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Year ending on a warmer note

If you feel like swapping your mukluks for a pair of flip-flops when the outside temperature rises to -10C, you just might be from Red Deer — or somewhere nearby.

Central Albertans are getting a few days of break from what has been an unseasonably cold December, although no records were actually broken.

Sunday’s high of -4C felt positively balmy when compared with the days of icy cold that hit through the past month, especially on Christmas Day.

Environment Canada meteorologist Chris Emond calculated that, as of Thursday afternoon, the average temperature in Red Deer for December was -14.8C, a significant departure from the normal average of -11.1C.

The average for the month is based on calculations of the mean temperature for each day, with the mean temperature being the midpoint between the high and the low.

While -14.8 is chilly enough, that would mean that some days were much colder than that. During the past month, Christmas Day was coldest of all, with temperatures dropping to -29.6C by 11 p.m. and the wind chill making it feel like -36C.

That was about as cold a Christmas as Red Deer has seen since 1971, when thermometers that actually go that low registered -42.2C with a wind chill of -46C.

Coping with those temperatures becomes a challenge when pipes freeze and burst, batteries play dead and stiff transmissions refuse to turn.

At those temperatures, standing still or leaving your skin exposed can be dangerous if not deadly, say people who routinely work out of doors regardless and sometimes because of the cold weather.

There’s no weather like cold weather — the colder the better, say David Martel and Michael Weinman at Canyon Ski Resort.

From a business perspective, temperatures between -10 and-5 are best for drawing customers, because that’s relatively comfortable for outdoor activities, says Martel, general manager for the resort.

He and his staff have a temperature and wind chill chart that tells them how long they should stay outside at one time.

Wind chill is not a big issue, however, because Canyon is relatively sheltered from the winds that may blow much more vigorously over the fields above, says Martel.

He supplies Helly Hansen outerwear to all staff who work outdoors to offer maximum protection from the cold.

Christmas Day was no problem at all because the ski hill was closed for the holiday, he says.

The only time Canyon would close due to weather conditions is when the schools have shut down their trips to the ski hills because of the cold.

School trips make up about 95 per cent of Canyon’s business during those days, says Martel.

The balance is mostly parents who want to ski with their children, he says.

There is no minimum temperature for weekends, when there are always enough hardy skiers to keep the lifts running, he says.

Lift staff are trained to watch for signs of frostbite, particularly among the 12 to 17-year-olds who make up the bulk of Canyon’s customer base. It seems that, for people in that age group, it’s not cool to cover your face, which can lead to frostbite, says Martel.

Weinman, whose jobs include making snow, running lifts and maintenance, says it’s easier to keep warm if you keep dry and keep moving.

Making snow is probably the coldest job on the site, because he sometimes has to stand in front of the snow gun while it’s working and then has to get on a cold snowmobile and ride to the next gun.

Howeer, the coldest weather is the best weather for making snow, he says. So far this season, Canyon has been able to make a tremendous volume of snow, quite literally putting Weinman and his crew under the gun in their daily routine.

Weinman likes to fend off the cold by wearing multiple layers of wool under his Helly Hansens, including a soft layer of Merino wool next to his skin and a heavy wool sweater.

He brings a change of socks and uses both gloves and mittens, depending on what he is doing.

Mittens are warmer because you can keep your fingers, but sometimes you need gloves for better dexterity, says Weinman.

While some of Canyon’s customers bring hot packs to help keep their feet and fingers warm, he says he has never tried them.

Emond says Environment Canada’s long range forecast for Central Alberta looks fairly normal in January and February, meaning there will still be more days of icy, bitter cold broken up by a few days of warmer weather.



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