By Craig Nicholson
Riders who purchase Snowmobile Trail Permits often think they are buying groomed trails…every time, everywhere. But is this reason-able? In fact, is grooming even what you’re really buying?
No doubt, having a smooth trail to ride is preferable. And grooming does take a whack of permit dollars each winter. But your permit buys many things far more important each winter – ensuring that legal trails exist in the first place, that they are open and maintained, and that you have access to them.
It buys the clubs and volunteers that make trails happen locally, and the OFSC that helps keep the provincial system running. But most of all, buying a permit is your vote for continuing to have snowmobile trails to ride, because they don’t just appear by magic.
Snowmobile trails exist because enough riders reaffirm they want them by purchasing a permit, winter after winter.
This desire is the motivation for the OFSC and its clubs to find, build, and secure trails. This is a huge job, involving land use permission from over 15,000 private landowners, plus many hydro, gas, forestry, mining and agricultural companies, First Nations Reserves, and the Ministry of Natural Resources. It’s also ongoing, because land use is always in flux.
What was available last winter may not be for the next. And when one trail changes, the links to others can go to pieces like falling dominoes. But it has to be done, because otherwise, we would have no legal place to ride our sleds. This alone may well be worth the price of your Snowmobile Trail Permit.
But not just any old trails are acceptable. Snowmobile trails need to be linked, land-based wherever possible, sustainable, and capable of connecting to towns, amenities and services.
After all, what use is a trail if it doesn’t go anywhere or you can’t get to it? So your permit is paying not only for having legal trails, but also for having them convenient. What’s that worth to you?
Next, your permit is paying to open the trails each winter and keep them cleared, marked, maintained and mapped. Mother Nature can be a most inhospitable hostess…she is continually trying her level best to fill in, overgrow, undermine, washout, blow away, bury or block every trail.
So clubs are in a constant, expensive (and not always successful) battle to keep Mother Nature at bay. They do this for you, because you buy a permit. Can you put a price on this service?
So now we have legal, convenient, open trails. They are trails for snowmobiles and only available for OFSC permit holders. And that’s the next reason you buy a Snowmobile Trail Permit. It’s your passport to enter any of these OFSC trails anywhere, and at any time they are open. Compare that to a ticket for almost any other recreational activity…you have to buy a new one each time in each different place and cannot enjoy the activity 24/7. Your permit is your permission to enjoy everything you have just read about… but permission to enter doesn’t speak to trail quality, it just confers the privilege of riding. What’s this unlimited access worth to you?
Now let’s talk trail quality. Each year, clubs invest countless dollars in trail upgrades and improvements before the snow falls.
Their goal is to make the ground underlying and surrounding their trails as accommodating as possible, so that snow falls on a prepared surface that will be easier to groom, hold a base well, and make the snow last longer.
Depending on terrain, this is easier to do some places than others. For instance, trail quality is usually more durable on logging roads and rail lines, than it is on forest trails through rugged Canadian Shield. Trail quality also speaks to how the trail is laid out up and down, tight and twisty, wide and curvy, on land or across water, in direct sun or protected by shade, or some combination of these characteristics and many others too. This is your permit dollars hard at work, and we haven’t even talked grooming yet.
Grooming is really just the tip of the permit iceberg… the icing on the cake that everyone sees. OFSC clubs use about 1.5 million litres of fuel and put 120,000 hours each winter into operating their fleet of 312 large industrial groomers.
Most clubs groom at least twice a week, many do it even more frequently. But snow isn’t concrete, so every passing sled degrades the trail surface, and that means it’s an unreasonable expectation for every trail to be tabletop smooth all the time.
So yes, your permit fee is also paying to keep the groomers rolling as often as possible, but not to guarantee perfection on every single kilometre for every ride.
Still, your permit does provide good assurance that trails will be groomed on some regular basis for your riding pleasure, which is a whole lot better than riding moguls all the time!
When you put it all together, your Snowmobile Trail Permit provides you with exceptional value far beyond mere grooming. And when you compare your permit cost to the fee for other activities, it’s a great bargain – and will continue to be, even if it costs a few dollars more this winter.