While temperatures hovering near +30 degrees doesn't make for good snowmobiling weather, John Flemming, President of the Eastman SnoPALS Inc. says Monday was the best day in a long time.  

Flemming says, “I received a call from Wayna Ewasko (MLA for Lac du Bonnet) and then I got the press release with the listing we're jumping up and down. We're rather excited.”  

It was news of the local snowmobile club receiving $12,000 to purchase a 2024 SkiDoo Expedition 900 ACE snowmobile with the Arts, Culture and Sport in Community Fund through the provincial government. 

He says the one they currently have is about 10 years old and has driven over 9,000 miles in that time.  

“So, this is a brand-new snowmobile that allows our people to get out and onto the trails to haul wood, to haul new windows and doors (for the shelters), to haul the firewood, to haul the chainsaw and the big pole saws to, you know, to allow us to get the trails in this.” 

Flemming continues, “We've been saving and hoping that our old machine has another season in it, and then we applied for the grant which allows us to buy a new snowmobile this year and replace the old guy, and it allows our members to get out there, and get home and be safe.” 

Eastman SnoPALS volunteers working on trailsEastman SnoPALS volunteers working on trails (Photo credit: Facebook)

He notes a snowmobile is used to get to the trails that have debris from fallen trees due to winter storms, and then removing the cut-up logs and placing them on a sled pulled by the machine.  

“Our work-sleds are put to the test and driven hard in low-snow conditions, places that I would not drive my own snowmobile. So, we have to get out there as soon as there's snow and start making the trails ready because the snowmobilers will be right behind us as soon as that first snowfall comes. They're expecting the trails to be ready and to do that we need good equipment that will take us out there to get the job done. So, a grant from the Provincial Government is huge. I think the total cost to the club is in the $13,000 range. So, with our trade-in the new machine will cost our club $1,000. This grant program has given us the funds to do it this year rather than put it on our wish list.” 

When asked what this funding meant to their organization, Flemming says,  

“It means a lot to the Eastman SnoPALS. We groom just a little over 325 kilometers of trail between Elma and Brightstone hills in the north, the Whiteshell Provincial Park on the east and Brokenhead on the West. We have a very small but dedicated membership and funding is a constant topic of conversation. The club derives all of our funding through a user-pay system. You buy a snow-pass, that money then filters down to the 53 clubs that maintain the trails and we get paid a stipend for each kilometer that we groom through the season.” 

“The downside is the last time that user fee was increased was 2015, when diesel fuel was $0.60 a liter, while we were paying in excess of $2.00 a liter last year, so our expenses have gone up, but our income has not. So, that has driven snowmobile clubs into the fundraising world. In addition to volunteering all winter to cut brush and maintain shelters and groom trails and put-up trails signs, and do safety checks on trails, now we're also doing a lot of fundraising. So, a grant like this makes a big difference between having a new replacement snowmobile this season or continuing to drive a machine with 9,000 miles on it, waiting for it to breakdown on the trail.” 

Flemming clarifies, they are purchasing a snowmobile, not a snow groomer.  

“A new snow clearing machine, when we priced them out last year, was a little over $300,000. And we have been very fortunate with that as this time last year we received a winter tourism grant of $99,000 that allowed us to buy a new, used snow groomer.” 

The Eastman SnoPALS received their new groomer last year and expect their new purchase to arrive shortly.  

“The funds allow us to retire our very tired, you know, 2-stroke machine and move into a more powerful 4-stroke engine that allows much more dependability and better fuel consumption, more power for pulling. It allows us to do that. We should have that on the snow at the start of this season.” 

Flemming says snowmobiling is very popular in the southeast. “It's a great way to meet people. We have some of the most spectacular trails in eastern Manitoba. Our trails link people between Nopiming Provincial Park coming down the Lee River and the Lee River Club and then we make trails down and through Pinawa to link up to the Whiteshell Provincial park, through the park, and we come out at Rennie to Elma, and then we're linking to Ste Anne and Anola. So, it's a great place to ride. On our busier regional trails, we'll see anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 snowmobiles a weekend. It's a great way to spend the winter.” 

Eastman SnoPALS is a regional snowmobile club formed in 1996 by the amalgamation of three smaller, local clubs from Pinawa, Agassiz (Seddon's Corner) and Lac du Bonnet. This is how the acronym PALS originates.