Why Volunteer With Your Local Snowmobile Club?

Rear-view in the Bonfield Snowmobile Club groomer. All photos: Ryan Hawkins.

We know the 30,000 kilometres of snowmobile trails across Ontario don't just happen by themselves, but what exactly does it mean to sign up and become a volunteer?

Who doesn't love first tracks on a perfectly groomed trail? As snowmobilers, we sometimes take for granted those epic days and don’t realize that these trails don't happen by accident. I was fortunate enough to spend a day with the volunteers at the Bonfield Snowmobile Club, just outside of North Bay, Ontario. The Bonfield club was the recipient of the Near North Trails Association District 11 Club of the Year award last season and it was nice to see the volunteers being recognized for their efforts. Spending the day with the club gave me an appreciation for how many hours these men and women dedicate to the over 30,000 kilomteres of trails in Ontario.

Some of the hardworking volunteers of the Bonfield Snowmobile Club

Clubs have multiple aspects of volunteering that are not, as one might think, limited to operating a groomer or maintenance. With the heavy presence of social media in the snowmobile industry, some other jobs may include keeping members and online followers up to date on current conditions and upcoming events. Countless hours a week are put towards website updates and Facebook posts so that the public can stay informed of recent happenings in the area. 

Recently, four new volunteers have joined the Bonfield club, all of whom found their local club via social media. Ken Prescott, who is the Bonfield club president, said that “running a successful OFSC club is consistent with running a business. The office duties requirements become larger every year." Keeping the accounting side of the club in order is a large task, one that is a year-round responsibility. Nancy Humphries is currently the club's bookkeeper and makes sure that every cent is accounted for.

Want to volunteer for your local club, but not sure where to start? 

Most clubs have information online for a direct contact person, or you could approach the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (OFSC) for that information. In the past, volunteering has been a family tradition. Whether it was a grandparent, parent, or relative that got them involved at a young age or, someone else—say a neighbour or family friend—with a passion for snowmobiling. Bonfield's main signage person, Merv, introduced his grandson Kean to the club to obtain his high school volunteer requirements. Kean has now become as familiar with signage protocols, as he’s been taught everything he knows regarding this crucial part of the trail system. Kean now has the passion to continue volunteering in his family's footsteps and has proven that he will be an essential part of the Bonfield club for many years to come.

OFSC Tour Loop - The Explorers Snow Tour - Devil's Canyon

So You Wanna Drive the Groomer?

I had the opportunity to ride along in the groomer with 35-year club veteran and Trail Co-ordinator Andre Foisy. He has been grooming for over 15 years and assists with maintenance around the shop. To become a groomer operator there is an OFSC online course that must be completed, then the new groomer operator will be with a veteran operator for at least a year before grooming on their own, a Bonfield club policy. Keeping this in mind, for safety reasons the Bonfield club tries to maintain two people in a groomer at all times while out on the trails. Bonfield's trail system of 150 kilometres is groomed twice a week. The groomer is moving for a total of 30 hours to keep those trails smooth. With an average speed of 8 to 12 kilometres per hour, it takes a considerable amount of time to cover all of the trails in the area.

Keeping the trails in good shape is no easy task

When riding along in the groomer, it was noticeable that snowmobilers tend to travel in the centre of the trail. The groomer operators have to blade in snow to the inside of the corners or, in some cases, carry snow in the skid to fill in the holes throughout the corner—which makes it more difficult for a groomer. Having flat, smooth corners is the sign of an experienced grooming staff. Andre mentioned that "if you ride on the groomed portion of the trail, be assured that this path will be safe to travel." When snowmobiling, keep an eye out for groomers, as operations can be carried out 24 hours a day.

How many hours does it take to volunteer?

A typical volunteer puts in 30 to 40 hours per year. Some volunteers, such as office staff and groomers/maintenance operators, put in upwards of 200 hours each year. "Every hour donated to helping the club is greatly appreciated and many hands make light work," says Prescott. "The club realizes that people have busy lives and need to find a balance between family, work, and other activities."

Great view from Bonfield Snowmobile Club trails

What other jobs within the club help it all come together?

The OFSC has many requirements that a member club must follow. Directors must attend club and district meetings, bridges must be maintained, signage has to be kept visible; equipment needs to be in working order, ice crossings checked for appropriate thickness; the shop must be kept organized and, most importantly, a grooming schedule must be followed. These are just a few of the responsibilities that volunteers help out with throughout the course of the season. Each year the club maintains the trails by clearing any downed trees, brushing back any overgrown areas, replacing culverts, installing trail markers, and informing the OFSC with bi-weekly reports. Every club in Ontario is faced with unforeseen circumstances that must be taken care of immediately as the safety of snowmobilers is paramount. This can be anything from filling in washouts on the trails to repairing broken equipment, such as groomers, as quickly as possible.

Good times on Ontario's snowmobile trails

Operating on a strict budget, the club uses every cent raised from trail passes and selling advertising on sign boards, as well as greatly appreciated donations from the public. Prescott says that "each and every member of the Bonfield club pitches in to help where they are needed. It isn't hard to run a top-notch club when surrounded by such hard-working individuals." 

Being an avid snowmobiler myself, I had no idea the amount of work that it takes to keep a club operating smoothly. All the thankless, behind-the-scenes jobs that are required add up to thousands of volunteer hours each year. I would personally like to thank the Bonfield Snowmobile Club for inviting me out for the day—I now have a greater appreciation for everything that the volunteers do to keep our trails systems in tip-top shape throughout the season.

Devil's Canyon, Ontario

If you were ever thinking of getting out to volunteer, don't hesitate to contact your local snowmobile club. Without the countless hours that these volunteers put in, we wouldn't have the trail system to enjoy that we do today. Thank a volunteer or, at the very least, give the groomer operator a big thumbs up when you see them out on the trails. Snowmobiling is a wonderful sport and we thank you for all that you do!

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