Stir crazy and beach-deprived central Albertans are embracing the great outdoors this winter.
Red Deer’s Valhalla Pure Outfitters owner Darren Schaedeli has seen a jump in the number of people coming by his store looking for snowshoes, cross-country ski equipment and other winter activity gear.
And many of them are winter activity newbies.
“Most of the up-tick, and where everybody is going crazy for the outdoors, is from people who traditionally wouldn’t have been going cross-country skiing or snowshoeing,” said Schaedeli, who took over the store at 2319 Taylor Drive five years ago.
“Now, there’s a lot of people getting into that.”
The motivation behind the recent enthusiasm for all things winter has a lot to do with the pandemic.
House-bound central Albertans itching to get active are looking out their windows and seeing the opportunities in Alberta’s huge, natural open-air fitness club.
“If you can’t do many things any more you can drive an hour and a half west and enjoy walking around.”
Schaedeli believes other newcomers he is seeing are people who may have headed to Arizona, Hawaii, Mexico, Florida or numerous other fun-in-the-sun destinations if COVID-19 travel restrictions had not dashed those plans.
“I think then they’re looking for (alternatives). They’re saying we would have spent X amount to go to Mexico and we’re not going this year, so why don’t we go and buy some cross-country skis and we can go cross-country skiing tomorrow.
“I think there is that side of it as well.”
Red Deer and central Alberta is ideal for most winter sports. There are numerous cross-country and snowshoeing trails, Canyon Ski Area and dozens of rinks, as well as the skating oval at Great Chief Park.
While winter camping draws a smaller number of hardy enthusiasts, its popularity is apparently on the rise.
For the first time, Schaedeli ordered Esker canvas tents for his store to take advantage of the trend. The Canadian-made tents are designed to hold a stove and strong enough to stand up to anything winter can throw at campers.
Schaedeli spent a few days in the West Country several weeks ago with his and swears by what is known as “hot tent camping.”
People who see outdoor camping it as roughing it are looking at it the wrong way.
Sitting at home or at work, glued to cellphones, paying bills or coping with all of the other day-to-day intrusions is the real challenge.
“That’s roughing it. This is smoothing it,” he said with a laugh.
Albert Environment and Parks said winter camping is on the upswing this season.
There were 124 back-country reservations made from Nov 1. to Jan 4, compared with 67 during the same time frame a year ago.
Eight front-country provincial campgrounds will be open for the rest of the winter with limited amenities, including central Alberta’s Crimson Lake Provincial Park, which is about 15 km northwest of Rocky Mountain House.
The demand for cold-weather gear has been so high many companies have been struggling to keep up, said Schaedeli.
“Unfortunately, on a year where it would have been great they’re short inventory. We can’t even get what we got last year.
“This is a year where it would have been great to capitalize on that.”