Picturesque scenes like this were made possible by the work done by visionaries of snowmobiling’s early days
As we not so patiently wait for snow here at snowmobiletrail.com headquarters we’ve decided that this November’s focus would be on trails, because without trails to ride our sport could not survive. Today all throughout Canada and the U.S. we enjoy a vast well marked and well maintained trail system, but things weren’t always this way.
In the early days of snowmobiling, riding was restricted to lakes, power lines, old hiking trails, abandoned logging roads and trails that people had cut through the woods to access their cabins. The manufacturers knew that a well organized trail system would be needed to ensure the continuation of the sport. Like many of his contemporaries, Ski-Doo’s Laurent Beaudoin, Joseph Armand Bombardier’s son-in-law, saw this need and tackled it head on. The result of his effort was called SnoPlan. SnoPlan was a program designed to find and catalog great snowmobiling destinations in the U.S. and Canada and then create a comprehensive trail network to link these destinations. Although his vision was shared by other manufacturers in the US and Canada it was Beaudoin who spearheaded the effort to include the provincial government of Quebec in his plan, convincing them that an organized and regulated trail network throughout Quebec would be beneficial to the economy and his theory proved to be correct as Quebec saw a massive spike in winter tourism dollars. It wasn’t long before other states and provinces followed suit, creating a vast network of trails with the help of local snowmobile clubs. It is because of visionaries like Laurent Beaudoin and vast numbers of snowmobile club members from the late sixties and early seventies that we enjoy the incredible trail system that we have today, and the trail work is continued by modern clubs with the assistance of private landowners creating an ever growing trail network making it easier to reach new destinations. Throughout the winter we will be detailing some of these destinations in Northeast Minnesota with our DESTINATION articles and highlighting several trails of interest in our TRAIL IN FOCUS segments. Don’t forget to watch for us out on the trails this winter and you might find yourselves on the website and Facebook page in our TODAY ON THE TRAIL photos! We only have a couple of weeks left until the official open of snowmobile season December 1st- until then think snow!
Its early morning. You unload your sled from the trailer and head out of the parking lot. You turn onto the trail and there it is- an untouched perfectly flat pan of freshly groomed trail without a track anywhere to be seen. You glance over at your buddy and you can tell he is grinning from ear to ear under his helmet. It’s going to be a perfect day.
If you have ridden a snowmobile for any period of time then this scenario has happened to you at least once and if you are lucky it has happened several times, but how can you make this scenario occur more often? Believe it or not there are several things you can do to ensure yourself of better riding conditions more often, the problem is that there are far too many people that don’t do these things and it makes riding worse for everyone.
There is nothing quite like being the first sled to lay down a track on a freshly groomed trail. But that trail doesn’t get that way by accident or dumb luck. Unfortunately there are still a lot of snowmobilers out there that don’t quite know what goes into getting their local trail groomed on a regular basis. There is an underlying assumption that your states DNR is responsible for the state trails and that they handle grooming and maintenance of those trails, but, for the most part, very little of that is true. In Minnesota for example 90% of all of the trails in the Minnesota trail system are Grant-in-Aid trails, which means that those trails are built, maintained and groomed by local snowmobile clubs with the cooperation of the land owners that the trail runs on. That means only 10% of the trails in Minnesota are actually maintained by the DNR, but even in those cases local clubs are still charged with the grooming duties for the state run trails. So how do the local clubs get money to build these trails and maintain them and how do they get money to buy and maintain the groomers? Once again many people assume this money comes from the state but they are only partially correct in that assumption. First off, nearly all trail work including building and maintaining the trails is done by volunteers at the local snowmobile clubs. These are people that give up their weekends to cut brush, fix bridges, cut up downed trees and essentially maintain the trails. They also give up time in the wee hours of the morning to go out in subzero weather and run the groomer so you have a perfect trail in the morning, and when that groomer breaks down it is the club members that grab a box of tools and go fix it or bust out the torches to repair broken cleats on the track. Much of the money they spend on equipment comes from fundraising activities by the club. It is these same people that go door to door to secure easements for trails in order for you to have a place to ride- and they all do this for only one reason: They love snowmobilng. So the first answer to the question on how to get perfectly groomed trails more often is to join your local club- because they are always looking for new members to help with the trail work that needs to be done as well as groomer operators to drive the groomer in the middle of the night.
It is true, however, that the lion’s share of a snowmobile clubs money to do all of these things comes from the state. Every year clubs are awarded what are called benchmarks, which is money given to the clubs to maintain and groom the trail system based on the number of miles of trail that the club maintains. This money comes from the dedicated snowmobile fund which gets part of its money through gas taxes (based on the estimated percentage of gas taxes that are paid by snowmobile users) and all the rest comes from snowmobile registrations. If snowmobile registrations are down then there is less money in the fund, which means less money available in the benchmarks, which means less money for gas for the groomer, which means less grooming, which means a trail that isn’t in as good of shape as you would like as often as you like. Quite simply the clubs can’t run the groomer if they don’t have enough money to run it. Back in the 90’s there were high numbers of registered sleds and the groomers went out almost every day. Now with less sleds registered the groomers may go out only once or twice a week in some places. The truth is that club members would love to have the trail groomed as often as possible to keep the trails in the best possible shape but there just isn’t enough money to do it. The single most important thing snowmobilers can do is to make sure that all of their snowmobile registrations are up to date. If every snowmobiler out there was a member of a snowmobile club and had their sleds registered, the perfect trail would be easy to find nearly every time you went out to ride.