September 2017

Last year the headline of this column read, “A Look at Last Year’s Dismal Season!” In terms of snow, this season was yet another dismal year. However, those who did ride purchased trail permits, helping to maintain funding for our Michigan Snowmobile Trail Improvement fund.

About 130,366 trail permits were sold, which is down by only 132. Trail permits also increased to $48, of which $46.53 went directly into the Snowmobile Trail Improvement Fund — $6,065,930 was put into that fund.

In Michigan, we didn’t have snow depths in the Upper Peninsula that we normally have, and we didn’t have steady snow in the Lower Peninsula. It snowed enough to get riders excited, and then it thawed.

MSA officials were very worried that low snow would mean another large drop in snowmobile trail permit sales. Last season there was a 5 percent drop in sales. However, those hardcore riders purchased their permits and used them between the thaws. They got their miles in last season.

We did not have the number of snowmobiling days in Northern Lower as we usually do. Riders were forced to go to the U.P.

Grooming Equipment Purchases

Because trail permit sales remained relatively the same, funding for coming season is in place. No cuts to the snowmobile program are expected at this time.

A piece of good news — because there was money left in the program (less money was spent on grooming in the Northern Lower Peninsula) there was funding left to purchase some badly needed new equipment.

Nine pieces of equipment for the coming snowmobile season were purchased. The following areas will be receiving that equipment:

  1. U.P. Thunder Riders
  2. Iron Range
  3. Big Bay 550
  4. Seney
  5. Paradise
  6. Les Cheneaux
  7. Drummond Island
  8. Curtis
  9. Lewiston

It is important to remember that the cost of that grooming equipment has and will continue to increase. Three years ago, the average piece of equipment (tractor) came in at $225,000. Due to new tier-four diesel engines (Environmental Protection Agency rules), increased steel, and increased production costs the equipment averages $265,000 per unit. One of the pieces of equipment purchased for the grant sponsors listed above came in at $280,000.

Trails Groomed in 2016-17

The total number of miles groomed by Michigan’s 68 grant sponsors was 327,402, which was a small decrease from last season’s 328,627 miles groomed. That was down from 440,067 groomed during the 2015-16 season. In 2013-14, 585,258 miles were groomed.

At this time last year, the decrease in trail permit sales led us to look at possible cuts in the snowmobile program. Again, those cuts will not have to be made this season because the sale of trail permits remained the same.

More Than Just Grooming …

Along with grooming, your trail permit dollars paid for fuel costs to the tune of $364,861.18.

That number has increased a little since the season’s numbers were released. Grant sponsors were paid $1.44 per mile for fuel and the statewide average was $1.71 The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued checks for  27 cents per mile more to the grant sponsors.

The average diesel fuel rate will be looked at again on Dec. 1 for the 2018 season

Other program costs include brushing in the fall, signing per the DNR specifications, and grooming all winter long. The total cost for all of this was $7.4 million.

Other costs involved in the program include brushing and signing, insurance, trail leasing, and snowplowing the staging areas, equipment repair, special maintenance, trail reroutes, bridge and culvert repair, and the list goes on from there.

Here is a look at this exact costs for the 2016-17 season:

Grooming:                $ 1,300,000

Brushing & Signing:        $600,000

Utility:             $40,000

Comp Insurance:    $126,000

Liability Insurance:         $130,000

Land Leases:            $200,000

Snow Plowing:                  $80,000

Portable Toilet Rental:    $40,000

Special Maintenance:      $500,000

Equipment Purchases:     $ 1,650,000 (before season)

Equipment Repair: $ 600,000

                 Total         $5,266,000


And we expect another $600,000 in summer maintenance bring the totals to more than $5,866,000

Snowmobile Fatalities

Last year there were six snowmobile-related fatalities. Let me first, say one loss of life, is one too many. With that said, I’ve done some research, and as long as MSA has kept records, this is the smallest number of fatalities in a single season.

One of those deaths was a drowning, one involved hitting a bridge abutment on a frozen lake, and the remained took place on road ways. No fatalities took place on our trails.

Last season Michigan had 25 snowmobile fatalities, which was the highest number since 2010 when 26 people died.

While speed and alcohol continue to be the leading causes of the majority of snowmobile crashes, MSA believes that the lower numbers prove that the Safe Riders! You Make Snowmobiling Safe! campaign and the Zero Tolerance! initiative is working.  MSA continues to promote Zero Tolerance! while out on the trail. Please don’t drink and ride!

Trail Permit Sales

Last season 51,372 trail permits were sold by MSA through our agents and the office. There were 75,932 sold through point of sale machines and 3,062 sold by the DNR. The total sold last season was 130,366. During the 2015-16 130,498 were sold.

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 another low snow year!

Another number to consider is the number of registered snowmobiles. At one point Michigan had the most registered snowmobiles in the U.S. After the recession, this state lost 100,000 registered snowmobilers. Since then the state has been hovering around 200,000 registered sleds

Trying to Continue Providing Great Trails

Although this all sounds like good news, we still need to remember that when MSA worked to get trail 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!

MSA now has a 10-year plan in place, with realistic trail permit numbers. Those involved in the snowmobile program are doing a much better job of looking at finances and actual costs. We are making the dollars we have work.

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.

Snowmobilers Pay Their Way

We are also continuing our efforts to educate our state legislators regarding snowmobiling’s Rate on Investment (ROI) to the State of Michigan, hoping to receive general fund appropriations.

As previously reported, snowmobilers purchase trail permits to fund the snowmobile program. That number is nearly $6 million. The snowmobile program also receives another $2 million from a small return of YOUR gasoline tax. YOU paid this tax. This means that snowmobilers pay $8 million to self fund the snowmobile program. WE pay to play.

Let’s now take what snowmobilers pay out of pocket and divide that $8 million number into snowmobiling’s economic impact on this state — $500 million.

The ROI this state receives on YOUR investment is $62.50

Through MSA efforts, the snowmobile program was set to receive money from the state’s 2018 general fund, our ROI. However, Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed $5 million (15 line items) before signing budget bills. Our appropriations were among those vetoed. the snowmobile program was set to receive $100,000 for snowmobile law enforcement grants and $226,200 for snowmobile local grants.

MSA will continue to talk about snowmobilers ROI to Michigan, while working with legislators. Getting those line items included in Michigan’s general fund was a major accomplishment, and has never been done before.

Where Your Money Goes

Our DNR field contacts continue to work with us and check our trails. Our grant sponsors continue to maintain a close relationship with those field contacts. They work hard to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

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