I’ve been at it close to 20 years now, grooming the trails for my snowmobile club and over the years I’ve seen many things, some funny, some stupid and some just plain crazy. Since the snowmobile season is yet to start I thought it would be good to educate snowmobilers about what groomer operators want you to know before it’s time to hit the trails. I also threw in a couple of stories for some of laughs and to show how following these tips can save a lot of trouble for everyone.
Here we go!
1 – Headlights
When approaching a groomer from the front or back at night please turn down your lights!!! Just like driving a car on the road, when passing somebody you dim the lights. So why not do it when meeting a groomer? Many people do this, it gets blinding when you have a long line of sleds coming at you.
I try to turn down my work light when I can—when my hands are free and I’ve got a chance to grab the switch—but we can’t always do it.
2 – Passing a Groomer
Wait for the groomer to stop or give you a sign to pass. Make sure the groomer sees you. I’ll usually turn off my rear work lights when you can pass safely at night. Do not just pass us any time and wide open.
Tales from the Trails: One time I came so close to clipping the back end of a snowmobile. I was going down the trail and I came up on a small local trail to my left that I was going to enter and start grooming. It was on a small curve. I looked behind me and there was nothing there so as I started to grab the steering wheel to make the turn when a snowmobile zooms by me wide open, just inches from the groomer! My front blade barely missed the back end his sled but for a moment I was sure I was going to clip him and he would have flew in the trees—it would have been bad.
3 – Following a Groomer
Keep a distance when coming up on a groomer, don’t ride right up to the drag with your skis almost touching it. You don’t know when we’re going to stop.
Tales from the Trails: There was one time where this guy was following me close and I didn’t know. I stopped for something and he ended running up on my rear pan! I turned around and he was struggling to drive his sled off the pan. I was pissed but I was laughing too. I got out and walked to the back of the groomer and told him “I think you were following me a little too close buddy!”
4 – Meeting a Groomer on the Trail
When you pass a groomer that has just laid a fresh new trail try not to run on it right away. Keep as far to the right as possible, in fact you should always keep right and not ride the centre of the trail. Stay off the newly groomed section as long as you can. I know it’s hard on narrow trails that are in forested areas but I’ve been on big 20 foot wide logging road with riders jumping off as soon as they clear back of the drag right onto the fresh groomed trail. There’s no reason for them to do this as I’m on my way back and the other side of the trail is perfect. I’ve had guys go on the new side, stop to talk to their buddies and then both of them peel off creating a huge hump driving in the wrong lane of my fresh groomed trail.
5 – Don’t Dog the Groomers
When you are riding and you see the groomer grooming the local trails around your town, don’t follow the groomer around. I hate that, go somewhere else!
Tales from the Trails: I had one guy that kept doing this so I stopped one time and told him “One, your light is blinding me when I’m trying to see in the back. Two, you’re wrecking my trail, and three, if I have to back up I won’t see you and I’ll hit you.” Well, he didn’t listen and I ended up giving him a lesson after that. I was grooming on a different night and he was following me again. I stopped to push some debris on the trail and I had to back up… I might have backed up a bit farther than I needed…you should have seen him scramble to get his sled turned around without reverse. My big groomer and drag heading towards him, the guy was in a panic, I could see his eyes wide behind his shield! He never did it again.
6- Riding on the Edge
Please, don’t do this. Do not ride the edge of the trail. Some will ride the very edge for fun. They ride their left ski on the trail and the other half of the sled in the powder packing the edge. Doing this makes the groomer operators lose their reference marker. When there’s fresh snow and the trail is covered we need these to keep the groomer on the trail.
This is very important later in the season, especially in areas that have lots of snow with a big thick trail base. If we can’t see it properly we could go off the trail and get sucked in and then we’re stuck. Besides creating the risk of breaking the groomer or bust a track trying to get the groomer out, it also wrecks the trail.
7- Power Take Offs
Don’t do power take offs. Why do people still do this?! The worst are the small humps left at the edge of the trail, when grooming fresh snow they’re hidden under the snow and frozen solid. You hit one with the groomer track and it’s like hitting a rock. On club rides I try to educated people I’m riding with, I try to explain to new riders not to do this and to ease on the gas when taking off.
8 – Stopped Groomer On the Trail
If you see a groomer stopped on the trail slow down and use caution. You might not see us as we could be clearing snow off the machine, cutting a tree or removing a rock and you could hit us. If you see a groomer with its hood open or tools out stop and ask if we need help. How many times riders would go by and not stop and ask to help, some times all we need is an extra pair of hands.
9 – Be Nice to the Groomer Operator
Don’t get pissed off at us. We know you’re there, wait till we find a good safe spot for you to pass.
Tales from the Trails: Believe it or not but I’ve had people pissed off because I was grooming on the trail and slowed down their ride. I was in a tight section of trail, I couldn’t pull over because of trees and rocks so there was no way for them to go around and I’m not going to break the groomer for them. Next thing you know they’re flipping the bird to me! I see this and I shake my head in disbelief. Being in the groomer for 10 to 12 hours and then you get something like this, it makes me want turn the engine off grab the keys and throw them in the bush and say #%@& you all. But we don’t, we go on.
