anitoba’s snowmobile community is revving at full throttle following a dreadful winter last season when almost half of the province’s trails never opened.
“The more it snows, the better I feel,” Ken Hiebert, the chief operating officer at Winnipeg Sport and Leisure on Dugald Road, said with a chuckle on Friday.
Al Butler, the president of Snoman — the umbrella association that manages the province’s 12,884 km of trails, said last season was the worst since Snoman began in 1975.
“Basically there were no trails open south of the No. 16 Highway,” Butler said, adding 48% of the trails remained closed all season. “There were some trails open in Roblin, just north of 16. That has (never happened) to my knowledge.
“In those communities where there were no trails open, it was a major (economic) bust for them. Mind you, for the communities that had snow, like Swan River, it was a gold mine for them because everyone from the south was headed to Swan River.”
Snowmobile retailers felt the pinch as well. The season was so dismal, Hiebert said it had a “hangover” effect into this year, but snowmobile and clothing sales eventually picked up in November as sledders became convinced winter wouldn’t miss us again.
“Because last winter was so lousy, the rebates from the manufacturers in the non-currents that are available — brand new products — the prices are great right now,” Hiebert said. “There are some terrific deals.”
In most years, clubs will begin to groom their trails in January, but it’s hoped this season will start early.
“It’s gone from one extreme to the other,” Butler said. “This year we’re anticipating the majority of clubs will have trails open — if not all their trails — by Christmastime.”
Butler is quick to point out, however, there are currently less than 5% of Snoman’s trails open. There may be sufficient snow in some regions, but the waterways aren’t solid enough to support a 20,000-pound grooming machine, and many of the trails are over water.
“What the snow does is cover up any potential water areas, particularly drainage ditches that haven’t had a chance to freeze over yet,” he said.
Butler isn’t aware of any serious injuries to snowmobilers so far this season, but there have been a couple “ditch bangers” that weren’t life-threatening.
Butler cringes at the site of riders who race along unmarked ditches, which he witnessed last weekend while driving home from a Snoman meeting at South Beach Casino.
“The guys were jumping the ditches on Highway 59,” he said. “It’s very dangerous. (Motorists) are wondering if these machines are coming up and crossing the road or just staying in the ditch.
“I think it’s too bad that snowmobilers who are in the ditches like that don’t try to put themselves in the driver’s position too. That’s why we promote the trail system, because usually the trails stay away from the roadways.”
Snoman is in the midst of developing a provincial-wide trail numbering system, designed to enhance the ability of snowmobilers to navigate the trails without the fear of getting lost.
“The first stage this year is to get all the signs out to the clubs and get them up, and then next year the maps will all show the numbering on the trails to make it easier for people to get around,” Butler said.
For current trail conditions, go to snoman.mb.ca.