Why the Trails Weren’t Open Why the Trails Weren’t Open
The old-timers warned us it would happen someday. The calendar said December and the weather map showed a great big storm had dumped all... Why the Trails Weren’t Open

The old-timers warned us it would happen someday. The calendar said December and the weather map showed a great big storm had dumped all kinds of snow up north. Figuring this would be just like any other year out of the past 50, we loaded up our sleds and headed north.

We arrived up at one of our favorite trailheads, but to our surprise there were no other rigs in the parking lot. That alone seemed strange, but we figured we were the early bird and would be sure to get the worm – first. But as we pulled in, we noticed there was no evidence of a groomer having been through. Hmm. That was odd. Hunting season was over, middle of December, plenty of snow on the ground, maybe they just haven’t made it this far yet?

We unloaded our sleds and carefully headed out. We first tried to go down the marked trail, despite not being groomed. Only made it a mile or so and there were downed trees. Wow, had there been a wind storm just through recently?

After jumping a few small trees and going around a few larger ones, it became clear to us we were fighting a losing battle. So, we decided our best option was to turn around and get back to the parking area. From there we could head out on some forest roads and hook back up to the trail system several miles later. That will work.

The forest roads were fast. Traffic from hunter’s vehicles had packed down the snow into a hard base. There were still some ruts in the road, but little gravel. It was pretty good riding.

Several miles into the ride, we came across an intersection with the groomed trail. We stopped and looked both ways. No tracks, but tall brush and branches down in both directions. Heck, this was public land so we are legal to go down it anyways, let’s see what we have here.

snowmobile trails closed, snowmobile trails not open

Much like when we first started, we quickly discovered the trail had not been cleared and only made it a mile or so and again. Trees were down, branches across the trail and clearly not groomed or packed. The local club must be a bunch of damn slackers we thought. We bought our trail permit, waited until the hunting season was over and had plenty of snow on the ground and they haven’t even been out to groom the trails yet? Hell, they hadn’t even cleared them yet!

We’d never had this happen before. Not like this. So once again we turned around and went back to the forest roads. Not ideal, but legal to ride and enough snow to keep from wearing out the skis and runners.
We ran forest roads all day long and started to get low on gas, so we decided to work our way over to the state highway and run the ditch down to a gas station. Here along the state highway we finally found some other sled tracks. That’s a good sign.

As we pulled into the gas station it was pretty quiet. No other sleds. No other trucks or trailers. After fueling, we went inside to get something to drink and pay for the gas.

The old guy behind the counter looked familiar. We’d seen him before. He recognized us as well. “How you boys doing?” he asked.

“Great!” we responded. “You have any idea why the groomers haven’t been out?”

“Yep,” he replied. “Can’t get anyone to clear the trails. The same 4-5 people that have been doing it for the past 20 years are getting too old. They’ve been trying to get some younger folks to come help, but nobody ever shows up. The last windstorm that come through, that was it. They said they were shot. Just couldn’t keep up anymore. Once the snow packs down they’ll try to get out and clear the trees – again – but for now they’re not grooming.”

Our hearts about shrunk to our knees. One of our favorite riding areas had great snow and the trails weren’t even open. Not because of warm weather, not because of a lack of snow. Because nobody would show up to help clear the trails. Even if you don’t know how to safely run a chainsaw it doesn’t take much talent to move brush, so there’s no excuse.

Who knew? The long-time club members, that’s who. Year after year they had been asking for help. Sure, they had a list of local club members and some others that send them money each year, but when it came time to roll up their sleeves and go out and fire up the chainsaw and get the trees and brush cleared so a groomer could come through without getting destroyed they couldn’t get anyone to help. Year after year they asked for help. Might get a couple here or there, but nobody would show up like they did. As they got older, their ability to do ALL of the work slipped away to less and less. And finally, this year, they had the trails clear and ready to go, but a late wind storm came through and they just couldn’t get out there to do it all over – again.

So, the groomers sat still. Trails were not clear, trails were not rideable. Sure, in this particular area it was public land, but that didn’t matter. Somebody has to go through the system, mile by mile, and remove the hazards. Somebody has to cut the down trees. Somebody has to dig the post holes, put in the posts and put the signs up. “Somebody” had been the same body for too many years.

We had been warned this would happen. For years. But every year the trails would be cleared, the trails would be opened. Not this year. If we had only listened. We could still ride forest roads, but after a few more snowfalls and some more traffic they would get pretty rough. We could ride ditches, but again, with more snow and traffic they would also get rough. Riding a nice smooth trail through the woods was pretty sweet. But, like most good things in life, you have to be willing to make a few sacrifices to be able to enjoy the good stuff. Unless you’re a freeloader. Freeloaders let everyone else do the work so they don’t have to.

