A young Mark McMorris competes in the rails competition in Asessippi in 2008. Despite his age, McMorris, who won bronze in the slopestyle snowboarding event at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, was one of the best on the hill.
More than 6,000 kilometres away in Russia, some of Canada’s top athletes are competing on sport’s greatest stage at the Winter Olympics.
Here in Westman, however, people have been relegated to spectators as cold winter temperatures have forced snow enthusiasts indoors.
At Asessippi Ski Area and Resort near Russell, marketing director Roz Pulo said the frigid temperatures have accounted for a 20 to 25 per cent reduction in business.
"We’re an outside venue and we’ve always been at the mercy of Mother Nature, but she’s dealt us some brutal weather this year," Pulo said.
In Brandon, the average temperature during January hovered around -19 C. In 18 out of 31 days last month, the high temperature didn’t crack -10 C.
Pulo said the weather is probably the single biggest contributing factor to whether someone might choose to go to the ski hill or stay home.
The cold weather has impacted Asessippi on a number of levels.
"The cold is hard on our equipment. It’s hard on our staff. And it’s hard on our bottom line," Pulo said. "When we lose critical days, it’s really tough for us to recover."
It’s not just the cold, either — it’s when those cold snaps take place. While Pulo said Asessippi has been fortunate that a number of weekends have been blessed with warmer weather, the resort was hurt by cold weather over the holidays, which is its busiest season.
Pulo also hopes the success of Regina snowboarder Mark McMorris, who used to compete at Asessippi, helps push a few people to the resort.
She said she remembers McMorris competing against adults while barely in his teens.
McMorris, now 20, won bronze in slopestyle snowboarding at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Saturday. It’s the first time the event has been featured in the Winter Olympics.
"The biggest thing with the Olympics and particularly with Mark McMorris having been a rider at Asessippi has given us more of a long-term impact for growth in the industry," Pulo said.
While it has been a slow start for Asessippi, Cam Wirch said sales at A&L have been strong despite the temperature.
"Our winter jackets, gloves and clothing is selling like crazy because of the weather," Wirch said.
"We’re thinking with the Olympics on right now that it helps too because there is just so much exposure with snowboarding."
And it’s not just gear that protects winter enthusiasts from the elements that has been selling.
Wirch said cabin fever from extended cold spells has really motivated people to spend as much time outside as they can when it warms up to a "balmy minus 15 degrees."
"What we’ve seen this year is when it does warm up for a day or two, people get pent up, so all of a sudden they come in and they want snowshoes or cross-country skis just so they can get outside and do something. It creates a lot of demand on nice days."
Fitness equipment has also been popular as people try to stay in shape from the comfort of their home.
Still, there is no substituting the real thing and with temperatures expected to be milder this long weekend, Asessippi hopes to capitalize.
"We’ve all got our boards and skis waxed, and we’re ready to go," Pulo said. "It’s Manitoba. We’ve got to enjoy our winter."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 11, 2014