Warm weather and rain dampen winter sport enthusiasm

Ski lifts were largely empty at Mont Saint-Bruno on Jan. 1, 2023 after rain and warm weather settled in over Quebec.  (Radio-Canada - image credit)
Ski lifts were largely empty at Mont Saint-Bruno on Jan. 1, 2023 after rain and warm weather settled in over Quebec. (Radio-Canada - image credit)

Rain, fog and warm weather have shuttered ski hills across Quebec — prompting concern that mild weather will dampen ski hill operators' hopes of a snowy season.

"We're waiting for the return of the nice weather. It's hard," Charles Desourdy, the president and director of Ski Bromont, said in an interview.

Desourdy said Bromont was busy for a few days after Christmas. Conditions were good because of a storm that hit Quebec on Christmas Eve. But then temperatures rose above zero, rain fell and fog moved in.

The warm weather forced Bromont to close most of its runs, keeping only the bare minimum open for a few hardy travellers who are staying in vacation rentals near the hill.

"It's deserted," Desourdy said on Sunday. "There are maybe 100 people on the mountain when normally we could have 3,000 or 4,000."

But the season hasn't been as bad as it could have been, thanks to Bromont's snow-making machines.

On nights when temperatures are below freezing, Bromont and ski hills throughout Quebec often appear clouded in fog. It is the byproduct of giant snow guns spraying finely misted water that freezes into a fine powder and coats the runs.

That snow-making laid the base for runs to be open before the holiday season.

Anthony Davis/Radio-Canada
Anthony Davis/Radio-Canada

Without snow-making, Desourdy said the season would be short and not very profitable, especially as climate trends suggest winters will become warmer.

"We can't put our heads in the sand," he said. "For us, that's the solution for the future: it's to invest in snow-making because if we wait for nature, we can wait a long time."

Philippe Gachon, a professor and chair of research on hydrometeorological risks related to climate change at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), says winters have been getting warmer over the past decade.

"What we see, more and more — we see it this year and we've seen it in past years – is the alternating of freezing and thawing that is problematic with snow accumulating and melting," he said.

The warm weather that has settled in over Quebec is an anomaly, he said, but one that is becoming more common.

Christian Dufour, the marketing director for Les Sommets, which owns hills in the Laurentians region, said cold weather in November and December helped them make lots of snow and open early.

But when the rain arrived, Les Sommets closed its resorts for a day and is now opening only a few runs. It is refraining from using snow-grooming machiness because they accelerate the snow melting.

Radio-Canada
Radio-Canada

Dufour said the hills were prepared for a bout of warm weather and will focus on making more snow in advance of other busy periods like spring break.

"We're not worried about it, we're used to it,' he said. "We'll adapt as the weather changes."

The warm weather has mired other winter sports too.

Steve Massicotte, the spokesperson for the Association des pourvoyeurs de la rivière Ste-Anne, said it is delaying its ice fishing season because the warm weather and rain have made the ice unstable.

"We have no choice, it's Mother Nature," he said. "Whether it's for ski resorts and snowmobile trails, fishing, winter activities — rain and six, seven degrees in January, it's really not pleasant."

The delay in the season could cost outfitters on the Sainte-Anne River more than $1 million, Massicotte said.