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Ski resorts in southern Ontario feeling pain of El Nino year, some opening summer attractions

It's mostly green at the Blue Mountain Resort, but there will still be some fun activities to enjoy over the holidays.

While many people may be enjoying the unseasonably warm temperatures across southern Ontario, the economic impact is being felt in ski resorts, with some forced to open attractions that normally operate during the summer.

At Blue Mountain Resort, rather than ski hills and trails being open for the upcoming holiday season, it’ll be golf and ziplining.

READ MORE: Temperature records broken across much of Ontario as spring-like weather sets in

Tara Lovell,the public relations manager at Blue Mountain Resort said that they’re making the best of an unusual situation.

“We have to be pretty quick to turn things around,” Lovell said.

The resort is opening its Cascade mini putt course, Wind Rider Triple Zip lines and their climbing wall. They will take their snowboarding sessions for tiny tots indoors, which, Lovell said, might help with children who might be more restless outdoors in the cold.

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“This is the first time we’ve ever reopened summer attractions,” Lovell said.

The latest opening for the resort was Dec. 26, 2001.

Lovell said that there has even been talk around Blue Mountain Resort of making a sacrifice to the snow gods or snow dancing. “But we don’t know what to sacrifice yet,” she said laughing.

Skiers ski through the shadows during the opening day of the 2010/2011 season at Blue Mountain near Collingwood, Ont. Thursday, December 9, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

The cold-weather killer? El Nino.

READ MORE: 5 things to know about El Nino, coming to Canada this winter

The “little boy” isn’t alone, however, Geoff Coulson of Environment Canada said. There are numerous factors that influence our weather, and that is likely just one factor, though highly influential.

“It’s eerie to look out to see these conditions, with no leaves on the trees, with grass that looks like it could use a mowing, but with it getting dark so early,” Coulson said.

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“I’m starting to use words like ‘uncharted territory. We’ve never seen a December like this.”

While the month isn’t over yet, Coulson said that, in Toronto, this December looks to beat the last record set in 2006. That year the daily average temperature was -1.9 C. The normal for the month of December is -2.2 C. But it’s highly likely that that record will be shattered: in 2006, 18 days reached temperatures that were below zero with some reaching -10 C. This year? So far the city has only had two.

This December is likely to break the record for warm temperatures across many locations in southern Ontario, he said.

And this is the problem.

At Horseshoe Resort in Barrie, they’re feeling the same squeeze.

“It’s not a good situation at all,” Jonathan Reid, director of operations said. “It’s hard on the employees and staff.”

READ MORE: UN’s meteorological agency predicts El Nino event could be among strongest since 1950

About 400 of their seasonal employees are just on hold, waiting for the snow. Those who work full-time are taking advantage and taking vacation during the Christmas season, something that just isn’t done at this time of year.

The problem is that in order to make snow, temperatures need to be around -3 C to -4 C and that just isn’t happening this month. The hotel is still open, Reid said, along with the climbing wall and other indoor activities.  Those who may have booked over the Christmas holidays are simply rescheduling, he said.

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“It’s not what we want,” Reid said. “But it happens about every 10 years or so. We’re going to make the best of it.”

With colder weather moving in over the weekend, there is a chance that the region could also see some lake effect snow, something that Reid is anticipating. He said that the bulk of their snow-making machines are focused on two hills, ready to go.

There is one sector that is making the best of the warm weather: golf courses. Many in southern Ontario are open, including some in Ottawa.

David Nisbet, a managing partner at St. Andrew’s Golf Course in Aurora, said that the course is still open for business.

“It’s been enjoyable,” he said. “And we’re ahead of budget. We’re grateful to have the income.”

He said that business tends to boom as the temperatures reach around 3 C or 4 C. The last time he recalls being open this late was around 12 years ago.

And though, he plans to be open Christmas Eve — weather permitting — he said there’s one day he’s taking off.

“I promised my wife I’d be home for Christmas,” he said. “But I’ll be back Boxing Day.”

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