four kilometers offshore and the ice is moving and breaking up, we need to be safe.”

Hayward said the 2021/22 winter had been great for many winter activities, but it was a challenge for them.

He said repeated blizzards and whiteout conditions made it very difficult to transport guests to the cabins.

He said even having a clearly marked trail doesn’t always solve the problem.

“We have our stick trail, and it’s marked every 75 yards with a stick, and even that wasn’t enough when the snowstorms were heavy,” he said. “It was a real advantage to have the GPS on the handlebars, it made us feel a little safer.”

The ice may take a little longer than Hayward hoped to tow the cabins.

Environment Canada announces a maximum of 4°C in the Thunder Bay area on November 25 and a maximum of 7°C for November 26.


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