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Grooming in Ontario

Grooming in Ontario

In some of the best snow conditions in Ontario, OFSC clubs operate over 30,000 kilometres of snowmobile trails with 334 large industrial grooming units (tractors & drags). The groomers are operated by both paid operators and club volunteers. Cheryl Reid is a club volunteer who grooms in the Barry’s Bay area. This is her story…

Small town, cold Saturday night, great snowmobile conditions. What’s a girl to do? Go groom Ontario snowmobile trails, of course! Donning my leather “diesel” gloves and Tilley hat, I grabbed my iPod, snack and a thermos of cappuccino (Hey, it’s Saturday night, so I deserve some luxury!) Then I head out to the groomer in the late afternoon.

The run that I groom usually takes about five hours. But alas, something is likely to go wrong with our older equipment. I find that prospect both an interesting challenge and good entertainment (Beats watching some old chick flicks for the umpteenth time!) Besides with 2-way radios, I have certain back up to “walk me through” any problem that I can handle in the bush on my own or to come get me if the need arises.

Hair-Raising Incidents

Mostly, things go smoothly, but I’ve had a few hair-raising incidents.

One time I was caught out in a raging blizzard so bad that I couldn’t see the trail. To make matters worse, the windshield wipers were broken, so I had to stretch my arm out the open window frequently, using a hand scraper to clear off the snow.  So much for my warm and cozy groomer cab!

With zero visibility, I also had to stop a few times to climb down out of the groomer to feel the packed snow under my feet to make sure I wasn’t straying off the trail.  My left hand was pretty cold by the time I made it back to the yard.  Then as if my evening hadn’t already been wintry enough, it took me two hours to dig my car out of the parking lot.

Another night a groomer track broke. I was going to walk to the nearest road, which was only about two kilometres away. However, as soon as I shut the groomer off, wolves could be heard howling... much closer than that two-kilometre walk, so I decided to get someone out of bed to collect me on a sled instead. I wasn’t going to rely on the air horn in the safety kit to keep the wolves at bay during that walk!

I had a rock jam under the drag one night. Using the hydraulics, I lifted and shook and backed up and went forward, but just could not free that thing.  After much frustration, I was almost prepared to give up when a lone sledder came along on the trail. It was 1 am... a bit unnerving to be all alone with a stranger. I’m out there in the middle of nowhere with my only company being that 2-way radio, and my lifeline on the other end is probably asleep. So, I took a deep breath and with a big stick tucked between the tracks just in case...I waved that rider over.

As it turned out, he was a grandfatherly gentleman who had a rope on board. We were able to pull that rock out from under the drag with his sled pulling and me pushing with both feet. Mission accomplished, but another late night.

This past winter, I had the dubious pleasure of driving a totally new unit, which overheated every 30 minutes. I got plenty of exercise that night... climb out, wrestle hood open, bang ice off, climb back into cab... repeat every 30 minutes. That trip took about 11 hours to do what is normally a 4-hour run! So much for new being better than old. At least the old has a good excuse.

Love My Grooming

But never mind the hassles, or should I say adventures. Most nights are uneventful in that way. Being out in the bush with the moon and stars to guide you is a beautifully peaceful experience. So is the power of the groomer to change rough trails to tabletop in an instant. Every snowmobiler should do a groomer ride-a-long once. I guarantee you will come back with a changed perspective about snowmobiling. Because nothing compares to the satisfaction of looking back over those pristine trails after I am finished. I have been a groomer operator now for three years now and am loving every minute of it.

At the end of the night, wired on caffeine and after driving for hours, I shovel the drag off, fill up with diesel and then head home. Sleep comes slowly, because visions of floating down the trails on my sled the next day are vividly amazing.

I have been an avid snowmobiler my entire life and in the past number of years, very involved with organized snowmobiling on a number of levels. As the president of my snowmobile club, I do all the jobs necessary to keep our trails going with the help of a handful of other volunteers. From paperwork to brushing and grooming, I am proud of our snowmobile trails in Ontario and what we have accomplished. I hope that someday, you will get to see snowmobiling from the other side as I have.

By Cheryl Reid, President - Opeongo Snowbirds Snowmobile Club

Snowmobiling Tourism Contacts:

Contributing partners for this Ontario snowmobiling site about great Ontario snowmobile trails and snowmobile conditions include: Intrepid Snowmobiler, Murphy Insurance, Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs, Ontario Tourism, Snow Goer Media, Supertrax Media.

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