Skip to content

Ice anglers, snowmobilers among those still waiting for winter

'I'm concerned we may not be in business in five or 10 years time if these trends continue,' says local ice-hut operator

There’s no business like snow business for winter lovers.

Unfortunately, the region has experienced some pretty soggy and wet weather to date.

This has resulted in local snowmobile trails remaining closed, ice-hut operators being stuck on shore and a general decline in the kind of “winter tourism” generally experienced in the area this time of year. 

Callum Johnson, owner of Happy Go Fishing, a four-season fishing charter company that moved from Lake Simcoe to Lake Couchiching in 2020, said the recent warm and wet weather definitely has him concerned.

That being said, though, he acknowledged every year is unique.

“Some years we are in operation by Jan. 1, some years it doesn't freeze at all," Johnson said. "In 2015, (the ice) was ready Jan. 1 and in 2016 it didn't freeze at all, but seems to be freezing later and later ever since then. 

"I'm definitely getting fed up with the weather,” he added. “We put the boat away in November because of the winter temperatures, then here we are ... I could still be boating!”

Johnson said he has received many inquiries from people waiting for the arrival of ice.

Kempenfelt Bay in Barrie shows no sign of freezing over as of Jan. 1, 2024. | Nikki Cole/BarrieToday

“Some of them are travelling north to find it,” he said. “I'm concerned we may not be in business in five or 10 years time if these trends continue. It’s definitely concerning, but it could be the effects of another El Nino year.”

Barrie Snowmobile Club president Brian McGuire said he’s not all that concerned about the recent weather — yet. 

McGuire, who has been snowmobiling pretty much all of his life, noted the amount of rain the Barrie area has seen could serve as beneficial for local trails — if the temperatures drop and stay that way.

“When it’s wet and soggy but then the temperatures drop, that actually creates a much better base layer because the ground freezes stiffer," he said. "The ice on lakes and low-lying areas is a nice smooth layer. Once we get snow on top of that, it actually traps the cold. 

“It’s actually not terrible we’ve had a soggy start (to winter) as long as the temperature drops before we get a big heap of snow," McGuire added. 

McGuire says it’s not really the length of the season, but rather the quality that is the most important.

“Sometimes we will have a mid-February melt and it shuts everything down. It’s the quality of the weeks that we have it, because then people come out in full force,” he said.

“A late start doesn’t always affect the amount of (trail) passes sold and I would say it doesn’t affect the businesses because people are ready to spend the money," McGuire added. "We just have to get a decent, quality trail going.”

Typically, trails in the area open early to mid-January, he said, but that would mean the region would have had to receive a significant amount of snow mid- to late-December, something that did not happened this year.

“It used to be mid-December everything would be open,” McGuire said.

There's also a lot that goes into making trails safe for use, he noted.

“We start packing trails at about eight inches of snow. Safety is always the top priority. Regardless of how much snow you get, if the trail condition isn’t deemed safe, it won’t open,” McGuire said. 

And the more snow, the more fun that can be had.

“We can take two feet of snow and pack it into a beautiful ride. If you have a nice, thick base and then a fresh layer of fallen snow on top… that’s the best trail riding you will get," he added. 

Snowmobiling is not only a great way to get outdoors and enjoy the scenery, but also has a big impact on local tourism, McGuire said.

“It brings people to an area they normally wouldn’t come to. It creates a home base for winter activity. That leads to social and economical impacts," he said. "People will come back once they see what amenities there are for amenities and maybe book a family vacation.

“Snowmobiling can have a real positive impact on the area … especially for bringing new people into it.”