Memberships with the Larch Hills Nordic Society have surged this winter as people look for a safe, local option for outdoor recreation. (File photo)

Memberships with the Larch Hills Nordic Society have surged this winter as people look for a safe, local option for outdoor recreation. (File photo)

Shuswap retailers see strong demand for Nordic ski gear, inventory shortages

Surge in interest attributed to COVID-19 restrictions and demand for safe recreation

Salmon Arm residents wanting to try out cross-country skiing this winter may be renting gear if they don’t already own it.

Boots, poles, skis, etc. are all in short supply among retailers this year, and not just in the Shuswap.

John Thielman of John’s Ski Shack, located en route to the Larch Hills cross-country ski area, joked his business will soon be just an athletic clothing store given how quickly gear has been selling.

“We’re always busy but this time of year, but this year seems exceptionally so,” said Thielman. “I’m starting to run out of certain sizes of skis and boots but it’s starting to be pinchy – tough to find the stuff.”

It’s the same at Skookum Cycle & Ski in Salmon Arm.

“We have some stuff left still… we can still do packages and stuff like that, but it’s not like it was back in October when one could just walk in… and we’d have your boot size and everything,” said Skookum owner Tom Peasgood.

“I know Vernon sold out, Kelowna sold out, we’re basically sold out, Kamloops is basically sold out… There’s nothing anywhere.”

There are a number of factors at play behind the shortages, most related to COVID-19, and cross-country skiing being an outdoors sport people can safely enjoy without having to come into contact with others.

Larch Hills Nordic Society president Suzy Beckner said memberships this year have exceeded past numbers. And Thielman is seeing plenty of people who are new to the area and wanting to try out the sport.

Read more: Early snow means early cross-country skiing at Shuswap’s Larch Hills

Read more: VIDEO: Passholders enjoy sunny opening day at Silver Star Mountain

“At least once or twice a day I’m hearing that from people; ‘We just moved up from the Sunshine Coast,’ or they moved here from Victoria or Alberta,” said Thielman, adding some of those people were influenced by the “Best place to live in B.C.” nod from Maclean’s magazine Salmon Arm received in 2019.

“This year I even ordered more (gear) and last year was slow and I had old stock which is all gone now,” said Thielman. “It’s pretty handy to have a sports store this year.”

Another challenge is that suppliers are out of inventory – Peasgood said they’ve been sold out since September. He explained how, according to his suppliers, stores back east ordered extra gear in August and absorbed additional inventory coming into Canada.

“We’re one of only a few B.C. shops that actually got out ahead of it and placed a secondary order back in September…,” said Peasgood, explaining it was the same situation with bikes, including fat bikes – a popular winter ride, which are also currently unavailable.

This systemic shortage of inventory, Peasgood explained, traces back to a lack of parts being made during the pandemic.

“Right now there’s thousands of bike frames waiting for bike parts and Shimano and SRAM are so far behind, there’s going to be a two-to-three-month gap where there won’t be many bikes to purchase…,” said Peasgood.

Regarding Nordic skiing, Skookum and John’s still offer rentals, with both locations having sanitization methods in place to keep staff and the public safe. Both locations also provide servicing for ski equipment.

Looking ahead to summer 2021, Peasgood said bike parts are already coming in and he expects bikes will be back in and ready to roll come February or March.

“We have all our orders in and they were all in on time so it’s going to happen,” said Peasgood. “We’re just like every other bike shop in Canada, we’re just in the queue and we just have to wait until they get here.”

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