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Three Industry Players

and their say on the direction of the

The Snowmobile industry on the island of Newfoundland has a lot to offer for all types of riders.  There are endless kilometres of trails, both groomed and untamed, as well as flatlands, barrens, mountainous regions, untouched backcountry, etc. In addition to these types of riding, there are many destinations, from the Lomond Sinkhole to Western Brook Gorge, the Sabena wreckage site, and the list goes on..

Regardless of where you come from, where you are headed, or what type of rider you are, you will at some point depend on some of the many businesses on the island who cater to the industry. Many of these entrepreneurs are enthusiasts themselves and have turned their passion into a business.

We thought it would be prudent to examine the current state of the snowmobile industry on the island by asking some of these business owners/volunteers/snowmobile enthusiasts a few questions about the industry and of course their connections to it. We also thought it would be nice to discover if there were any suggestions that could be made on how we could improve the system that is currently in place in our beautiful province.

Before we jump into the questions, it’s best to outline a few key points of how the system is currently set up in Newfoundland.  Firstly, snowmobiles are required to be licensed only once, at the time of initial purchase.  After that, owners are only required to transfer ownership on sale.  The Newfoundland groomed trail system is run by the Newfoundland and Labrador Snowmobile Federation (NLSF), which uses both volunteers and paid time to help maintain/groom the island’s vast trail network.  Funding from this comes from the purchase and sale of trail passes.  These passes are required if you ride the groomed trails.  However while they are mandatory, enforcement is limited.

Now for our list of interviewees. We have spoken with Rob Clarke of Rob Clarke Motorsports Inc., Paul Rose of Riverfront Chalets and Cameron Snow from the Exploits Trailnet Snowmobile Club. We posed the following five questions to each individual and what follows are their responses:

[1]  Please outline your connection to snowmobiling in Newfoundland and Labrador?
[2]  What do you see as the largest components of the industry in the province?
[3]  Do you think the local industry is able to accommodate an influx of outside visitors (for example machine rentals, food, accommodations, maps (GPS and manual), signage, grooming, guides, etc.)?
[4]  What are the threats to the snowmobile industry here in the province?  (For example weaknesses in infrastructure, etc.?)
[5]  In the future where do you think the snowmobile industry headed in Newfoundland and Labrador? And how do we get there?

Rob Clarke, of Rob Clarke Motorsports Inc.

[1] The mountainous areas of this beautiful province are what really awakened my senses for snowmobiling.  I’ve always had a passion for snowmobiling, atving, fishing, hunting, hiking, anything really that involved the outdoors.  But snowmobiling is what drives my passion.  And that is what lead me to start up Rob Clarke Motorsports Inc.  We offer Mountain Specific Snowmobiles available at choice riding locations on Newfoundland’s North West coast.  The locations are Taylor’s Brook Accommodations, at the start of Taylor’s Brook Road and Deer Lake Home Hardware, Deer Lake NL.

We not only offer mountain snowmobiles for rent; we also book All Inclusive adventures.  This is the main reason for Rob Clarke Motorsports Inc., to offer our complete services to the snowmobiling public around the globe.  We take the time to talk to our clients, find out their interests, riding skill level, where they are interested in riding (types of terrain or scenic adventure), and what type of accommodations they are looking for?  From this we will put together an adventure that best suits their expectations.

[2] This province has some of the best terrain and ocean effect snowfall available East of the Rockies.  This is the largest draw to the snowmobiling community.  They flock to Central and Western Newfoundland to ride the snow-covered hills, river valleys, and mountains.  Although Newfoundland and Labrador has a great trail network Ipersonally think the majority come to ride the backcountry.  But don’t get me wrong, after a long tiresome day boon docking everyone will admit the cost of a trail sticker is worth every penny when they get to ride out of the hills on a freshly groomed trail.

The largest opportunity for growth in the snowmobiling community would be to offer high-end accommodations and services off the grid.  Another is to make the townships more snowmobile friendly.  Hotels, restaurants, service stations, etc. all need to support their local snowmobile clubs.  Have their businesses marked on the trails and have trails leading into townships and to the local business that support the industry.

Outside the province is where we need to advertise. Get the word out that Newfoundland is ready for business. We already have the infrastructure in place to support a larger inflow of traffic. With an increase in traffic the facilities will grow with the demand. To increase winter tourism, we need to advertise to the world Newfoundland and Labrador’s uniqueness. What makes us different from the rest of Canada or the World? What we have to offer are fantastic riding locations, scenic views, trails, Ski clubs, Ski hills, winter festivities, Snowmobile racing, and some of the best accommodations in the world supporting the sport.

[3] Newfoundland and Labrador has the facilities in place to handle to a moderate influx of winter traffic.Basically, it can handle the same numbers in the winter as summer. Some businesses shut down during the off-season because of decreased traffic flow. We just need the increased traffic so there is no “Off-season.” With the right advertising from all sectors of government I think this is possible.

[4] The largest threat to any small business in Newfoundland and Labrador is simply the Insurance needed to operate. This accounts for 25% of my overall expense. The second is the lack of support from our government.  Snowmobiling is a major business. This is a billion-dollar industry and the tourism sector should be investing greatly into it to get their piece of the pie.

[5] The future of the industry is solely based on what we put into promoting it. With a lack of support or promotion it will stay as is or decline, but with the proper promotion it has the possibility for unlimited growth.

Government has a major role to play in the promotion of our province. Advertising, legislation and regulations helping our communities better accommodate snowmobile traffic would be a great start. It is also important that the necessary repairs be made on a timely basis to the trail network and an increase in support of the trail networks in general would be awesome.

The industry also has a role to play. Promotion of the sport, donations to the local clubs, and community support.  The public needs to help with volunteering time for trail support, repairs, signage, grooming and buying trail passes.

Cameron Snow, Exploits TrailNet Snowmobile club (Central - GFW region)

[1] I have served on the Exploits TrailNet executive from 2012 to 2016. I have also filled an open seat on the NLSF board of directors in 2016. I have no business connections to the industry, rather I am just involved for pure love of the sport. Growing up in Gander, my father bought me a 1972 Kitty Cat when I was 4 years old and I have been a sled head ever since. According to the old man when it broke down one winter I cried that much he had to get a chainsaw carb to put on it to keep me quiet. At 38 years old I still do the same thing.

[2] It seems as if we have 2 types of riders, those who flock to the west coast for the hills and deep snow and those who consider anything less than a 100 mile day a failure. Central Newfoundland is not the west coast. The geography and all those “best coasters” make it quite clear, but in my opinion, Central Newfoundland offers some of the best trail riding in all of Atlantic Canada. We have over 350 kms of trail with several 100 km loops that span from Botwood to Millertown Junction. If you want to practice your side hilling or brag to your buddies about how many times you got stuck, (something I still can’t understand) Central is not the place for you. If you want to rekindle the bromance with your high school buddies, do a ton of riding without the broken back, Central is the place to be. Don’t get me wrong there are places like Hodges or the Gaff Topsails to play in but Central would cater better to the type of rider that thinks a ” 2.5 inch track is just too much.”

As a local club over the past 3 seasons the Exploits TrailNet has put over $1.5 million dollars into the system locally. That included the construction and repair of about 15 large bridges, major trail maintenance, and construction of a new groomer shed as well as the purchase of a New Prinoth Husky groomer. All to enhance the rider experience here in Central.

A large part of our funding approval with the Federal and Provincial governments was the notion of “putting heads in beds”. Central Newfoundland may never target those East Coaster’s with mountain sleds looking for a “deadly day” in the POW, but we can certainly offer the ride of a lifetime to those flat land riders and couples looking for an awesome weekend on the trails. Central certainly grabs its share of the ATV touring market as many other Maritimers travel the T’Railway Provincial Park and frequently stay, eat and spend their money but the snowmobile market here is missing out. We need to promote the great trail riding we have available and to that costs money. Provincial and Municipal governments should push the industry to the rest of Canada and the Eastern Seaboard. Currently the NLSF in conjunction with the province have an Economic Impact study underway, the preliminary results puts the value on snowmobiling in this province well beyond what anyone could have imagined. As the saying goes, you have to spend money to make money, and further investment from the province in marketing the snowmobiling industry will benefit local restaurants, dealers and operators.

[3] Central Newfoundland is well equipped to take on those “come from aways” who need a place to rest their weary heads after a day of riding. We have tons of great accommodations from Barb Sheppard at the Lakeview Inn in Millertown, Paul Rose at Riverfront Chalets or the Lingard’s at the Brookdale Country Inn in Bishop’s Falls. All these places you can ride from the door and offer fantastic hospitality. Rentals are also available through Rob Clarke Motorsports Inc. out of Springdale. Our biggest challenge in Central Newfoundland is signage. Riders should be able to hit the trail and have clear makers and indicators on where to ride- unfortunately we are not there yet. Sign theft and vandalism has played a major part in this deficit and short of pouring a concrete pad with a sign mounted on 5 inch I -beam we are unsure of how to solve it. People fail to realize that stealing the Mount Peyton road sign or kilometer markers to put up in your cabin is a safety hazard for those unfamiliar with the area and its seems to be an uphill battle every year. Central Newfoundland does have a number of licensed guides and contacting a local snowmobile club would be the best way to get in touch with the proper person.

[4] In the Province, the lack of support of the groomed trail network provides a significant challenge. It is often fuelled by misinformation and frustration from the general public who feel they shouldn’t have to pay to get access to their cabin or favourite ice fishing hole and I can understand that. But at the end of the day local clubs work hard to keep trails open and the provincial legislation outlines that users of the groomed trail system are required to purchase a pass. And that is here to stay. I think the pass system could use a revamp whereby the trail pass is issued to the operator rather than the machine. In my own personal case I ride an XF800 most of the time but I have to purchase an additional pass for my old 1995 Skandic I use to haul wood around the cabin, an operator issued pass would relieve some of this frustration among the public, decrease the cost for the average Joe and would only further enhance support. In other provinces they issue a discounted “vintage” pass to machines more than 20 years old maybe that is something we should explore?

