Newfoundland blizzard sparks flurry of interest in local winter activities

Eyes around the world were temporarily fixed on St. John’s, N.L., on Jan. 17 when a record-breaking blizzard hammered the coastal city.

A state of emergency invoked by the city lasted eight days, as snow plows moved to clear the colourful provincial capital’s streets.

Despite challenges to residents, the dramatic snowfall also sparked interest in winter activities the city offers – and interest in tourism to the province.

Michael Whittle, staff at downtown St. John’s sporting store The Outfitters, said sales skyrocketed immediately after the blizzard. Snowshoes sold out, forcing the shop to order additional stock from suppliers twice this winter.

Whittle said he’s never seen such an enthusiastic bump in sales, something he credits to the immense snowfall that left people stranded at home from work and school, yearning to get outside.

“They kind of saw what they were missing,” Whittle said by phone last week.

Whittle also points to the bright and sunny weather during the state of emergency that immediately followed the storm, enticing people out onto the snowy, car-free streets with skis, snowshoes and sleds.

Mayor Danny Breen said keeping people off the roads during the snow cleanup was a challenge, when the clear weather and pristine snow made homebound residents restless and excited to get out.

“It was just sunny days every day after we had that initial snowfall, so it really drove people outside, you know, and kind of made them aware of the fun,” Whittle said.

Sales of snowpants, goggles, skis and other outdoor products “across the board” increased after the blizzard, Whittle said, and more people were coming through the service shop to tune up their equipment than he’d seen in previous years.

Whittle said the storm “did a number on showing people what’s there locally,” a trend he hopes to see continue in years to come.

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