White Gold From Snowmobile Trails

By Craig Nicholson, The Intrepid Snowmobiler
International Snowmobile Hall of Fame Journalist

Over 80 million dollars annually. That’s the estimated amount recreational snowmobile trails generate for our regional economy every year*.  This “white gold” is a direct result of spending throughout the Kawarthas, Haliburton and Bancroft regions by residents and visitors engaged in their favourite winter pastime. 

The obvious beneficiaries of this impressive economic activity are local restaurants, lodgings, gas stations, convenience stores, and snowmobile dealers. Less obvious are the indirect spin-off and trickle-down effects of this spending throughout our local communities. 650 direct jobs. $2M in municipal taxes. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of cottage-related expenses incurred by snowmobilers using their places year-round, instead of just in summer. The less obvious beneficiaries include many non-snowmobile related businesses and services, and the residents employed there to earn a living. Most of this impact occurs primarily in the winter, during what are traditionally the more economically dormant months of the year.

Photo by Al Fletcher

More good news is that participation in snowmobile trail riding has increased by about 15% over the past two winters. What’s more, many respondents to a recent rider survey by the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (OFSC) indicated their intention to ride the same amount or more this season than they did last winter. This aligns with their previous track record of continued spending on snowmobiling in good times and bad. 

Early indications are that higher fuel prices won’t stop them from enjoying their winter passion either. Even if the cost per litre does affect some sledding patterns, logic says it would most likely reduce trailering their sleds to distant locations. Consequently, popular cottage country destinations closer to major population centres – like the Kawarthas, Haliburton and Bancroft – could actually see increased snowmobiler spending this winter as sledders ride closer to home. Any way you look at it, that white gold generated by snowmobile trails will be here to help local businesses and communities through these tough economic times.

Photo by Craig Nicholson

So, why do we mostly take snowmobiling for granted? Maybe because it seems the trails have always been around and just keep happening. But way back when, there were no snowmobile trails. Early snowmobilers pretty much rode wherever the snow fell, often in places that were unsafe or where they weren’t welcome. To improve the situation, local enthusiasts formed community-based, non-profit clubs. They worked with their friends and neighbours to organize designated trails to connect communities and businesses. These safer and approved routes provide snowmobilers with interconnected corridors that are marked and mapped to a multitude of destinations. Just as important, these local trails also reduce random riding and trespassing on private property.

As a result, today we can ride about 2,000 kilometres of OFSC Prescribed Snowmobile Trails throughout the Kawarthas, Haliburton and Bancroft areas. But economic benefit would or could continue to exist without two key groups of local volunteers: those who contribute their time, effort and skills to keep their local club trails going, and those who contribute land use so that snowmobile trails have somewhere to go. 

Together, these two groups not only provide economic advantages for everyone, but also social, recreational and health benefits that make our hometowns better places for all of us to live. Without landowners and volunteers, we wouldn’t reap these rewards – or enjoy safe trails to ride and places to go on our sleds. Without them, winter just wouldn’t be the same for anyone. So let’s say thanks to all of our landowners and club volunteers!

*All numbers from 2019 OFSC Economic Impact Study

Learn More About OFSC Prescribed Trails At: Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs – www.ofsc.on.ca

Craig Nicholson is an International Snowmobile Hall of Fame journalist and a long-time Kawarthas cottager who also provides tips and tour info for snowmobilers at intrepidsnowmobiler.com and for PWC riders at intrepidcottager.com.