Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve opened all of their trails on Friday, Jan 12 following a huge winter storm. /Photo submitted

Stakeholders, county plan for shifts in winter tourism

By Vivian Collings
Winters in Haliburton County may never be the same.
It’s a harsh reality, but those working in the tourism industry know it to be true.
For businesses dependent on snow and ice in the winter, creativity is what will push them into the future.
“This year, so many businesses and organizations have had to pivot. They thought outside the box for the past month about how they can still offer experiences in the county without snow,” said Angelica Ingram, manager of tourism for Haliburton County. “And at the tourism department, we’re making similar plans for the coming years, should we continue to see less snow and late ice freezing.”
The county’s first big snowstorm happened only two weekends ago.
Some lakes still had spots of open water.
The Haliburton County Snowmobile Association has been able to build up trail bases with their groomers over the past few days.
“Certainly places that are dependent on ice fishing are most affected,” said Thom Lambert, social media and content creator for the tourism and economic development department. “Of course skiing is affected too.”
But that didn’t stop the Jack Rabbit program from starting on-schedule on Jan. 6.
It also didn’t hinder family events at Sir Sam’s Ski and Ride over the public school holiday break.
“Although they couldn’t open all runs, Sir Sam’s ran four different kids camps over the break, and they were all full. I think they’ve done a phenomenal job of pivoting,” Lambert explained. “They’ve done an amazing job of making snow the last couple of years, and they understand what families are looking for over breaks.”
In the past, a later holiday break like that in 2023; with Christmas at the very beginning, would have meant more time for snow activities.
This year, we saw mostly saw green grass below our feet.
“It’s been a weird December because of the late start to winter, but also with the way the school year fell, it was a busy place even without snow. We had a lot of visitors here,” Ingram said. “A lot of the downtown businesses saw really good numbers over the holidays, because there was no snow, but people were still here shopping, eating out, and figuring out other things to do.”
Thanks to visitors, many local businesses were booming.
“I was at Thrift Warehouse after Christmas, and the manager was saying they’ve had a huge boom in puzzle sales. They had days in December that were as busy as July,” Ingram said.
She also highlighted the abundance of events this winter.
“When I first moved to the area 15 years ago, live music was mostly spring to fall. But now we have back to back concerts and events in January,” she said.
Over at Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve, being a bit farther north benefitted them greatly.
They were able to open 200 kilometres of snowmobile trails this past weekend that don’t cross water.
“The trails at the Forest are quite often among the earliest open in eastern North America which makes them very lucky,” Lambert said.
It was still a long wait for them, too, said Tegan Legge, general manager of tourism and recreation at Haliburton Forest.
The had to “pivot” their focus for the past couple of months.
“It was certainly a slow start. In the meantime, guests had a great time hiking, ATVing, and visiting the Wolf Centre,” Legge said. “The Wolf Centre was very busy over the holidays. We weren’t pulling in as many guests as we would with snowmobiling, but the ATVers had a blast out on trails and hikers came out in droves, including an outdoor club over the New Year from the city.”
Legge said all of their trails have been open since Friday, Jan. 12.
“We were sold out Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for snowmobile day passes,” she said.
Unfortunately, there’s no way around the lack of snow and ice for many local organizations.
“Here, we’re dependent on lakes getting thick enough to stake,” Lambert said. “There is no substitute to there being 200 sleds parked downtown. That might we something we have to look at in the future.”
“It of course affects local restaurants and fuel providers, too,” added Ingram.
But the tourism department is confident the county can and will adapt.
“The reality is, everything about climate change says winters are getting shorter, but I’m confident. We have amazingly creative operators in the county,” Lambert said.
One of the most important aspects is to support winter weather-dependent businesses in any and every way; all of us, as a community.
Small acts go a long way when we do them collectively.
Some ways to offer support:
– Share posts, activities, and events on social media
– Shop locally
– Have a “staycation” at local accommodations
– Attend local events
– Eat out
– Buy ski and snowmobile passes

Visit myhaliburtonhighlands.com/whats-happening for a calendar of events for Haliburton County to stay updated on this winter’s events.