Did this actually happen to us? Perhaps you should be asking if this could happen to you? Do you have any clue who the people are that clear the trails where YOU ride? Do you know how old they are? How many of them do the work? What their names are? What their story is? For that matter, do you even know what club grooms the trails where you ride? Do you even belong to that club?

Think about it. You’ve been warned. You know what you need to do.

Kevin Beilke – Editor

  • Robert MacGregor

    December 7, 2019 #1 Author

    So, so much truth to this article. People have been enjoying nicely groomed trails for many years now due to the hard work of many of the SAME VOLUNTEERS, who are now getting older and many of them no longer capable of doing it. People complain, but do not offer any help, belong to any club and many of them are out on the trails without even having a trail permit. Money for groomers, signage, building and maintaining bridges etc., etc., does not fall out of the sky. People do not realize how much work is involved in keeping these trails open. We have property owners that allow the trails to go through their properties so that snowmobilers can get from point A to point B more readily (Kudos to those landowners) If it wasn’t for them, many trails would not exist.
    If younger and more capable members do not start volunteering, sooner rather than later, their will be no more groomed trails to enjoy. Younger snowmobilers, WAKE UP AND SMELL THE ROSES, before it’s too late.

  • Wade

    December 8, 2019 #2 Author

    It’s the new generation, they want the milk and honey but they want it given to them and not have to work for it, this is happening everywhere and it’s only going to get worse until we start taking our country back and start giving a shit because everyone sees what’s happening and can’t believe it and honestly just don’t give a shit, it’s actually a damm shame,myself and my son have bought trail permits for the last 4 years and have been on the trails maybe 3-4 times because of the lack of snow and when there was snow the trails were in horrible shape not groomed and the trails we had to get to the main trails have new landowners and they put fences across the trail going through the woods which was beautiful and installed no trespassing signs , so fuck it no more buying trail passes for us it’s a waste of time and money we will just go somewhere else and make our own trails or go out of province where they actually look after their trails.

  • Lionel Gagnon

    December 8, 2019 #3 Author

    It’s not just snowmobile clubs with this issue. Most fire departments and EMS that rely on volunteers can’t get help either, but boy you should hear people scream when the call and no one shows up from their town. Same issues!

  • Richard

    December 8, 2019 #4 Author

    Sadly, there is so much truth in the article. Some small amount of money to a club isn’t going to keep trails open, it takes bodies to keep them open. If people don’t want to volunteer, then maybe they won’t mind paying a lot more to hire people to do it for them.

    And Wade, maybe I misunderstood your comment, but it seemed like you said instead of helping clear trails, you’ll just take your money elsewhere. If I am correct that is what you’re saying, then you are exactly who this article is about. Club volunteers who spend time and energy keeping these trails open are just that, volunteers, they aren’t paid anything but are expected to do all this work for others. Bullshit to that. If you want to ride, then give a day or weekend to help, if everyone does that, it isn’t hard on anyone.

  • Shawn

    December 9, 2019 #5 Author

    With kids and a full time job I don’t have the free time to even ride the trails. I wish I could be more involved. I only hope that some day I will be able to be one of those old timers maintaining and riding the trails. It’s something that I like to do. Maybe when my kids are old enough I’ll put them to work. For now I do my best maintaining the section that crosses my land. It’s a small effort but its all I am good for right now.

  • Tinytimmys

    December 9, 2019 #6 Author

    I’m with commenter Shawn, with a full time job and kids, if I get 3 hours on a weekend to ride my $10,000 sled I’m lucky. I’d love to help my local club when the kids get older, but right now only good for supporting local club raffles and paying snowmobile registration and trail fees and supporting legislation that will keep funding flowing to our great sport. I’m assuming there isn’t anything preventing local clubs from paying brush clearing contractors after a significant wind storm, correct? Local clubs should budget for these rare events and have business cards of local contractors on file when they are overwhelmed. If they run out of money to run the groomer later in the season, I get it, but first things first, even if that means clearing the trails with money in November. I understand the argument for needing more members in local clubs, but for some of us all we can do is fund our club, and we trust they’ll use that money wisely to open the trails on time… even if it means contracting out the work. The funding is there from registration fees to do exactly that… keep the trails open.

  • Roger

    December 9, 2019 #7 Author

    Timmy, I understand what you are saying, everyone is busy these days, even us old timers. Hiring a contractor to clear the trails probably is not feasable for most clubs for several reasons. First of all, most clubs don’t receive enough funds to be able to afford to hire contractors. We as clubs have way more overhead than you can imagine. Equipment, buildings, and maintenance of it, costs us 100’s of thousands of dollars. Trail reroutes, bridge building and replacements, 100’s of thousands of dollars. Another big issue is trails very commonly pass through swamps and very wet grounds. No contractor would be willing to bury their equipment in these areas. The only way to open these areas up is commonly “boots on the ground”. I feel EVERY SNOWMOBILER should be a member of a local club, or the area they enjoy riding in. We all need to do our part.

