Winter is coming, or so they hope snowmobilers

It hasn’t been a great season for snowmobilers in the National Capital Region due to below average snowfall in Ottawa, especially in December.

To make matters worse, of the 38.6 centimeters that fell in the capital on New Year’s Eve, all but five had melted.

Club-maintained snowmobile trails in eastern Ontario have yet to open this year, with officials negotiating the fragile patchwork of land use permits begging permit holders to obey closures .

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

“Everyone is feeling strong on social media,” said Wayne McDonald, who coordinates trail maintenance for the Seaway Valley Snowmobile Association in southeast Ottawa.

“Why aren’t the trails ready yet?” Because they should be, you know, there’s snow on the ground. »

Nick Carrey is looking for leaks in the cooling system of a used machine he bought late last year. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Need 30 cm of snow on the ground

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

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

Nearby, in a shop that glistens like a dentist’s office, a meticulous Nick Carrey tends to his low-mileage, high-performance Bombardier snowmobile.

With no driving to do, Carrey satisfies his craving for sledding by treating the sled with the kind of preventative maintenance that many machines will never see. However, he cannot do much more.

“It’s not nice,” Carrey said of the wait. “At least after the holidays is usually when we start riding our snowmobiles.”

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

The wait might end soon

The head of the Upper Canada snowmobile region, which has 3,300 kilometers of trails stretching from Napanee, Ont., to the Quebec border, says he understands people are ‘eager to go’ on the trails.

Peter Asquini also checks the forecast constantly, likening it to buying a new boat only to see rain every weekend. Still, he wants cyclists to be patient, as the trails depend on around 2,000 land-use agreements with area residents.

“All it takes is a landowner saying ‘no’ and you break the connection in the trail system, so now you have pieces of trail that don’t connect and you can’t go anywhere,” Asquini said.

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

Peter Asquini, president of the Upper Canada Snowmobile Region, asks trail association members to stay off closed trails. (Stu Mills/CBC)

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