How to Build the World’s Best Snowmobile Destination

With a wealth of snow, never-ending trails, and local business operators aware of the opportunities that snowmobile tourism offers, Northern Ontario is poised to be a world leader.

For years, the adventurous sledder has been drawn to the snowy riches of Northern Ontario. With more tourists coming in each winter, the stakes are high. At last, we have a blueprint for taking things to the next level.

On November 3 and 4, 80 individuals were brought together at the Polar Bear Habitat in Cochrane, ON for a Snowmobile Summit to facilitate discussions on how to transform Northern Ontario into the world's best snowmobile destination. These snowmobile industry leaders are private business owners, marketing specialists, municipal councillors, and tourism partners intent on further developing snowmobile tourism in Ontario. The recommendations made at the summit will be the foundation for the 2017-2022 Five-Year Destination Plan, which will lead the way to building the World’s Best Snowmobile Destination. The two-day summit was hosted by the Northeastern Community Network, and featured a number of key speakers who discussed best practices, tricks of the trade, and business development ideas.

The Snowmobile Summit was held at the
Polar Bear Habitat in Cochrane, Ontario.

The keynote speaker on the first day was Matt Ballard, the President/CEO at Charleston Area Alliance and former ED board member of the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority in West Virginia. Mr. Ballard discussed in detail how the Hatfield-McCoy region was once a booming coal mining area, and was forced to diversify when the market changed. Mr. Ballard’s presentation focused on the need to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem by bringing the public and private sectors together. By sharing best practices and encouraging each other, Hatfield-McCoy was able to create 600+ miles of ATV, SxS, ORV and Dirtbike trails, and to stimulate the local economy by bringing in over a million dollars in tourism dollars each year. Although the West Virginia of Hatfield-McCoy is a very different terrain than Northern Ontario, the foundations for success and passion for powersports are mirrored in both regions.

80 individuals from the snowmobile industry were in attendance for the two-day Snowmobile Summit.


Pat Dubreuil, owner of Relais Magpie Relay and President of Let’s Roll "Ideation" Consulting, moderated Thursday’s industry panel. Panel members included president of M&M Hospitality Sean Mackey, the Chief Administration Office and manager of Economic Development of the Town of Cochrane JP Ouellette, Cabin Fever Motorsports general manager Candace Fortin, one the new owner/operators of Abitibi Base Camp Michael Lobb and the General Manager of Halfway Haven Lodge Sean Frawley.

The panel members discussed what they are doing to help stimulate business and encourage snowmobile tourism in their areas, and how they cater to snowmobilers. Mr. Frawley, Mr. Lobb, Miss Fortin, and Mr. Mackey all focused on the little extras that businesses can do to make snowmobilers feel welcomed and appreciated. Mr. Mackey and Mr. Frawley both push the importance of having properly trained staff who are knowledgeable on trail conditions and distances between destinations. Mr. Mackey’s hotels provide large parking areas for snowmobile trailers, information on local dealers, and the ability for sledders to purchase Quebec permits at his establishments. While Mr. Frawley’s dedication to providing sleeping accommodations and food for the local clubs groomers helps to keep volunteers happy and well rested. Mr Lobb discussed the new plans for the Abitibi Canyon Base Camp, and how they are looking to expand and upgrade their current facilities to attract more tourism to the area.

Regional champions who go the extra mile for their snowmobile clientele made up the Industry Panel

JP Ouellette informed attendees that Cochrane sees on average 333 sleds a day during the snowmobile season, with over $83,000 spent on average by these sledders each day. Mr. Ouellette also reviewed the new marketing development dubbed Aventure Nord Ontario. This new marketing campaign is geared towards attracting people from Quebec to northern Ontario Francophone communities like Cochrane, Kapuskasing, Hearst, Durbreuville, and others for off-trail snowmobiling, ATVing, SxSs and adventure motorcycle experiences. This campaign is in Phase 2 and has already seen great success on social media, with over 5,300 followers and several hits all the way from France.

The networking reception was held in the
Cochrane Classic Vintage Riders Club and Museum

On Day 2 of the Summit, a number of featured speakers discussed proactive ways to help stimulate tourism in Northern Ontario. The first speaker was travel writer and Editor in Chief of La Federation des Clubs de Motoneigistes du Quebec (FCQM) magazine, Yves Ouellet. Mr Ouellet discussed what strategies have been working for the province of Quebec in attracting regional and international snowmobilers since the 1990s, when snowmobiling turned into a multi-million-dollar industry. Quebec prides itself on beautiful remote wilderness lodges with restaurants serving local delicacies and relaxing spas. He also discussed the importance of discouraging riders who are only interested in breaking their previous distance and speed records dubbed “renegade riders.” These individuals are not only creating a bad reputation for all snowmobilers, but are also putting people in danger due to their high speeds and overall disrespect.

