Snowmobile Clubs Take to the Trails

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Snowmobiling Article
Local snowmobilers enjoy Manitoba's extensive trails Derek Loepp

It’s not an unusual day in rural Manitoba to see as many snowmobiles as there are automobiles in the surrounding countryside. And more often than not, they run in packs like hungry wolves.

Snoman Inc. is a Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI) initiative that provides safe trail-riding across the province. Different chapters of Snoman clubs volunteer their efforts every year to place speed and cautionary signage along the snow routes and keep the trails clear of drifting snow. 

“Snoman [Inc] is all about protecting the public,” says Kevin Stott of the local Snoman club. “If you’re riding on a Snoman trail, it should [be an indication] that it’s safe.”

The trails wind throughout Manitoba like a highway system for snowmobiles. Safety, of course, is important when today’s machines can easily reach 150 kilometers per hour and higher, and many of the trails cross busy intersections. 

It takes 12 twelve volunteers to erect the local signs and another handful of volunteers to run the trail-grooming tractor throughout the winter. They cover a large area, from Grande Pointe south to the U.S. border, and from the Red River east to Vita.

Stott says he volunteers along with other locals because they appreciate the safety and comfort that a well-marked and groomed trail provides. He says that “ditch banging”—a term used to describe riding on rough terrain—is hard on both your body and your machine.

To use these trails, riders are expected to buy snopasses. MPI collects the revenue from snopasses and uses a portion of it to pay volunteers a fee for trail-clearing. These fees are what clubs use to purchase and maintain the grooming tractor. 

The 388 Nivervillans
Another snowmobile club has more recently hit the trails: the 388 Nivervillans Snowcross Team. The club isn’t as stately as the name suggests. They impose no membership fees and their only rules are to make friends and have fun. The name, they say, is a play on words and a poke at highly organized sport. 

“I started the Facebook group thinking that Niverville had lots of new people that had sleds but didn’t know anyone [to ride with],” says Bryan Trottier. “I realized this would work when I put it on the [site] one night that we were going for a ride and 17 people showed up.”

The club started in December 2016 with a few members on Facebook and has grown to upwards of 80 members, including the partners of some of the regular riders. 

“Snowmobiling is such an amazing sport and it really brings all kinds of people together,” says Derek Loepp, a member of the club. “For me, it’s really expanded my friend group. That’s deepened my relationships with people here in town. I’ve met some incredibly great people that I might not have met if it weren’t for this club.”

Trottier says the group can go out as much as three or four times per week. None of the outings are highly organized. If someone feels like riding, they’ll post on Facebook and others will join them.

Women, too, join in, sometimes as a passenger on their partner’s machine and sometimes on their own. 

“Everyone is an equal in our group,” says Loepp, “and if I’m being perfectly honest, there’s several women that can outride the men.”

The destinations are likewise informal. At times they’ll just ride where the trail takes them and other times they make a day of it, hitting up local restaurants for breakfast or lunch along the way.Occasionally the group will haul their machines to places like Marchand when the local snowfall hasn’t been significant enough.

While it sounds like the kind of sport that would take away from a participant’s family time, Loepp says the opposite is actually true. 

“Our families are always encouraged to be a part of our lives and our friendships, and in that way our families are definitely involved,” Loepp says.

Strong family-to-family connections have been built through this club, almost as a by-product. Club members take their families skating together or meet up for other activities. 

Another spinoff benefit of the club, Loepp says, is having a group that’s always got your back. It’s not uncommon for Facebook messages and texts to quickly transfer from member to member when someone needs a helping hand. 

On the trail, too, travelling in company has obvious benefits. Getting your machine stuck when you’re riding off the grid is both a concern and a reality. In company, there’s always a few to help get you moving again, which results in stories to share and a good laugh between friends.

Because keeping it fun is the main objective, the club advocates strongly for responsible ridership, being respectful of residents as they travel through towns, and for purchasing snopasses to ensure the safety of the trail system for all. 

“The real heroes in the snowmobiling world in this area are those that volunteer significant amounts of time each year in preparing and maintaining the trails for us to ride on,” says Loepp. “It’s a thankless job but one fueled by the passion of those who do it.”  

This year, the 388 Nivervillans assisted the Snoman club in erecting signs.

“I have been sledding for 13 months now,” says Trottier, “and the first time I went I said, ‘Why have I never done this before?’ I will never be without a snowmobile again. I find myself enjoying winter more and actually hoping for snow. I thoroughly enjoy spending time outside and meeting new people, [and] this hobby takes care of both. It changed my square footage of living space from my home and my work to an infinite white world.”

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