So You Want to Sled the North
Editor's Note: Again this year, we’re seeing an influx of U.S. sledders taking advantage of the exchange rate and booking their vacations north of the border. We asked local snowmobiling expert Luc Levesque, the legendary Groomer Guy, to write for us the definitive guide for planning a snowmobiling trip in (and to) Ontario.
Planning Your Trip
If you’re new to riding in Canada and Northern Ontario, planning a trip can be quite the endeavour. Services in the north are often not as available as they are in the more populated areas. While the OFSC’s 33 self-guided snow tours take care of the route and ensure that there are the necessary services, when it comes to the northern loops, one cannot just hit the trail heading to the next destination without doing the proper planning.
You may ask yourself, “Why would I go to all the hassle of trekking way up north, surely I can find somewhere closer that will be just as fun?” Those who have been following me through the years know that I am always straightforward in telling how things are. I want my fellow snowmobiler to be well informed and to have the real information, that's how I built my reputation over the years.
A trip in Northern Ontario can be more work but once you ride here you will be glad you did—and you will come back to ride again. The natural beauty, the safety of those wide, smooth trails, and the variation of terrain—from power lines, logging roads, and rail beds to trails over remote lakes and twisty forested sections—are going to make Northern Ontario your favourite destination. Just like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, you will put your snowmobile boots on after a bad day at work, click you heels together and say: “There’s no place like Northern Ontario, there’s no place like Northern Ontario… take me there.” OK, OK: if you ever do that, I want to see it!!! Haha! Here are some of my tips.
Choosing Your Route
When planning a trip in Northern Ontario your first step should be to go on the OFSC (Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs) website and look at the trip planner section. There you can look at the Ontario Interactive Trail Guide and see where you want to ride and make note of the different communities where you plan on riding. You can also find the OFSC member clubs information there so you can contact them to get more information.
Using the trip calculator option on the trail guide, you can plan your entire trip. Just hover your cursor over a section of trail that you want to calculate, click on the trail, and a box will pop up giving you the trail name, type of trail, name of the club who maintains that section of trail, the district it’s in, length of that section of trail, current trail status and date the status was last updated. At the very bottom of this box there is a button that says, “Add to Route.” Click that button and the section of trail will be added to the trail calculator.
From there all you need to do is repeat along the sections of trail you want to calculate. The trail selected will be highlighted until you clear your trails in the “My Route” section. Now make sure to zoom in, as you could miss some small section that you might not see and end up missing some kilometres, and your calculations will be off—I know because I’ve done it myself.
So now that you’ve calculated distances and planned out your route and your trip is a few weeks away, one of the best feature of the Interactive Trail Guide is the real-time trail status. Trail Statuses are updated twice a week, in the right-hand corner there’s an orange box that displays “Available Trails Kms.” When trails start to open up and they are added on the Interactive Trail Guide, this box will display the total number of available trails in Ontario. When the snow starts falling and you know clubs are starting to pack down trails and getting things ready, you go on the site looking, hoping to see a number come up showing there are places to ride. As it goes on at the start of the season, we look at this often and get as excited as watching a Jerry Lewis telethon seeing the money totals going up—for us die-hard snowmobilers it’s like that! Hahaha!
OK, so now back to trail statuses. The OFSC uses a series of trail statuses to keep you informed of what is going on with the trail system. Years ago it uses to be Open, Closed, Excellent, Good, but because some people couldn’t be accountable for their own actions and sued the OFSC (don’t get me started on this), it had to be changed to these four status levels:
- Green, “Available”—means that the trail is in great shape and that there is no danger, the trails are groomed and ready to go.
- Yellow, “Limited Availability”—this means that the trail may have some imperfections, stuff like some wet sections, some sections that need more snow to cover the rough parts, or low snow areas. Most of the time the trails are nice, but we want to be careful and use caution. This is often displayed at the start and end of season.
- Red, “Trail Unavailable”—the trails are closed to traffic. If you see this, do not use the trail; there is a reason why it’s closed, contact your local club to get more information.
- Grey, “Not reported”—this means that somebody didn’t get the updated bi-weekly trail reports in on time, so the trail will be posted like this until a report is sent to the person doing the updates. It’s happened to me over the years, I’ve been guilty of not submitting my trail reports to the district office on time. Remember, we’re all volunteers!
To ride Ontario trails you need a trail permit. This trail permit gives you access to over 30,000 km of well-marked and groomed trails. It provides funding for the clubs and their volunteers to maintain the trails.
Here are the OFSC trail permit prices:
For my American friends this might sound expensive, but once you ride up here you will see the quality of the trails you get for your money—wide, smooth trails, well-groomed, and lots of snow to play in and get stuck deep.
For those who aren’t sure and need an incentive to come out, the OFSC has a no-cost try-our-trails weekend pass every February. All you have to do is go online to fill out the application, print off the permit, stick it on your sled, and you are good to go. It’s that simple and you saved some bucks. Just don’t be surprised if it leaves you wanting to get a pass for the season!