David MacLachlan, the Executive Director,
Tourism Northern Ontario (TNO) was one of the key speakers during the 2nd day of the Summit.

David MacLachlan, the Executive Director of Tourism Northern Ontario (TNO), provided a product team update that has set a very positive outlook for the near and distant future of snowmobile tourism in Northern Ontario. There was a 60-70% drop in tourism across the country due to the US recession that began in 2008, but the recent return of the strong US dollar means more US tourists are now beginning to look north to Canada for their vacations. The Director of Strategy and Business Development with the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs, Mike Clewer, discussed the economic benefits of snowmobile tourism and some solutions to the current challenges we are facing. With 32,000 km of snowmobile trails in Ontario, we have one of the largest networks in the world. A 2013/2014 Economic Impact Study showed that organized snowmobiling on this trail system has created $1.7 billion of economic activity within Ontario and $850 million in direct expenditures.

Mr Clewer revealed that 63,500 permits have already been sold during the 2017 early bird sales period. That’s an increase from last year’s early bird sales so overall permit sales are expected to be higher this season. The OFSC is working on a number of initiatives to help combat their current challenges including multi-year permits, restructuring organizations for better use of resources and improving the volunteer experience. These challenges including ageing groomer fleets, lack of volunteers, and a financial deficit of $2.5 million due to the costs of grooming, trail maintenance, insurance, regional and provincial support, along with investments of new groomers. Last year, expenses totalled $21 million, while only $18.5 million in revenues were acquired from permit sales, grants and fundraising. The OFSC was forced to cut groomer expenses to make up for the deficit.

Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporations’ Strategic Partnership Coordinator Claude Aumont discussed partnerships, projects and snowmobile campaigns.

Last on the list of speakers but certainly not least, Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporations’ Strategic Partnership Coordinator Claude Aumont took to the stage to discuss how to properly market to snowmobilers. Mr. Aumont has spent the last 13 years creating and implementing marketing campaigns for the motorsports sector of Ontario Tourism. He discussed several highly successful campaigns that had real measurable results. Mr. Aumont pushed the fact that identifying partners in tourism through the government, tourism regions, private sectors, corporations and key influencers is the key to successful marketing campaigns.

He also explained that any business in the snow belt regions where snowmobiling takes place should realize that they are in fact in the snowmobile tourism business. Mr. Aumont cited the example of a jewellery store that often sells jewellery to snowmobilers that they purchase as gifts for their loved ones while they are away on snowmobile trips.

Mr. Aumont also discussed one of the most recent and highly successful tourism campaigns based around mixed martial artist and UFC Champion Miesha Tate. With a social media audience of over 3.6 million, the campaign with Miesha brought in over 100k in social action, over 125k views between two videos in only two short weeks, and the article received 12,000 reads with a click-through rate of 40%.

Mr. Aumont encouraged the audience to rethink how they reach their target markets. The increase in social media use has created a powerful platform, allowing users to create campaigns that specifically target markets based on demographics and psychographics at very feasible rates. The total cost of the Miesha Tate campaign was less than the cost of four prints ads in a magazine!

After two days of speakers and question and answer periods, attendees were asked to take part in roundtable discussions to analyze the information presented, identify priority areas for development, and suggest ways to tackle the challenges currently faced by the snowmobile tourism industry in Northern Ontario. Discussions focused on product development, sustainability, signage/wayfinding, access to new markets, regional collaboration and customer service. The Northeast Community Network will be taking the feedback and information gathered through industry surveys, one-on-one operator consultations and the Summit to create their Five Year Destination Plan that will be launched in early 2017.

Snowmobiling is alive and well in Northern Ontario. In the coming years, expect to see a lot more of this innovative hard work paying off in the form of an incredible snowmobile tourism destination that will rank as the best on the planet. The summit is over, but there's lots to do. To have your voice heard, get involved or watch as developments are made, go to

About Shelby Mahon

Growing up snowmobiling in Northern Ontario has been a defining aspect of Shelby's life. She is now the owner of Backcountry Motorsports Media and travels across North America photographing and documenting motorsports events and tourism destinations. Check out her Facebook, Instagram and website for more info.

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