Snowmobiling tourism off to a slow start in Bathurst

·3 min read

A global pandemic and a winter that hasn't seen much snow are causing headaches for an industry that relies on travel and 'white gold' in northern New Brunswick.

The Nepisiquit Snowmobile Club in Bathurst has approximately 1,500 members, with 600 of those from Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.

And many of the 900 or so other members come from all around New Brunswick, according to the club's vice president, David Brewster .

"These are people coming to northern New Brunswick to take advantage of the tremendous snow amounts that we get here with a beautiful trail system," Brewster said.

The club has three groomers — used to maintain a 300 kilometre trail system — which log about 2,500 hours a year.

Brewster said the trail system is a huge tourism draw to the area.

Submitted/David Brewster
Submitted/David Brewster

"Our winter tourism is our main tourism for the whole year," Brewster said, adding that the spinoff effect from the industry is important to the region.

"We depend on that, that's our main source of jobs right now for our area," he said.

But it's been a rough start for the industry so far in 2021, according to Brewster.

Up until last weekend, the region didn't have much snow, preventing the club from grooming an important trail that connects Bathurst to the larger trail system.

Brewster admits that's frustrating, but not completely unheard of for January, as winter gets off to a slow start once every ten years or so.

But, it's the issues surrounding travel because of COVID-19 restrictions that are worrisome to the club.

The now defunct Atlantic Bubble means more than a third of the club's members haven't been able to travel to the region so far this season.

"A lot of them have bought their pass — which is a couple hundred dollars," Brewster said of the club's members outside of the province.

He said members aren't happy with not being able to travel to the area, but understand the situation.

Submitted/Atlantic Host Hotel
Submitted/Atlantic Host Hotel

"It's like buying a membership into a golf club and you can't use it because the club is closed."

Members from other parts of the province, in particular from southern New Brunswick, also can't visit the region right now because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Earlier this month, the province reverted back to the orange phase of recovery limiting travel between regions — and this week the majority of New Brunswick is in the red phase. That's not trending in the right direction for the winter economy in the north of the province.

Keith DeGrace, owner of the Atlantic Host Hotel in Bathurst, said the hospitality industry is feeling the pinch of not having the snowmobilers in town this year.

"We do see a definite drop almost immediately," he said of the change to tighter restrictions.

"We're already more like 35 to 45 per cent off what our market originally was last year at this time — it's quite a blow," he said.

Normally DeGrace would have more than 50 people on staff right now, but at the moment he said they're down to 38 people.

"We have had our excellent years, and I guess we can expect a tough one once in a while," he said.

Both DeGrace and Brewster are optimistic that the season can still be salvaged.

The recent snowfall has laid the foundation for better snow conditions, which Brewster believes will only get better over the coming weeks.

Both men hope COVID-19 restrictions will revert back to the yellow phase of recovery within a month, and allow for people to travel between zones for the latter half of February and March.