Fresh snow welcome surprise for snowmobilers

·6 min read

The thick snow blanketing Westman is a welcome treat for snowmobile clubs that have faced two years of dry winter trails.

Southwest Snowtrackers president Gord Weidenhamer hits the trails with an Arctic Cat.

His club is based in the Turtle Mountain region and traverses trails in Turtle Mountain Provincial Park, Deloraine, Elgin, Hartney, Lauder, Souris and Oak Lake.

“I’m an Arctic Cat guy, that’s as old [as] snowmobiling is,” Weidenhamer said with a chuckle.

He enjoys seeing the different sleds people take out on the trails because he can see how much fun people have exploring the region.

Weidenhamer is feeling optimistic about the upcoming winter season — the snowstorm that walloped the region Monday indicates it may be the best winter in recent memory for snowmobilers. In the Turtle Mountains alone, they saw about 12 inches of snowfall, Weidenhamer said.

“It’s pretty fantastic compared to the last couple seasons,” Weidenhamer said. “It’s looking great. Things are clearing up, [other] than the cold.”

The club is hoping to get rolling on grooming the entire 350-kilometre trail system this week. Currently, about 100 kilometres is open to the public.

The routes span from Turtle Mountain Provincial Park to Boissevain, into Deloraine and north to Medora, along with trails through Hartney, Souris and back down to Deloraine.

“There’s some nice country in the Turtle Mountains right down to the river country and flats north of Hartney.”

Last year was a disappointment for the club due to the lack of snow in the region.

“We never moved a wheel last year. We never moved a wheel in two years, really,” Weidenhamer said.

“Lots of the western side of the province and southern side just didn’t get snow and it’s unfortunate.”

The Sno Trackers currently have about 100 members — eight extremely active members help maintain the trail system.

Volunteers work together to add safety signs along the trails and also maintain the area for users.

He added the club also has warming shelters along trails that are available to users who are vaccinated and practising physical distancing.

Snowmobiling is a great sport, Weidenhamer added, because it can involve the entire family and lets people get outside to explore Manitoba’s wilderness.

“If you have any interest in snowmobiling in the southwest, please get a hold of us and please step forward. It takes a lot of work to make things happen behind the scenes,” Weidenhamer said. “Do your part — many hands make light work.”

Everett Smith, the president of Valleyview Snow-Riders Inc., said he is eager for people to get out on the trails. Valleyview Snow-Riders Inc. services north of Brandon, Rivers, Rapid City, Minnedosa and Oak Rivers, maintaining about 185 kilometres of trails.

“You have to laugh, and I’m sure 90 per cent of people are like me having a giggle under your helmet ... it’s just a great sport,” Smith said, describing how he rides his 800 Polaris Pro R sled.

“It’s something that you get out there and you see kids, and they’re supervised and riding at a young age and they’re enjoying being outside, and you know that’s a rider for life.”

He is motivated to get out on the trails after a season of minimal snow in 2020.

The club established about 60 per cent of its region for riders based on snow levels last year.

It was disappointing because COVID-19 health measures saw a boon in people interested in the sport, mainly from individuals looking to get outdoors.

Smith said he could see people out and about on the lakes in the area, even if trails were not always accessible due to lack of snow.

“Most people tend to hide from winter, and last year I think people embraced it because it was really their only taste of social freedom,” Smith said.

He added the snow he woke up to Monday morning was more than he saw all of last year.

“We’re hoping for a shotgun start this week,” Smith said.

The Valleyview Snow-Riders have a groomer and a drag to maintain the trails, a task that typically takes around three or four days to complete.

Smith estimates the club deploys around 4,000 safety signs each year on the trail by hand in the early winter and removes them in the spring.

The club keeps four warming shelters on their trails, he added, and it is a common sight to roll up and see families hanging out and warming up by the wood stove.

He hopes the freshly fallen snow will inspire new members to join the club. The Valleyview Snow-Riders are actively recruiting and hoping to see more volunteers join the fleet.

The club currently has about 24 core members actively participating in the club.

“It’s a social sport,” Smith said. “You meet really good people out there.”

Without volunteers and members, there would be no available trail system for users to ride. Smith also praised landowners who are gracious enough to allow them to ride on their property.

“Without landowners allowing us to cross their property, there is simply no way that we as a club could establish trails and function and enjoy our winters.”

While snowmobiling can be an expensive hobby, he said, it does not have to be.

One thing that can help make the sport accessible is having mechanical inclination and aptitude.

“Doing a lot the maintenance yourself is a way of saving money,” Smith said. “It’s just like an automobile in that perspective.”

These are also good skills to have because when out on the trail and facing a snowmobile breakdown, you can get the machine to the point it is running and able to limp home for triage.

The Southwest Snowtrackers and Valleyview Snow-Riders are members of the Snoman Snowmobilers of Manitoba (Snowman), a non-profit organization representing 51 member snowmobiling clubs that maintain and groom around 12,000 kilometres of trails across the province.

Member clubs are financially supported through the sale of Snopasses.

Those looking to travel on designated Snoman trails in Manitoba, must by law have a valid Snopass and display a Snopass sticker on a valid off-road vehicle plate on a snowmobile.

Snowmobilers found to be on a designated trail without a valid Snopass will be fined $474.15.

Snopass fees help to enhance recreational snowmobiling across Manitoba, supporting member clubs that groom and maintain designated trails across Manitoba.

An annual Snopass costs $125. A seven-day Snopass costs $60.50.

For more information on joining the Valleyview Snow-Riders or Southwest Snowtrackers, visit the clubs’ Facebook pages.

» ckemp@brandonsun.com

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Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun

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