September 2016

There is no easy way to say it, last year was the worse snow season organized snowmobiling has had in Michigan in years. There wasn’t a lot of snow. Trail permit sales were down, and the number of snowmobile fatalities were up instead of down.

Every year in the September issue of this magazine, I recap the previous season and our snowmobile trail improvement program. The numbers are the worst we’ve seen. If changes aren’t made in terms of revenue, cuts will be made to the snowmobile program next year. Let me say that again, cuts will HAVE to be made in the snowmobile program.

Yes, next year’s trail permit will go up, by law, using the last five year’s Consumers Price Index (CPI). It will increase to $48. Taking into account the current sales trends, that is not enough to sustain the program as it is today. Cuts are going to have to be made.

Trails Groomed in 2015-16

The total number of miles groomed by Michigan’s 68 grant sponsors was 328,627, which is down from 440,067 groomed during the 2015-16 season. In 2013-14 585,258 miles were groomed. We groomed less, but less trail permits were sold and the cost of grooming equipment has skyrocketed.

Also keep in mind, the state’s groomers are getting older and more repairs are required during the season. The fuel cost to groom those miles of trails was $????????.

Your Trail Permit Dollars at Work

Along with grooming, your trail permit dollars paid for all the trails to be brushed in the fall, signed per the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) specifications, and groomed all winter long. The total cost for all of this was $5.4 million.

Other costs involved in the program include brushing and signing, insurance, trail leasing, and snowplowing the staging areas.

Here is a look at this exact costs for the 2015-16 season:

Grooming:               $1,318,440

Brushing & Signing:            $573,992

Utility:                      $86,970

Comp Insurance:     $118,431

Liability Insurance: $123,391

Land Leases:                       $194,742

Snow Plowing:         $72,631

Portable Toilet Rental:        $40,641

Special Maintenance:          $475,012

Equipment Purchases:         $2,284,278 (at the start of the season)

Equipment Repair:  $156,228 (to 6/30-more pending)

                     Total   $5,444,756

Groomer and Drag Purchases

Two years ago the average piece of equipment (tractor) came in at $225,000. Due to new tier-three diesel engines (EPA rules), increased steel, and increased production costs the equipment came in at $265,000 per unit last year. That’s $40,000 more per unit. Those costs continue to increase.

We are estimating only enough money left to purchase two groomers for this season. We had hoped to purchase at least seven. The two new groomers were awarded to Keweenaw Trail Services and Gogebic Area Grooming. At the time of this writing, they were choosing new “Trail Bullys” from Pisten Bully. We will also have to do major repairs on another 30 units. Our groomer fleet is getting older.

2015-16 Snowmobile Fatalities

Michigan had 25 snowmobile fatalities last season, that was the highest number since 2010 when 26 people died. Last season was not only one of the worst on record in fatalities, rental operations reported that nearly all of their rental fleet was damaged by someone hitting a fixed object.

My personal observation is twofold. Newer sleds are so comfortable that the driver does not perceive the speed they are going. Secondly, with the low snow, there wasn’t a snow berm on the side of the trail to catch the ski, and this pushed the sled  on through the corner. SPEED and alcohol were the leading causes of the majority of the crashes. MSA continues to promote Zero Tolerance! while out on the trail. Please don’t drink and ride!

Trail Permit Sales

Last season  77,956 trail permits were sold through the state’s point-of-sale machines. There were 1,823 trail permits sold through the mail, and there were 48,410 pre-printed trail permits distributed and sold through MSA; for a total of 128,189 permits sold. That’s a five percent decrease in permit sales. During the 2014-15 season 142,000 trail permits sold which was down from 145,958 trails permits sold the season before.

Please remember trail permit sales are still well below the number of trail permit sales in 2008, and we may never get those numbers back. During the 2012-13 season 136,033 trail permits were sold. We only sold 124,287 trail permits during the 2011-12 season.

Trying to Continue Providing Great Trails

We still need to keep in mind that when MSA worked to get permit increases in place back in 2006, those increases were based on those higher trail permit numbers, and so was the budget for buying equipment, signing, brushing trails, grooming, and maintaining the fleet of groomers!

The legislation put in place in 2006 does allow for a small cost of living increase to be added to trail permit fees beginning in this year that is why trail permits will increase to $48. That is not enough.

MSA has taken the last few years realistic  trail permits numbers, and are currently working hard to put a 10-year plan in place. That will mean a trail permit fee increase. Exact what that increase will be, is being discussed.

Know that MSA, the grant sponsors, and volunteers are all working hard to continue and provide great trails in this state. It hasn’t been easy, but we will continue to work hard on your behalf.

Working With the Parks and Recreation Division

The Michigan Snowmobile Trail Improvement program continues to be administered under the state of Michigan’s Parks and Recreation Division.

We are working with people who deal with trails in our state. We are building strong relationships, and feel a strong spirit of cooperation.

All in all, the snowmobile program is running and working well, but funding just isn’t keeping up with the costs. The Snowmobile Advisory Work (SAW) group is now working with more realistic projected numbers for budget planning, and will soon release a plan.

MSA continues to monitor and make sure your trail permit dollars are not wasted, but keep in mind (as with any governmental program) part of our budget goes to state administrative costs within the state government. We promise to monitor and keep a close watch on your trail permit dollars!

Please look to next month’s Legislative Column for further discussion on Trail Permit costs and proposed increases.

What Is the Snowmobile Trail Improvement Program?

The Snowmobile Trail Improvement Fund provides funding to maintain snowmobile trails as part of the designated statewide trail system. Grant funds are available for three purposes.

  1. Seasonal grooming and general maintenance of snowmobile trails.
  2. Special maintenance projects that improve the condition and/or access to trails.
  3. Replacement of equipment used for maintaining trails