Island retailers report surge in backcountry gear sales, outdoor bookings amid COVID-19 pandemic

Island retailers report surge in backcountry gear sales, outdoor bookings amid COVID-19 pandemic

Concerns around COVID-19 and being in close quarters with others could be sending many of us outdoors this winter.

Retailers that cater to outdoor enthusiasts say they can’t keep products on the shelves and those who teach outdoor survival skills say they’ve never had so many bookings.

Jan Neuspiel is a Cumberland-based backcountry guide and avalanche forecaster who teaches people how to survive in the wilderness. His company Island Alpine Guides is seeing record bookings.

“It looks like it’s set to explode out there this winter,” said Neuspiel. “We’ve never seen so much interest in backcountry skiing and avalanche skills training and by the time we start offering avalanche courses next week, we’re going to have booked as many people as we had all of last season.”

And further proof of this pandemic escape into the outdoors is at outdoor retailers like Valhalla Pure.

“Definitely people have said . . . like ‘hey normally I spend a few thousand dollars on flights and this year, I’m not so I’m going to buy skis, I’m going to buy anything I can to enjoy the time outside,'” said Shane Blacktopp who works at Valhalla Pure in Courtenay.

It appears that while people might be heeding the warnings of health officials to stay safe during COVID, they don’t plan on staying indoors all winter to do it.

“People are discovering that adventuring close to home and being outdoors are the right boxes to check during a pandemic,” added Neuspiel. “There is of course a potential downside. And that is there are hazards and dangers out there and we’ve got a lot of people that are brand new to these environments that we need to educate about this.”

Some of the main dangers faced by people heading into the backcountry in the winter are avalanches, getting lost, suffering an injury and falling into a tree well.

As many people die in tree well-related accidents than avalanches each year.

Some of the top sellers at Vallhalla Pure could be an indication that people are taking safety seriously.

“We’re keeping our stock as much as we can but probes and shovels and snow saws, all the kinds of tools we use in the backcountry are definitely selling quite quickly,” added Blacktopp.

The fear is that for everyone who is planning to go into the backcountry safely this winter there are many others who aren’t.

They are encouraged to buy the gear and take a course to ensure they have a good time and get home safely.

Dean StoltzDean Stoltz

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