Snow groomer machines weighing fourteen thousand pounds travel meticulously along winding paths in District 17’s snowy forests, preparing the way for snowmobilers to ride for several days and complete a 1000 kilometer circle trip in northwestern Ontario.
Borderland Snowmobile Club is one of eight snowmobile clubs in District 17, part of the North Western Ontario Trail Association (NWOSTA), and responsible for almost 500 kilometers of snowmobile trail across the Rainy River, Nestor Falls, Emo, Fort Frances and Mine Centre.
Other club members in NWOSTA, all located between the Manitoba border to Thunder Bay, include Sunset Trail Riders Snowmobile Club, Red Lake District Trailmasters Snowmobile Club, Dryden Power Toboggan Club, Ojibway Power Toboggan, Thunder Bay Adventure Trails Snowmobile Club, Ignace Otters Snowmobile Club, and Atikokan Sno-Ho Snowmobile Club.
This year, Dave Goodman, snow groomer coordinator for Borderland Snowmobile Club, reported that Borderland Snowmobile Club totaled around 700 hours of grooming—100 hours above average from previous seasons.
“We had a relatively late start to the season this year because of the late freeze up. We need frost on the ponds and swamps to get the groomer across. The groomer weighs about 14,000 pounds, so you need good frost underneath. But on the flip side of that, we had an extra long season. We were grooming into early April, which has not happened for many years,” he said.
NWOSTA’s total expenses was around $700,000, Goodman said, not including the purchasing of snow groomer machines. “That’s mainly fuel and some trail clearing, everything but the actual purchase of the groomer itself.”
Seasonal operation funding received from the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (OFSC) is made possible by permit sales, he said.
For the past three years, Goodman has worked with OFSC on an application for funding to build a trail running parallel to a logging road stretching about 25 kilometers between Mine Centre and Atikokan.
The logging road is typically plowed, he said, making it difficult for snowmobilers to ride on and for the trail section to remain opened.
Funding received is anticipated to be around $90,000 from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC), an agency that stimulates economic development initiatives in Northern Ontario, he said.
“Our plan is to, this summer, have that project completed. We’re part of a 1000 kilometer circular route that goes around Northwestern Ontario. And there has always been a weak spot in that circle because of low snow or plowing or various different things that would close that section of trail. So we’re pretty excited about having this bypass or detour done, so that we can not go down the road anymore,” Goodman said.
In addition to building a trail detour, Goodman said he hopes to bring on a team of volunteers that can help foster a club atmosphere, something he feels is missing since the amalgamation that formed Borderland Snowmobile Club over a decade ago.
“Just like every other organization, curling clubs and golf courses, and everybody else works on volunteer basis, to seem like all the clubs were having a difficult time getting enough volunteers to do all of the paperwork side of things,” Goodman said, explaining the cause for the amalgamation.
“Most of [the clubs] were on the verge of closing, or shutting down, which would have shut down the trail system and the local trail system. And so there was a meeting held and it was decided to amalgamate the amounts made all the clubs under one name, Borderland Snowmobile Club, which consolidated then all of the bookkeeping and accounting and paperwork, and it was much easier to get enough volunteers to run.”
While the amalgamation streamlined administration work, Goodman noted the difficulty of maintaining a club atmosphere with communities being so spread apart as one downside to the change. Goodman believes hosting organized rides and other club events will help make things better.
“Communities like Atikokan, Dryden, Red Lake, everyone’s close together, knows each other, and it’s very much easier to get a club atmosphere, you might say, whereas with us being so spread out, if you hold a meeting in Emo, there’s Rainy River, Nestor Falls, Mine Centre that are almost an hour away,” he said.
“So we found it with the amalgamation, the one downside is that we have really found it difficult to get a club atmosphere and get people involved in volunteering to hold events,” he said.
Goodman suggested that organized snowmobiling events, such as Poker Runs, a group event where participants head to multiple stops along a designated trail to collect poker chips, could help foster that club atmosphere.
He noted that it is a popular weekend event many other clubs in District 17 have done and that it may cater to snowmobilers who prefer to ride in groups.
“I would say ideally a half a dozen [volunteers],” Goodman said. “Plus lots of people don’t like to go out on their own to unexplored trails, so we like to have an organized ride. Say a ride is organized for next Saturday, posted on Facebook… that’s the kind of thing that would be nice to have going in our area.”
Currently, there are a total of eight official groomer operators for the club—three in Rainy River, two in Mine Centre, and three in Emo. Goodman also noted around five extra volunteers that help with trail brushing.
As the groomer coordinator, Goodman manages groomer placements and machine maintenance, but also volunteers in grooming operations as one of the three snow groomer operators in Emo, Ontario, and spent about 140 hours on the trails this year, he said.
When Goodman began volunteering in the early 90s, before the club’s amalgamation, he was running a business during the day and dedicated his nights and weekends to grooming trails for the community. Now retired, Goodman has more time to work on the trails during the daytime, but gave a shout out to those who continue to carry the load of full time work and trail maintenance.
“Been retired for a few years. So now I’ve got a lot more time to put into it and during the daytime in the wintertime, so now it’s more a matter of juggling ice fishing and grooming, but it’s not a problem for me now because I’m retired. But actually, in Emo, two of our groomer operators are retired, and the third one is running a business and he’s running through the same challenges as I did when I was in business.”
Goodman gave a huge thank you to the many volunteers who helped clear the trails this year, and to those who continue to support the club by purchasing trail permits.
“Definitely a big shout out to those guys,” he said. “Because of the blowdown, that big wind last summer, there were a lot of trees on the trail at Nestor Falls. And we had some really good participation from locals that weren’t necessarily snowmobilers that helped clear the trails. One weekend, there was even someone who came from the Rainy Lake Nordic Ski Club in Fort Frances and helped us out that day. So I would definitely like to say a big thank you to that group. And then, of course, thank you to all of the people who purchase trail permits to support the system.”
For more information on Borderland Snowmobile Club, how to purchase trail permits, updates on future events, or inquiries about how to get involved, visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/borderlandsnowmobileclub