Managing A Multi-Million Dollar Grooming Fleet

On February 24, the OFSC Facebook page posted an item entitled “Grooming Equipment 101”, which also appeared in our Feb 23 newsletter. It attracted a stream of comments questioning how groomers are allocated, used and located, so here’s a behind-the-scenes look to provide a better understanding of what’s happened with the OFSC grooming fleet this season.

Fleet Planning

Fleet planning for our 280 active grooming units is a continuous process premised on keeping the fleet as up to date and in as good operating condition as possible. Annually, this includes purchasing new units, refurbishing existing ones, and rotating units with higher hours to lower use areas (and vice versa) within their district to average out hours and extend their lifespan.

To make this process more cost-effective and efficient, our member clubs approved centralized groomer purchasing. Now, rather than each individual club undertaking the tremendous workload of doing their own groomer acquisition, that now happens through the districts with the OFSC budgeting for and undertaking a provincial purchase that gets more value for every permit dollar expended. For example, the OFSC invested about $9M in new and refurbished groomers for this current season on behalf of its districts and their clubs.

Another significant improvement to the process is that new groomers and/or drags are now allocated to each district based on its expressed needs, to be located, shared and used within that district as part of a specific grooming plan approved by area clubs through their district board. There is even provision for designated “district and provincial spares”, available to replace broken groomers. But you know what they say about the best laid plans…

New Groomer Challenges

Like every other sector of Canada’s economy, supply chain problems and delivery issues continued to affect getting groomers & drags on the snow in a timely manner. Although many new groomers have been delivered to date, a few units still haven’t arrived yet. And every one that didn’t show up on time or perform as expected, necessitated another juggling act among the OFSC and its districts and clubs to try to cover its grooming duties, often with older equipment that the new was supposed to have replaced. It has also been difficult to repair existing groomers with many parts not immediately available.

Poor Winter

As if these unprecedented challenges weren’t already overwhelming for our hard-working volunteers and staff, Mother Nature didn’t do us any favours either. The most unpredictable part of any grooming plan is always what she actually delivers, where and when, in any given season. And as we all know, the abnormal weather conditions this winter across Ontario were both unexpected and pervasive, making it even more problematic for our clubs and volunteers to deliver any groomed trails at all in many areas.

Some snowmobilers have suggested that enough groomers haven’t been moved this season from one region without snow to another with snow, all of the above needs to be taken into account. Besides, transferring groomers had unique challenges of its own in 2022-23 season, so it’s not as simple as it may appear at first glance.

Moving Groomers Around

The priority for moving groomers and/or drags around is within a district. This worked reasonably well this winter as several districts received more snow in one area than another, so equipment was re-allocated accordingly. The next step as needed is to move equipment to neighbouring districts, which is logistically easier and more cost-effective. But before any equipment moves, the following must be considered…

First, in a time of shipping challenges, the logistics of floating a groomer and/or drag are more complex. Second, the increased cost of floating a groomer and/or drag can run from $2,500 to $7,000 one way (and that amount again to return it to home base). Third, we must ensure that any groomer and/or available to float is compatible with its new terrain and that the receiving area has trained and qualified operators to run it. Fourth, if the equipment being floated is either a groomer or a drag by itself, does it have the proper connectors to hook up with the existing equipment to which it will be attached? Fifth,

what’s the contingency plan if the home base for the floated groomer and/or drag gets snow and needs it back? So each case is unique, requiring specific assessment of pros and cons, but it does happen whenever and wherever possible. A recent example is moving a drag from Haliburton to Hearst.

What Does Red Really Mean?

Finally, for those who complain about some trails being Red (unavailable on the ITG) when they think there’s enough snow to groom, remember: Trail Status colours on the Interactive Trail Guide indicate a trail’s availability at any given time, but not its grooming status. So a trail can be available, but not freshly groomed. The club volunteers make the call that there is or is not enough snow to groom without damaging equipment (or endangering the operator), or that some section(s) of a trail can’t yet be groomed for other reasons such as a swamp not frozen, preventing a groomer from accessing a large part (or all) of that particular trail. No one wants to NOT groom or likes making that decision, but that’s the reality of operating snowmobile trails responsibly. So how is it that our club volunteers, who are the experts in their area, are subject to criticism so often?

The plain and unvarnished truth is that snowmobile trails come down to coping with whatever Old Man Winter throws at us, and all the preparation, commitment, good intentions and investment of our volunteers, staff and the OFSC win that battle frequently, but not every time.

So what’s the solution? Your Ontario Snowmobile Trail Permit provides access to available OFSC trails anywhere in Ontario. So check the ITG, hop in your truck, and trailer to one of the many places where trails are available to ride (over 22,000 km’s showing on the ITG as of today). Every trail may not always be perfect, but they will be the best we are capable of delivering under some very unusual circumstances. Happy & safe sledding in March!