  • James

    December 9, 2019 #8 Author

    It is all so simple.
    The sport depends on:
    – willing landowners
    – volunteers
    – money
    All the above have to be present to sustain the sport.
    Wake up.

  • Chad

    December 9, 2019 #9 Author

    Anyone who says work needs to be contracted out had never been to a club meeting, to hear how much groomer payments, building mortgages , fuel costs and so forth are. And to those who say they only have a small time to ride in winter because of kids, why can’t you use that small time in the fall to help get the trails ready? Also it’s not the young guys of today that is the problem, it’s everyone. I remember a bunch of middle age guys I knew in the early 2000’s who wouldn’t help and that makes them around 60 now. So again it’s not just the 18-30;year olds that don’t want to help, it’s the able body 30s,40s,50s that all don’t want to for this or that reason. And for the record I am 36 and yes I do put in time for my local club.

  • Tim Engle

    December 10, 2019 #10 Author

    Where was this?

  • John Lawlis

    December 10, 2019 #11 Author

    Tim Engle, it is everywhere.

  • Tinytimmys

    December 10, 2019 #12 Author

    I’m wondering too, like Tim Engle, where was this?

  • Rob Johnson

    December 10, 2019 #13 Author

    Does anyone ever wonder why the snowmobile manufactures aren’t involved with clubs & trail funding? When the trails are gone, who will they sell these $15,000 machines too? Also, how about the entire industry supporting snowmobiles (trailer manufacturers, clothing, parts, etc)…are they helping to support trails at the local levels?

  • NY Guy

    December 11, 2019 #14 Author

    The posters above who say they support with money and dont have free time are exactly what this article is about. If you are able to find time to ride your sled during the season, you can find 4 or 5 hours in the Fall to help out. That small amount of time in the Fall may be the difference for your local club. I just got home from brushing and signing trails with a 2.5 year old and a 6 month old in the Ranger (with all protective gear on of course). There is an old saying about excuses…..

  • Matt

    December 13, 2019 #15 Author

    Well written. Exactly right about those commenters stating they only have $ to give- this article is FOR YOU!! I’m 34 years old and dedicate 3 days of vacation to go out brush/sign trails every year. Pretty sure everyone who takes vacation to ride, has 1 day vacation to help! Priorities! The next youngest that helps is 55. Huge gap from 50 and below. Blame millennials all you want, but X gen is huge issue as well. There are 4 of us that take care of 50 miles of trail. Find it hilarious that people bitch about trails, and their rebuttal is that they pay their $10 club dues…. Haaaahaaaa!!!

  • Seth

    December 14, 2019 #16 Author

    The atv clubs are thriving across our state. Simple solution, allow atvs on snow trails and let the atv clubs do there share of the clearing.

  • Don

    December 17, 2019 #17 Author

    I love all the replies with “I’ve got kids….I’ve got a job…WTF? Who do you think the ones who do the work are? All unemployed single people!?!?!? Excuses dont solve anything. Put down the phone and go pick up some sticks.

  • Joe G

    December 18, 2019 #18 Author

    This is a shame, I am 26 and i wish so damn bad i could have the chance to go to the u.p. and help any club with anything to make sure the trails i so enjoy can stay operable. The only issue is I live in chicago so an 8 hour ride to get up there whenever i have free time is self explanatory. Without pondering this whole issue for an extended amount of time my immediate thoughts on this is,
    1. the population in the u.p. is pretty low making it hard to get volunteers.
    2. Most people of my generation dont want to work or know how to work hard and shed some sweat.
    3. I hate to say this but this is pretty much only possible to fix by equipping the local younger generations, and i cannot truthfully 100% say that i would want to give up my rare free time to bust my ass when i know the area well enough (if i was a local) that i could just ride orv trails, forest roads, and ride off trail.


    final word: if anyone has a connection that would be willing to house me if i came up before the season started to help get everything going then i will be there!!! But driving 8 hours, paying to stay in a hotel and eat every meal out would be tough to do.

  • Mike

    December 18, 2019 #19 Author

    NY State relies entirely on volunteers. Despite our illustrious governor’s annual espousal of the value of the snowmobiling industry to the state economy, Words only; he does nothing real to help. We have repeatedly drafted legislation which would compensate landowners who open their property to snowmobiling (key word- repeatedly)- no results. Still, there is a lack of volunteering. We can set days/weekends to ride in the winter, but not a day or weekend in the fall to prep trails? Yes, I am aging out… it won’t be my problem any longer! In the end, we all get just what we deserve. (No help, no trails). IF YOU EVER DO GET HELP, remember- you can’t sign fields while there are still crops, and you can’t go into woods that are being leased by hunters ($$)! So when do you work? I’m just a frustrated “trail boss”; what do I know?

