Aging groomers put N.L. Snowmobile Federation in 'desperate situation' as season ends

Aging groomers put N.L. Snowmobile Federation in 'desperate situation' as season ends

Wet, thick snow has buried snowmobile trails in central Newfoundland, but an aging fleet of groomers is limiting the Newfoundland and Labrador Snowmobile Federation's ability to groom trails. 

General manager Ben Fitzgerald told CBC News the federation started the season with 22 groomers but is now down to 16, adding that some of the functional equipment has been "Band-aided" with parts from machines currently out of service. 

"We're really finding ourselves in pretty much a desperate situation when it comes to our equipment," said Fitzgerald.

"[We're] having to really focus on modernizing our fleet before it impacts our ability to be able to service all club areas throughout the island."

Parts of central Newfoundland were hit with record snowfall amounts earlier this month but warm temperatures create slushy snow that Fitzgerald said could further damage equipment.

"At the end of the day, what we have to do is think long-term," he told CBC News.

"The more resistance that's in the snow, the more surfacing of stumps and trees, the more impact it plays on our equipment."

He said the decision to groom trails will be handled on a club-by-club basis. Fitzgerald said some clubs will have to try to carve out trails and paths from the heavy snow drifts but said grooming those trails would require consistent days with temperatures around –5 C.

"As far as grooming, with the current forecast, it doesn't look like grooming is going to be possible," said Fitzgerald. 

Provincial funding required

Fitzgerald said the federation has reached a critical point and needs to find ways to modernize equipment. 

"We're way behind when it comes to where we need to be as a federation," said Fitzgerald.

"With 13,000 snowmobilers of the 54,000 snowmobilers registered on the island, the 25 to 30 per cent have certainly been doing their part — but it's certainly a go-it-alone process."

Fitzgerald said if the province is going to have quality groomed trails for local riders and tourists it will require government funding.

"We're an unsubsidized entity," said Fitzgerald.

"And the reality being is that this is not a cheap business. I think the province is aware of what it takes to keep a ski hill open; I think we need to make them aware of what it takes to keep a snowmobile trail system open as well."

Fitzgerald cited the recent discussion about Marble Mountain extending its season and the investment made by the provincial government into the operation of the hill. 

He said there's been little upgrading of equipment since the federation was started 16 years ago with help from the federal Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the Newfoundland and Labrador government.