It seems many in Saskatchewan are taking advantage of the great outdoors this fall.
With COVID-19 cases rising in the province, indoor gatherings are significantly restricted. That means outdoor winter activities normally passed over in previous years are seeing a boom in popularity.
Some retailers are reaping the financial rewards as a result, and they're also finding it difficult to keep their shelves stocked.
Fat bike popularity resurges after years of slow sales
Jason Williams normally plays basketball or volleyball with indoor recreation leagues at this time of year. But those activities are on hold, so he's invested in a fat bike to stay active.
The bicycles, which have thicker tires than a regular bike to navigate rough terrain, are ideal for Saskatchewan winters because they easily handle ice and snow. Some tires also come with studs, which make it easier to grip the ground.
"It's something to do in winter that's a lot of fun and able [to be done] around here," said Williams, who rides his fat bike to and from work each day.
He's just one of many people who have invested in the bikes this winter.
Freddy Vandelinden co-owns Dutch Cycle in Regina. After years of declining fat bike sales, Vandelinden has sold out his entire stock. He's now ordering for 2022 — one year earlier than he would normally start ordering.
"I think it speaks to mental health and the ability to absorb some fresh air and get your endorphins going," Vandelinden said. "It's an attraction."
He noted bike sales in general, according to bike industry news site Bicycle Retailer, have been up 40 per cent over last year.
Cross country ski sales glide into big year
Trevor Norgan, manager of Fresh Air Experience in Regina, knew this would be an unprecedented year for sales when skis began flying off the shelves of his store at the end of the summer.
He believes the store has doubled, or possibly tripled, its sales over last year.
"By October we were pretty much sold out, having to reorder," said Norgan.
He noted snowbirds are a big part of his clientele.
"They aren't going down to Mexico or Phoenix anymore. So they need something to do during the wintertime."
As ski sales increase, cross country ski clubs are filling up.
"We have more members signed up at this point in time than we've ever had for an entire year," said Saskatoon Nordic Ski Club president Gail Motsi.
Lessons for adults and youth are now fully booked up, even though the club added additional sessions.
On top of the pandemic, Motsi thinks the early November snowstorm — which dumped over 40 centimetres of snow on Saskatoon — is what's driving popularity this year.
Families get creative with at-home solutions
Cohen Morin has played hockey almost his entire life. But with the recent suspension of sports in the province, the 15-year-old from Nipawin knew he needed somewhere to keep playing the game he loves.
Morin built a rink in his backyard last year, but it was too small.
"There was no boards, so I couldn't shoot the puck around," said Morin. "If I did miss, the puck would just go into the snow."
With the rink getting more use this winter, he decided to go all out. He took home pallets from the grocery store where he works and within a couple of days, increased the rink size from just over 18 square metres to just under 56 square metres.
"I think I hit the maximum with that rink, 'cause it barely fits in our yard right now," he said.
He plans to maintain the ice so that he and his brother — and maybe a couple of friends, if rules permit — can play all winter.
Some sports feeling the winter blues
While some sports are benefiting from the pandemic, not all have seen a record-breaking season. Some hockey skate shops say their sales are way down.
"I'd say we're doing maybe, at very best, 30 per cent of a normal year," said Paul Craig, who manages Rangers Skate Shop in North Battleford. "It's got us just about shut down."
He says parents are keeping kids out of hockey programs as a precaution this season. Even though outdoor rinks remain open for people to skate recreationally, he hasn't seen people buying skates for that.
"I haven't had a single customer in here today. Last year at this time, myself and … my assistant were just run off our feet."