  • Merry Christmas

    December 18, 2019 #20 Author

    If snowmobilers don’t want to spend time maintaining their trails then they wont have trails to ride, no matter how much they pay to “support the club”. Its a joke to think you can spend more on chicken wings and beer than on trail access and never trim a branch, put up a sign or drive the groomer once in a while and think that the trails will be there forever. Oh your too busy? I have news for you. you’ll soon have more free time without trails to ride. Think about the people who created the clubs and trails. It wasn’t done by some old fart with nothing better to do. It was done by passionate people in their prime. Im sure they were busy too, with jobs and kids and all of it. Whine about millennials and whatever but don’t go do anything. Good luck

  • Merry Christmas

    December 18, 2019 #21 Author

    A lot of truth to this and another thing to add, the ones that run the club now that i have been in for 10 plus years some old timers have no respect for members that also do a lot of work for the club. They act like they know it all and aren’t open to trying new things or tectonics ,social media or ways to raise funds for the club because //ohh we tried that 15 years ago and it didn’t work ,no one wanted to do it or,if you come up with an idea to raise funds for the club your in charge of that idea and you have to find the people to help you do it because we have better things to do.In the last 10 years i have led fundraisers to make the club thousands and thousands of dollars somewhere between $75,000 and$100,000 plus a ton of exposurer through social media and again this year i have been shit on by one of the long time board members and guess what Ive had it, im done, i haven’t rode sled in 5 years so for the past 5 i have done this for fun and ive donated so much time from my personal company to my club and actually got my family and siblings to help and they dont have sleds and they are not club members but i convinced them to help me do something i loved ,now i hope the board member will realize how big of a jerk he is and what the club has lost. No one in the life of the club has raised as much awareness and funds for this club as my family and siblings have.A note to club members reading this hold your tongue about someone in your club because you may not know what it will lead to.

  • Josh

    December 19, 2019 #22 Author

    Just a quick observation. So you guys packed up and headed North. Were surprised to find the trails weren’t groomed or cleared. Meaning, you are neither club members or willing to volunteer your own time to clear trails. I get the message your trying to get across, and it’s not wrong, but, you are also one of the biggest parts of the problem.

  • Thomas Lochrane

    December 19, 2019 #23 Author

    I’ve had similar experience as #21. Club “Old Timers” feel like they own the equipment and dictate who can and can’t operate it. I realize groomer training is a requirement, but I was interested in becoming a groomer operator about ten years ago, because I got tired of hearing the same complaint about it being the same few people that do all the work. Well, I had many hours under my belt with my chainsaw clearing trials. Dug ditches with a shovel to drain ponding water from the trail. Volunteered to build bridges, etc. Spent the hours between 12 and 7 a.m. in a groomer on a zero degree night, thinking I’d get some operator training….well, I got about 15 minutes behind the controls just before parking the groomer for the day.
    Now, I’m pretty thick skinned, but this kinda turned me off to the idea of donating my time to clear trails.
    So I am now one of those that pays club dues and the $45 registration fee and yes, I expect the trails to be cleared and groomed regularly, because the clubs in NY all pushed to raise registration rates ($100 per sled for non-club members, used to be $25 when I first got into the sport) in hopes of getting more people to volunteer. Not sure who thought that would get people to volunteer, but seems like that idea backfired.

  • Tommy Fastway

    December 19, 2019 #24 Author

    My experiences with local clubs in my area are very strange. They all state the same things, not enough help, not enough members etc. Then when you show up to meetings as a new member they don’t make you feel very welcome. The majority of the guys are just getting drunk and complaining. While the other guys just want to figure out how to get more of the counties allotted groomer money into thier clubs pockets or fundraisers to raise capital. Most of the guys don’t even really ride snowmobiles very much. Our sport is doomed unless they recruit some young new blood and that ain’t gona happen with a bunch of old drunk farmers pocketing the cash………

  • Mark

    December 26, 2019 #25 Author

    The comment by a few people is 100 percent correct. There lots of people out there that want to help but the club members and old timers treat it like an old boys club and are not very welcoming to new people that join. I witnessed first hand these people talk down control the groomer even though there was very qualified people to operate them. I witnessed first hand people that are not getting paid use there own money for chains gas oil side by sides and then not reimbursed. I agree people need to help but there are definitely 2 sides to this story!But it is this attitude that stops a lot of people from volunteering.

  • Tom Viau

    January 10, 2020 #26 Author

    Everyone that rides on the trails in the u.p. Has a obligation to do a little work. I am a landowner and user of my local trails in the central u.p. With thousands of miles of trails and forest roads to play on we all need to be stewards. Bring a saw and clear a few miles of trails. You will be rewarded with a good feeling of accomplishment and pride. And maybe a beer at the bar at the end of a trail.

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