An additional challenge for the 1000 Mile Challenge

The New Brunswick Snowmobile Federation supports the charitable goals of the 1000 Mile Challenge but not the method.

Federation president David Garland said using the New Brunswick snowmobile trail system for a timed and challenging event creates legal and safety concerns.

He said the federation and the Department of Natural Resources and Energy Development made their opposition clear to challenge organizers by registered letters in November and December.

"They cannot have a timed event on a federation trail," Garland said.

Rudi Fowler, a lead organizer of the popular fundraiser, said the 1000 Mile Challenge meets all Department of Justice and Public Safety requirements to legally and safely use the trail system.

"They laid out requirements," said Fowler. "As long as the snowmobiler has a trail pass, insurance, and registration, they're good to go."

Garland disagreed, noting a letter signed by Department of Natural Resources and Energy Development Minister Mike Holland clearly expressed the department's viewpoint.

A letter dated Dec. 9 addressed to Garland and signed by Minister Holland opposed the event.

"DNRED cannot permit the use of the managed trail network for this event," Holland wrote in the letter. "The Crown lands of New Brunswick are managed by DNRED for the benefit of the people of New Brunswick. The network itself is not a closed course, and the suggested event does not meet the intended purpose of a managed snowmobile trail. The event is considered a race and places other managed trail users as well as the general public at unacceptable levels of risk of accident and injury."

When contacted by River Valley Sun, DNRED referred our questions to the Department of Justice and Public Safety.

The department spokesperson said event organizers must meet specific requirements to use the trail.

Any event organizers must ensure that all riders operate their snowmobile responsibly and follow the rules as set out in the legislation," said Judy Désalliers, Communications Officer for the Department of Justice and Public Safety. "Organizers must also ensure that snowmobiles are registered, that the riders possess a New Brunswick trail pass and have a valid proof of insurance in order to use New Brunswick trail."

Fowler said all the riders in the challenge meet those requirements.

One significant disagreement between Fowler and Garland concerns the definition of "race," which is not allowed on the trail system.

Fowler said the riders are not in a race but are meeting a challenge to travel a specific distance in a 24-hour period.

Garland said "simple math" indicates how fast the riders of the four sleds must go to meet the challenge. He added that it doesn't include stops for food, fuel, road crossings and mechanical problems.

"All stakeholders view it as a timed event," he said. "That means race."

Fowler said the time of the stops rather than the speed on the trail is the key to meeting the challenge.

"Where you're fast is at the stops," he said.

Fowler said lessons learned during the first two 1000 Mile Challenges helped reduce downtime. For example, he explained, support crews now have fuel cans ready when the sledders arrive rather than filling the snowmobiles at the pumps.

He said the participants can now quickly grab a bite while giving an update to the accompanying video crews, then hit the trail.

Garland said speed and fatigue continue to put the participants and other trail users in danger.

"We're very disappointed the organizers didn't just remove the timed portion of the event or modify it in a way on a closed course," he said.

Fowler pointed out New Brunswick's trails don't have speed limits.

Garland said the first two challenges flew under the weather, but doubling the number of riders from two to four and pushing for a higher profile drew attention to the dangers.

He said the federation represents 49 clubs and manages 8,000 km of trails. While several clubs supported the challenge and its attempts to send underprivileged children to summer camp, it is not a club-sanctioned event.

Garland said it's important for the federation to protect the clubs from liability.

"We love the charity. We love the ambition," he said. "We absolutely praise them for everything they're doing. It's just that a timed event has just kind of broken the rules."

As much as he supports the charity, Garland said safety must take precedence.

"I understand sending a kid to camp, but we can't send someone to the hospital in order to do it," he said.

Fowlers, who personally did the first two challenges, responded that the challenge takes safety seriously. He said he and organizers thoroughly screened the four riders — Myles Darrow, Jayme Hunt, Lisa Whitman and Justin Young.

He said the riders are not required to go beyond their personal limits, noting the event has backup riders and machines available when needed.

Fowler added the riders would be under constant surveillance, including two planes in the air.

Garland stressed the federation's stand is not directed at the organizers or the cause but focused entirely on safety.

"Don't mean to be adversarial with them by calling this a race, but that's what the insurers and department call it," he said. "Not to mention the fatigue aspect. Time and distance are beyond what a snowmobiler is able to do safely."

Fowler disagrees that the federation's position is not a direct attack on him and other event organizers.

He described the federation's stand as "sabre-rattling" by a couple of federation members.

If the federation were serious about safety on its trails, Fowler said, it would address the number of people drinking and riding on their trails every weekend.

Neither Fowler nor Garland knows Public Safety's plans during the event. Garland said the provincial departments said the challenge is illegal, so it's up to them to enforce the rules.

Fowler said the challenge received positive support from high provincial government officials, who he hopes will eliminate needless harassment on the trail.

"At the end of the day," he said, "there's nothing that's being done wrong. Nothing illegal. The riders can be stopped, but it would only be for checking papers."

Fowler fears the federation's opposition and its restrictions on club support will put a dent in raising its goal of $250,000 and sending 800 children to camp.

Garland stressed the federation does not want to hurt fundraising for a good cause but wants everyone on the trails to be safe.

Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun