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Snowmobile season expected to be better this winter

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Last week’s first significant snowfall, along with another winter storm watch in effect for today, has left snowmobilers and dealers alike optimistic for the season ahead.

After a dreadful season last winter for sledders due to above normal temperatures and a lack of snow, everyone is expecting a much better ride this year.

In fact, members of the Sunset Country Snowmobile Club already have been busy preparing the trails in and around town since October.

“We’ve been clearing the trails and re-routing trails in order to make for safer riding conditions,” Rick Socholotuk, local trails co-ordinator and safety instructor, said yesterday.

“We’ve had lots of guys, who were off because of the [mill] strike, out taking out stumps and rocks in the trails and making them wider,” he added.

Club president Jerry Darvell also was optimistic this winter will be much better than the last one.

“The season looks good so far. We have bought a new groomer and drag through some Heritage funding, and we’re also going to be building a new building near the curling club,” he noted.

“We’re off to a new start so I think it will be way better this year.”

Although sales have been slow so far due to the mill strike, Darvell said sledders can buy trail permits for $100 before Dec. 1, and then $130 after that date (an increase of $10 from last year).

Meanwhile, Socholotuk said one of the club’s objectives this season is its “signage campaign,” which has members putting up several more signs than in past years in order to help those using the trail system.

“They are there to tell people where they are going and to direct them. We have people who sometimes get lost and confused,” he noted.

The club also is busy preparing to host several poker derbies this winter.

Socholotuk said there’s already about 20 cm (eight inches) of snow on the ground but predicted at least that much more is needed before the trails are suitable for riding.

Still, he admitted trail preparation is “way ahead of last year.”

Meanwhile, forecasts that “La Nina” will bring plenty of snow to this area this winter is good news for areas businesses which felt the economic crunch from the poor snowmobiling conditions last year.

Greg Spicer, a salesperson at Pinewood Sports and Marine here, said he’s already noticed more people buying snowmobiles and expects that interest to continue over the next few months.

“Snowmobiles have been selling well, probably better than we expected with the mill strike going on,” he noted.

Spicer said the Lite 340s for trappers and kids, and used snowmobiles in “mint” condition, also are selling well, as are accessories like helmets and clothing.

Last year, 68,618 snowmobiles were sold in Canada and another 162,826 in the U.S., creating a huge economic impact of almost $9 billion for businesses which sell gas, food, clothing, and lodging.

In this province, the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs’ 1998 impact study showed direct expenditures generated by snowmobiling was more than $932 million.

Brad Fairnington, who works at Witherspoon’s One Stop here, said there’s no doubt they felt the pinch of the poor conditions last year but expects it to be a much better winter this time around.

“It generally brought us in $200-$300 a full day with fuel and oil, and that’s just off the top of my head,” he said.

“Having the trail right here and the [Rainbow Motel] across the street, we see a lot of business from people making long trips from Winnipeg and Atikokan,” he noted.

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