Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/9/2010 (2502 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Had I known the temperature would plummet to -30C with a bone-chilling windchill on an assignment in Transcona on Friday, I would not have worn shorts and sandals to work.
Okay, so the entire neighbourhood wasn't dropped into the deep-freeze but it was bloody cold inside a six-foot-by-five-foot booth in the middle of the Mark's store on Regent Avenue. The retailer formerly known as Mark's Work Wearhouse -- it was rebranded earlier this week in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Ottawa and parts of Toronto -- has a winter simulator chamber, dubbed "Below Zero" in the middle of its flagship store.
And when Mark's says "winter," it means "in the middle of January facing howling winds on the corner of Portage and Main."
The idea behind the simulator is to give customers a chance to "test-drive" the retailer's cold-weather clothing, including jackets, boots, gloves, mitts, earmuffs and toques. In particular, the company believes its T-max brand, which is made with thermal insulation designed to retain heat and push it back towards your skin, will sell better if customers can see that the jackets, which are very thin and look like they're made for fall, can keep you warm on the coldest day of the year.
Mark's has installed a trio of the simulators, one each in Winnipeg, Edmonton and Ottawa, three markets known for their character-building winter weather. While they may be added in other places, they won't be rolled out across the country. Vancouver, for example, won't be getting one.
The logic behind the chambers makes sense. Would you buy a new vehicle if you couldn't take it for a spin first? Can simulators for rain wear and bathing suits be far behind?
So I donned a jacket, pair of boots, pants and mitts, put up the hood and prepared to step inside.
The door clanged shut behind me and I looked at the thermometer. The temperature said -12 and I felt fine, almost embarrassed for Mark's that its winter chamber was defective. I've lived in Winnipeg almost all of my life, so I know winter. Maybe I should have kept my sandals on, I wondered.
Then, a couple of minute later, as the two fans kept whirring, the temperature hit -20C, then -30C. My body was still warm but my face was freezing. Doesn't T-max make balaclavas?
Feeling a bit like a rat in a cage as people stopped by to stare at the guy with windburn on his face, I'd had enough and stepped out. After all, I'd have plenty more opportunities to experience this kind of cold in a couple of months.
By that time, the simulator will have been rejigged with an icy floor so people can test out non-slip boots, too.
When the simulator was first installed at the end of July, it was still getting used a lot even though nobody had long underwear on their minds.
"Customers would come in to the store and ask, 'Can I go in there and cool off?'" one employee told me. "We said, 'Absolutely, because we're doing it, too.' "