There are a large number of ailments that are affecting the health of the sport of snowmobiling: the economy, gas prices, declining registrations, competition from kid’s obsession with computers and video games, politicians, environmental activists, and warmer winters with less snow, all of these things play a role in the uncertainty of the future of our sport, but there is one thing that trumps all of these other factors, a silent killer that not only hurts the sport of snowmobiling but if left untreated will most assuredly kill the sport we love. The good news is that every person reading this has the power to not only fix this problem but they also have the power to make the sport of snowmobiling stronger than it has ever been. We at snowmobiletrail.com have been on this bandwagon for years, the snowmobile magazines have been on this bandwagon, businesses are on board, the manufacturers are on board, the race community and everyone else that has a vested interest in the life of snowmobiling are on board but yet our cries fall on deaf ears and soon if these cries continue to go unheard the sport of snowmobiling as we know it will cease to exist, like the fate of the Titanic after hitting the iceberg, it is a mathematical certainty.
Imagine going to the doctor for a check-up and, after running a battery of tests, the doctor comes in and tells you that you have several diseases and each one of them if left untreated will be fatal. This is exactly what is happening to the sport of snowmobiling. Then imagine that there is a magic pill that fixes just about everything, logic would dictate that you would take it but yet there are tens of thousands of snowmobilers that don’t. That magic snowmobiling pill is joining a snowmobile club.
CLUBS IN CRISIS = SPORT IN CRISIS: So why are the clubs in crisis? The answer is simple, the clubs are aging- literally. So many club members are getting older and older and literally dying off. Without the younger club members getting involved there are less able bodied people to groom and brush the trails and eventually clubs lack enough people to do the work and the club disbands and the trails close. There is a large misconception out there that the state and the DNR are responsible for the trails-that is not the case- it is the clubs that go out and get the easements and permits to build the trail and the clubs that maintain and groom them from there forward. The clubs even have to work to raise funds to buy and maintain grooming equipment and then they need volunteers to run those groomers. The clubs build the bridges, cut the brush and downed trees on the trails, put up the trail signs, teach snowmobile safety classes and send representatives to meet with the DNR and politicians at the state level to make sure snowmobilers needs are addressed, without them the sport of snowmobiling would die and it is dying right before our eyes.
BENEFITS OF CLUB MEMBERSHIP:
1. Promotion of the sport to friends, family members, and young snowmobilers: One of the biggest problems in the sport that has the entire industry on edge is the ever declining numbers of youths taking up the sport of snowmobiling. Since 2001 the number of students taking snowmobile safety classes has dropped by 62%! The average age of snowmobilers keeps increasing and eventually we will hit a tipping point where there aren’t enough young snowmobilers to replace the old ones that die off. Snowmobiling has long been thought of as a family sport but the drop in youth participation has alarmed the industry to the point that they have started building kid friendly sleds as evidenced by the new ¾ models released over the past few years. The manufacturers realized that if they didn’t do something to keep kids involved the sport would be doomed. That also led to the resurgence of the little 120 class sleds several years ago and now the ¾ sleds. We all have a responsibility to bring friends and family, especially youth, out on the trails so they can experience the awesomeness of the snowmobiling world. Too often we get hung up with hanging with our buddies and not getting the rest of the family out on the sleds. We need young blood in the sport to keep the sport alive. We all know if you get a person who hasn’t been on a snowmobile before out on a good ride, they will be hooked. Chances are the majority of the people reading this started riding when they were kids and their passion never died. Remember that the next time you see kids out on the trail and encourage them to keep riding and welcome them to the family, the future of the sport depends on it. The snowmobile club plays a huge role in getting youth involved just by providing a good well-groomed trail system. Additionally clubs provide the snowmobile safety classes that are not only essential in getting younger riders involved but instilling the proper riding techniques at a young age that keep us all safe on the trails. Without club members to teach classes, no new riders can get their permits and once again the sport dies.
2. Registrations and Snowmobiling Laws: Clubs play a vital role in meeting with the DNR and helping to determine how best to manage the sport. One of the problems affecting the sport is the declining number of registrations. States rely on registrations to fund the trail system, aka fund the clubs maintenance of the trails. Without registrations there is no money to groom etc. The disturbing trend is that even though snowmobile sales have actually increased over the past few years, snowmobile registrations have decreased. This means that there are a lot of rideable sleds out there sitting in people’s garages without current tags on them. Part of this is lack of enforcement. When the fine is less than a registration, people take their chances on getting caught, and when the DNR officers let people get off with just a warning for expired tabs it hurts us all. These people will just continue to take their chances not realizing that their lack of registration will eventually lead to the demise of the trail system. Joining a club helps spread awareness and helps improve the trail system.
3. Fighting for your Snowmobiling Rights: The reality of the modern day world is that there are a number of groups out there that are basically trying to dictate to the rest of us what is an acceptable way to have fun. We all know that politics are controlled by special interests and in many cases you need to be part of a vocal group to get your voice heard. When there are groups out there that don’t want snowmobiles around then we must as snowmobilers ban together to protect our sport and funding for our sport. Snowmobilers are huge economic contributors to the Northern and Mountain states and we are under ever increasing assault by groups that would like to do away with us. We fight not only for ourselves but for others, like those that have physical disabilities that may prevent them from skiing or hiking but have the ability to get on a snowmobile and enjoy nature. It is said that no one cares more about the duck population than duck hunters do and the same can be said for snowmobilers- snowmobilers love the outdoors and want the ability to explore it, but there are those out there trying to take that ability away from you. Joining a snowmobile club gives you a powerful voice in protecting your sport and in many cases helps protect other off road recreational sports as well.
4. Awesome Trails: This is the one that always gets me. My biggest pet peeve is the guy that complains about trail conditions, then you ask him “So do you belong to a club?” and more times than not the answer is “No.” I used to be one of those guys and once I joined a club I realized that I had a huge role in making sure the trails in my area were in good shape. That is what also alerted me to this crisis. When I joined the club, 90% of its members were over 65 years old! These guys are out there cutting up downed trees, fixing bridges and driving groomers in 20 below weather. I made it a point to get as many new “younger” members as I could and within a few years we were able to turn our local trail system into one of the best maintained and most rideable trail systems in the area.
5. Hanging Out With People That Love Snowmobiling: The best part of joining a club is that you get to hang out with people that love snow as much as you do. Everyone can’t wait for it to snow and is sad when it ends. Club members all want to have the best trails possible and you have a network of people that are willing to ride with you at the drop of a hat, what can be better than that!
WHAT CAN YOU DO? The answer is simple- Join a club. In fact the state of Wisconsin was so concerned with their club crisis that they made joining a club mandatory when you register your sled- the result was higher registrations, higher youth involvement, higher sled sales, better trails and a huge surge in snowmobile participation and a very healthy state of the sport. Snowmobile clubs need you, even if you only volunteer to do an hour of trail work a season, that is one hour that wasn’t being done before. Every little bit helps- make your voice heard and join a club today, you’ll be glad you did.