The Sputter of Snowmobiling
Please note: The views expressed by this writer are his own and do not reflect the opinions of NorthernOntario.travel.
Passion is a strange human emotion—and no, not the kind in the bedroom. I’m talking snowmobile passion. As a Southern Ontario rider for the past 35 years, I am pretty passionate about this sport that keeps clawing me back for more, despite our wavering love affair.
Sledding in the South, Grey Bruce to be specific, is faced with challenges, lots of them. So many that each season, that I ask myself every March: Is it finally time to say goodbye? This year is no different, albeit it’s happening a month early this year, and I wanted to figure out why, so I assembled my Top 10 Sledder’s Complaint List. It’s not my intent to stoke the snowmobile debate fire, I am just trying to figure out why my own personal passion starts to go limp each season.
1. The Keyboard Warriors
Okay, let’s get this one right out of the way. Back in the old days, pre-internet, snowmobilers would meet at a local club house or restaurant, and solve problems face to face. Today, everyone is a critic, has an opinion, and most hide behind their keyboard and don’t help solve the issue at hand. The forums are full of whining and complaining about a sport we all love. Like I said above, passion makes us do and say strange things, but this is getting out of hand. You would have thought the world was going to end over the OFSC’s permit system crash last year. Chill, people, and be part of a real solution.
2. The Orange Stake Debate
Down here in the South, riding outside of the sacred orange stakes is a sacrilege, subject to a thousand lashes. Rightfully so, as we all know the story. Private land, sensitive crops and the most important one, respect, are all part of this story. As more and more permission is revoked and more road running chews away at our sleds, this stupid act continues. My favourite examples are tracks that carve off into a field right beside the “Wheat Field—Stay on Trail” sign. Come on people, load your sleds on a trailer and take it to a legal boondocking area, or book that trip to the mountains.
3. To Can or Not to Can
I am the first one to perk up at the sound of a finely tuned internal combustion engine. The growl of a Ducati, the Po-Ta-To of a Harley, the whine of a turbo’d sled. The can debate is cracked wide open in the media and on the forums lately. “It’s my right,” “…then clamp down on motorcycles,” “This country has too many rules” are just a sample of the pro-pipe movement. Personally I am not against it, but braaapping your can close to someone’s house is going to have only one consequence… closed trails, period. So, if you think it’s worth it, can responsibly, or eventually you’ll have nowhere to use all of those enhancements.
4. The Volunteer
What happens each fall is nothing short of a miracle. Thousands of volunteers across the province pound stakes by hand, clear brush, open gates, and install signs in order to create this world-class experience we all enjoy. Every year the calls go out for help to make this happen, but sadly those calls go largely unanswered. It’s the same die-hard, dedicated group year after year, with little to no new blood coming in to fill their boots. This is not sustainable. We can debate about where the youth are in this equation, but without new volunteers, the Ontario system won’t have trails. It’s time to take this seriously.
This is a tough one to talk about. We are all peppered with “Zero Tolerance,” “Don’t Drink and Ride” messaging, and society as a whole seems to be really getting a grip against alcohol (and now marijuana) when mixed with motors. But why is it still prevalent in snowmobiling?
Back 30 years ago, when sleds barely hit trail speed, drinking and riding was part of the socially accepted sled culture. Of course, you could still get hurt or die when impaired on an ’82 Citation, but today’s sleds are rocket ships, and being impaired never ends well. Not sure what the answer is here, other than the simple reasoning of: you don’t do it in your car… so think twice when on your snow machine.
6. The Groomer
Wow, always lots of chatter on the internets about grooming. The poor groomer operators need really thick skin. The reality is, if you buy a trail pass, you automatically expect butter-smooth trails every single time you ride. In the South, you likely get the pancake flat goodness 50% of the time, and in the high north that percentage rises dramatically. It’s a battle here because we don’t get the base, deal with multiple freeze thaws, and weekend traffic beats them to a pulp. So, is it going to get better? Likely not, so maybe it’s about managing riders’ expectations before they hand over their permit cash.
7. Mother Nature
Ha… this is a good one. We all know the saying “You can’t control the weather,” but as a snowomibler we need to have cat-like reflexes to adapt to it. Here in the south it seems like our season (at least for the past three years) is really only four weeks at best. That’s tough on morale, not only of the users, but the volunteers who stake trails and never get to ride them. I think we all have to accept the fact that if you are not trailering North, you are not riding… much. My Northern friends have recognized this, have upped their game, and are providing a truly world-class experience. All you need is the old adage: “time and money” to go.
8. The 4-Wheelers
Quads, four-wheelers, bikes, side-by-sides... sales are blowing up. How many ads do you see of people selling their sleds to buy a quad? Ironically, a lot of existing sledders still own both. But there is a problem… a big problem. There are not a lot of riding areas here in the South, and some are riding OFSC trails in the summer. We have had our gate locks cut, posts pulled out, and fences driven over. Nothing closes trails faster than a group of quads ripping through a farmer’s field in the green season. Everyone says it’s not them, and that it’s the “kids,” but I think it’s time to buck up as a sport and send a strong message that this is not okay.
9. The Weekend Warrior
Years ago, in my riding hood, the rider from “away” was evil. They tore up our freshly groomed trails (which were made for us) with their fancy loud sleds, road in packs, and didn’t understand to turn the lights out at the clubhouse when they left. Today, we welcome them with open arms (although still a little reluctantly) to share our trails and scenic attractions. They also buy a lot of high octane fuel and burgers which the local businesses thrive on. May I suggest a few tips though for the WWs: Slow down and see the sights—it’s not a race; roosting slower riders is not cool; refrain from trenching on take-off; talk to us… we will like you.
10. The OFSC
Nothing creates more banter on the internets than when the OFSC launches a new product ( i.e. a new website), puts up permit prices, or heaven forbid, re-invents their app. I feel sorry for this highly professional organization full of talented people that have one best interest in mind… yours.
For all the reasons listed above, these folks have a really tough job, especially when you throw in something they cannot control like the weather. But for some reason, people take their frustrations out on them on a daily basis and hurl insults and jabs like “Cash cow,” “Never get out of the office,” “Disconnected to what riders want,” etc. I am sure they will be the first to say they are not perfect, but without this organized approach to the sport, it simply would not exist. Hug an OFSC member today.
Disclaimer: Don’t shoot the messenger. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that sport of snowmobiling is a highly sophisticated machine that takes a big effort to make it tick. Let’s all be part of the solutions and not just whine on the internet. Yes, this story is posted on the internet…..hmmmmmmm.
And stay tuned for my next feature: The Ultimate Sledder’s Happy List