[5] There are approximately 4000 new snowmobiles sold in this province every year at an average price of $10,000 a machine. We are looking at a $40,000,000 industry to start. That doesn’t take into account the $1500 worth of gear the average rider dawns each time they lift the leg over the machine or the gas, the oil, the food and money spent on accommodations. Provincial governments have done a fanatic job of promoting summer tourism though their award winning television ad campaigns. Let’s do the same for winter sport. Newfoundland unlike the majority of other provinces and states allows riders to get off the trail and explore. We are not compartmentalized by land owners and strict points of access. Let’s promote that. Let’s promote the mountains of snow. Let’s promote a boil ups on an open fire or an opportunity to see Newfoundland’s unique landscape and wildlife. We need to attract those out of province dollars, we need to get people moving within the province, come to Grand Falls-Windsor from Corner Brook to take in the Mid Winter Bivver, or leave Gander and travel to Wesleyville for a weekend ride. It’s out there to explore and most people don’t even realize it.

Paul Rose, Riverfront Chalets

[1] I am the owner of Riverfront Chalets, a 4.5 star resort in central NL. During the winter months we offer backcountry tours for both extreme riders looking to push their limits as well as less experienced riders who want to get off the beaten path. Although snowmobiling has always been a passion of mine it came second to the chalets. It has been my pleasure to have showed hundreds of people the awesome backcountry riding we have here in Central.

[2] I think Newfoundland has tremendous potential for growth in both groomed trails as well as backcountry. There are plenty of people who would be willing to make Newfoundland and Labrador a winter destination but we are not ready yet. For backcountry we need more mountain sled rentals. Rob Clarke Motorsports and Rugged Edge are doing a great job of this already but if we want more business we need more rentals. We also need more high end Lodges in the backcountry but not too far in, although a few more high end lodges deep in the backcountry appeal to many as well….like me! I would love to see a lodge in the interior Gaff Topsails. Now that would be sweet!

Our sledding belt runs from Clarenville and West with the most dependable winters running from Gander and West. Groomed trail touring season is a little short since from Grand Falls and East we lose our snow fairly soon as the rail bed is in low elevations. However, west of there the sledding season on the railbed usually extends well into April. Right now we are all catering mostly to local tourists. That’s a good thing though as all of us outfitters have a solid clientele that return every year and word of mouth is much more effective. But if we want outside dollars for our industry we have a lot of work to do.

[3] I feel the local industry is able to accommodate and influx of outside visitors on a minimal basis. We need our trails to sweep by all the services that sledder might need. Parts, eateries, accommodations, rentals and so on. The connections must be easy and clear so that riders will note how rider friendly we are. A prime example of this is when riders have to hire someone to trailer their sleds through Corner Brook. (Not sure if this is only with quads or both). In my opinion, we have so many groomed trails that we cannot keep up with the grooming. At the same time I do not want to see passes steadily increase in cost which will make them too expensive for locals there by further increasing the gap between the rich and the poor.

[4] Weather is obviously the biggest concern to the snowmobile industry here in the province. During the past few years winter throws us all a curve ball at least once a winter with a dump of rain that ruins riding for a few days or longer. There is not much we can do about that but we do have to be prepared for cancelations or alternative routes or plans. A consistent trail network that is linked to all the amenities as mentioned above is not at the stage where we can’t tend to an outside market yet. I am sure though that we will get there in time, it’s just a matter of how fast we want to become such a destination.

[5] First of all, our government needs to come on board with much more force. The lack of progress of repair from this fall’s flood still not repaired and our trails East of Badger still remain closed! Although this is not the fault of the NLSF or local riding clubs, it will have a negative effect on public support of groomed trails. As to which comes first, the infrastructure (ie: Lodges and rentals) or a much more intense marketing effort I am not sure. I guess the two must grow together.

As you can clearly see, the Island of Newfoundland has so much to offer. In addition to the natural assets, we have some amazing entrepreneurs who want to share their passion for the industry with tourists from here and away. They have each outlined where we are, where we seem to be headed and where they each feel we could be headed as a province and an industry as a whole. They have offered their thoughts on what it will take to get us where we need to be, where we should be. Regardless of what type of rider you are, whether you are a local or a tourist, you rely on entrepreneurs, volunteers and fellow riders to make your experience first class. It is our view that regardless of your opinion on where we are headed and how we are going to get there, one thing is certain, you only get out of something what you put into it. So get out there, experience the hospitality, the natural wonders, push your limits and see where we can take this already fantastic industry.

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Sledworthy Magazine is Atlantic Canada's Snowmobile Magazine. Started in 2005 with the goal of creating a strong voice for the Atlantic Canadian Snowmobile scene and ensuring Atlantic Canada gets recognized throughout North America as a key player in the snowmobile industry.

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