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Winter is coming, or so hope the snowmobilers

Saturday, January 15th 2022, 6:03 pm - Snowmobiling clubs ask riders to wait for more snow before hitting the trails

It hasn't been a great season for snowmobilers around the National Capital Region thanks to a below-average amount of snow in Ottawa, especially in December.

To make matters worse, of the 38.6 centmetres that did fall in the capital by New Year's Eve, all but five had melted.

Club-maintained snowmobile trails across eastern Ontario have yet to open this year, with the authorities who negotiate the fragile patchwork of land-use permissions begging permit holders to obey the closures.

For riders who have invested a small fortune in modern snowmobiles, insurance, and permits, the wait can be painful.

"Everybody feels strong on social media," said Wayne McDonald, who co-ordinates trail grooming for the Seaway Valley Snowmobile Association southeast of Ottawa.

"'Why aren't the trails ready to go yet? Because they should be, you know, there's snow on the ground.'"

NEED 30 CM OF SNOW ON THE GROUND

McDonald said groomers need at least 30 centimetres of snow on the ground in order to create a base that will withstand the traffic of hundreds of riders over the season.

(CBC/STU MILLS) Snowmobile Nick Carrey checks for leaks in the cooling system of a used machine he purchased late last year. (Stu Mills/CBC)

McDonald says early snow isn't always good news either, as it's often followed by a January thaw. That's what happened last winter when he didn't pull his two 125-horsepower groomers from his Avonmore, Ont., yard until Jan. 17.

Not far away in a workshop that sparkles like a dentist's office, a fastidious Nick Carrey fusses over his low-mileage, high performance Bombardier snowmobile.

With no riding to do, Carrey satisfies his sledding urge by treating the sled to the kind of preventative maintenance many machines will never see. There's only so much more he can do, though.

"It's not pleasant," Carrey said of the wait. "At least after the holidays is usually when we start riding our snowmobiles."

WAIT COULD END SOON

The head of the Upper Canada Snowmobile Region — featuring 3,300 kilometres of trails stretching from Napanee, Ont., to the Quebec border — says he understands people are "anxious to go" on the trails.

GET THE LATEST FORECAST: Significant snow on the way for eastern Ontario

Peter Asquini is also checking the forecast constantly, comparing it to buying a new boat only to see rain every weekend. Still, he wants riders to be patient because the trails rely on about 2,000 land-use agreements with residents in the region.

(CBC/STU MILLS) Snowmobiles A vintage Massey-Ferguson snowmobile and more modern machines alike sit in Nick Carrey's garage, ready for the trails. (Stu Mills/CBC)

"All it takes is one landowner to say 'no' and you break the connection in the trail network, so now you've got pieces of trail that don't connect and you can't go anywhere," said Asquini.

With a major Monday snowfall forecast for much of the region, sledders may not have much longer to wait until they can hit the trails.

This story, written by Stu Mills, was originally published by CBC News on January 15, 2022.

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