Happy trails for area sledders
Southern Sno Riders president Henry Spanjers, photographed at a junction just north of Courtland, says OFSC trails offer significant advantages, including smooth, groomed riding; maps, and signage featuring helpful information including food and gas options. He also extended an open invitation to the warming shed between Courtland and Langton Sunday, site of the Sno Riders annual hot dog day.
Henry Spanjers typically enjoys an early-season snowmobile trip to South River.
And he has ridden his sled throughout much of the province, over the past 25 or 30 years.
But while variety can be the spice of snowmobiling life, Spanjers is particularly appreciating winter 2013/2014 and the ability to hit well-groomed trails right here at home.
“It’s pretty convenient when it’s right out your back door,” said the president of the Southern Sno Riders.
“Riding locally is always the best if it’s possible, and I know there’s lot of people who feel the same way.
“You can hop on your sled, be gone for the day, put on a couple of hundred kilometres and be home for supper.”
Snowmobilers tend to be in the minority when it comes to winter weather, says Brad Lockhart of Lockhart’s Odyssey, praying for both cold weather and the higher end of snowfall forecasts.
“When they say 10 to 15 centimetres, we’re hoping for 15 to 20 centimetres.”
The fact those prayers have been answered in spades thus far this winter means area snowmobiling opportunities have been good, a significant improvement over what could be termed sporadic at best more recently.
“We’ve been riding over a month on the trails down here and I can’t remember that in the last 10 years,” said Lockhart.
“It is nice to have snow,” said Spanjers. “We haven’t had any for a couple of years.
“Glad to have some good snow – it keeps everybody happy.”
Sledders don’t need a trail permit to ride, but do so to ride on the OFSC trails system. Rules of the trail are similar to rules of the road, says Spanjers, staying to the right while driving, obeying speed and alcohol limits “and always being courteous.”
A variety of permit options exist: daily, three-day and seven-day, for example, along with season’s passes, $260 at full price or $180 with an early-season discount.
Money collected goes toward insurance, trail grooming, maintenance and set up, a category including items such as bridges, said Spanjers. There are significant advantages to riding on a trail, he added, first and foremost safety along with creature comfort and performance.
“If they are groomed, they are smoother. It’s a lot nicer for riding.”
Landowners who consent to have trails run through their property are protected by liability insurance. Responsible snowmobiling within defined parameters is seen as beneficial to the longevity of the sport, by reducing the potential for snowmobiler/landowner conflict.
Beyond riders knowing they are allowed to be where they are on trails, they contain sledder-friendly amenities says Lockhart.
“There’s signs all through the trail that tell you where to go to get gas, or to get food. There’s nothing like it.”
They are also a link to virtually endless snowmobiling options throughout the province. Locally, the Southern Sno Riders (SSR) are responsible for between 300 and 400 kilometres of trails within a geographical area encompassing Tillsonburg, Norwich, Delhi, Waterford, Simcoe, “and down to the lake, Courtland, Langton and Turkey Point,” said Spanjers.
Trails are picked and maintained to balance functionality with aesthetic appeal.
“You’re not blasting through branches, but we try and pick up some scenic areas through woods and across farmland,” said Spanjers.
Local trails are connected to over 31,000 kilometres throughout Ontario, a system overseen provincially by the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (OFSC).
“Starting pretty much anywhere, you can travel as little or as far as you want,” said Spanjers.
The SSR sell between 800 and 1,000 trail permits annually says Spanjers, in effect, memberships, making it “one of the biggest (clubs) in District Five (roughly from Kitchener to the north, and Grand Bend, Glencoe and St. Thomas in the west).”
The SSR website (www.southernsnoriders.com) features a trails map, current conditions, permit options, and pertinent links and other information.