10 – The Curves
When entering a curve try not to turn it wide open. I’ve ridden with guys that were constantly doing this. Once we got to our destination I told them, “You know groomer operators hate guys like you, do you realize we have to go back and fix the trail you just trashed?” Some people think that the only way to turn in sharp turns is to come in hot, break hard then full open throttle. Do like me: I slow down before, coast into it and gradually I’m back at it, and I still can keep up with others.
11 – Keep to Your Side
Stop riding in the centre of the trail, it creates a depression and it’s hard to cut with the drag. Stay to the right like you are supposed to and everyone will be happy.
12 – Broken Down Snowmobiles
If you break down on the trail and you have to leave your sled there, please move it off the trail. This is good for two reasons: One, it will be safer and avoids other riders driving into it causing an accident; two, when we’re out grooming and we arrive at a sled on the trail we can’t pass so we have to move it. More than once over the years I’ve had to to push snowmobiles off the trail so I can pass. I’m not going to risk the life of other riders and risk hurting myself alone in the night trying to lift and move over a sled. There is a reason there is a plow in the front and it’s not just for pushing snow.
Now, there is a proper way to do it, you have to go slow and put your plow on the bumper where there will be no damage. If you are a good operator you can steer it off the trail and you might have a few minor scratches but it sure beats us driving over your sled and making a pancake out of it. When we’re in the thick woods and there is no way of getting around we have no choice. I’ve had to push trucks out of the way before, you can put your plow under the bumper, lift the wheels off the ground and steer it clear. Once I pushed a truck off the groomed road into a ditch, it was an unplaited old beater. Somebody went for a ride and got stuck and abandoned the truck there…I had my fun :)
Tales from the Trails: Please guys, pack your stuff right. Make sure your saddlebags are tied down right. You don’t want to get to the hotel at the end of the day only to find out that your clothes and gear didn’t make it. I’ve seen this happen too often. Once I was grooming north on the D108A trail heading to Hornepayne when I started to notice some debris on the trail. First it was bungee cords then a sock, then another sock and then a t-Shirt…. I stopped and I hung them on a tree branch so if the rider were to turn around he would find his stuff. Now it was starting to get very cold and I was comfy in my warm cab listening to some music not wanting to get back out in that cold when suddenly I notice in my rear-view mirror, stuck in one of my drag cutting blades is a pair of white Fruit of the Loom tighty-whities dragging along….. I was like “Hell no…. it’s cold and I’m not going out for that….” I continued on but the damn dirty underwear wasn’t going anywhere. I would see them dragging and flapping in the wind every time I’d look back at my drag—and groomer operators know how many times we look at the back. After a few hours I got tired of seeing them and I stopped and took a stick and snagged them off … what did I do with them? I did what any good snowmobiler would do: I stuck them on a branch at eye level where the next rider would see them up close in their face and get a scare. I even smeared some dirt on the them so they looked soiled! For a few weeks I would hear about those Fruit of the Loom undies in the tree, it was so funny.
Well, I hope you learned a few things from this article and that you had a few laughs too. Remember to be respectful, be nice to groomer operators. We are there for you guys and we are snowmobilers too. Trust me, as much as we love grooming we’d rather be out there enjoying those trails as well. So next time you see a groomer on the trail give us a thumbs up or a friendly wave, and share your trail snacks, we like that too!
Keep on Grooming,
Luc the Groomer Guy
Ok one last story before I go. I figure if you’re read this far you deserve a real good one:
Tales from the Trails: One time I was stopped in a tight spot where it was clear and easy to see me. I had a problem with my wiper blade so I stopped to fix it, took me like 30 seconds. While I was doing it I noticed some sleds behind me but there was no room so I couldn’t let them pass. To the right of me there was a power line and a steep hill that the locals were using. One of the guys was impatient and decided to use this to pass me along the powerline. Well, he got stuck and by the time I got to the top of the hill of the powerline I was able to let the rest of his group pass me.
Continuing down the powerline and again I hit a tighter section with rocks on both sides (I know my area). A snowmobile arrives behind me and I continue grooming until I can find a place to let them go by but the sled decides to overtake me. The rider and passenger head into the deep snow on the power line. Once he gets past me farther down the trail he drives back on the trail and parks his sled sideways to block my way. Now, being local I recognize who it is and the sled, he’s got his arms in the air and he’s giving me the finger. I drove my groomer right up and stopped my front blade inches from his sled. I got out on my track and asked what was his problem, he starts yelling at me for not moving over off the trail to let them pass me and that I should move over every time to let riders go by. What he was mostly pissed about was that he was the sled that tried to pass me in the powerline and he got stuck in deep snow and had to dig out his sled.
I yelled back at him and told him not to make me come down the tracks or he would be sorry. He said he wasn’t moving so I threatened to run over his sled and push it into the trees. I got in the groomer, revved the engine, put it in gear and only then did he move it. And it’s a good thing because I was going to do it! I groomed down the road to a lodge in the old bush town called Localsh to meet up with my family that was having dinner there. It had been a while since they had seen me as I was gone for a few days on the F trail and we were celebrating a special occasion. When I got there the same guy was there with his crew and we got into an argument both face to face and yelling. All this because I was grooming a snowmobile trail!