It's an official wrap on the season for Club Snow inc. in Portage. The club is part of a 12,000 km network of Manitoba trails which actually exceeds the amount of highway in the province. The snowmobile club was unable to open local trails this season due to lack of snow, but maintenance operations and updates to the trail systems still took place. Club president Doug Atchison says Sno pass holders were able to enjoy membership trails in other parts of the province, and that membership fees paid during low-snow years like this are rolled into a stabilization fund that helps support the long-term sustainability of the trails. Atchison explains the grooming and maintenance team still completed startup tasks to ensure grooming equipment was available in the event of a significant snowfall and shut-down tasks associated with storing the equipment are now complete. 

The AGM saw nearly 20 members in attendance, and though four board members were up for re-election no new members stepped forward. Atchison will remain club president along with the existing directors. The ongoing efforts of maintenance crews who re-located portions of three trails late last fall were acknowledged at the meeting and a special thanks was extended to Ken Penman and Ian Smith who spent several days selling Snoman tickets to raise just under 4000.00 for the club. 

Atchison gave special recognition to members of the original "Prairie Snow Patrol" who purchased and equipped a tractor with tracks for grooming and in 2020 sold the equipment back to the club for only what was owed on the lease. He says it was important to include a formal acknowledgement to the group, as the tractor could have easily been sold for profit, " It was a big financial break for our club and I wanted to make sure we recognized them.". 

Atchison says club members and directors received a number of inquiries about how seasonal Sno pass fees would be used, given no grooming took place. The following memo was issued: 

Club Snow Inc. Memo April 3, 2024: 

To all Club Snow Members, 

As your executive we are getting questions about the cost of a snow pass, especially in a year where we had very little snow. In our club’s area we never groomed or opened any trail. Some of you may be getting those same questions or may be even wondering yourself what happens to that money collected when trails aren’t opened. Hopefully this memo will answer some of those questions.

What happens in a normal snow year: SnoMan receives the money collected by AutoPac for snow passes minus a small fee they charge to collect the fees. Of that money SnoMan takes a small portion for their operating expenses which includes three staff members, running the office and insurance for our trail system. The rest of the money is paid out to the 53 snowmobile clubs in Manitoba based on the number of kilometres groomed that year. SnoMan pays this out once a year usually in October for the past season’s grooming. That means clubs must have a reserve fund to pay their expenses for each years grooming.

SnoMan tries to pay out about $15 to $18 per kilometre groomed per year. Each club will get
paid for up to 12 full groomings per year. Should a club decide to groom more than that they would not be paid by SnoMan for the extra kilometres. However snow conditions vary across the province and some clubs end up grooming more than others but each club is paid for kilometres groomed up to the maximum. Few clubs actually do 12 full groomings in a year.

What happens in a high snow year: In a high snow year clubs do much more grooming. SnoMan still only has so much money to pay out to the clubs so the amount per Kilometre paid out to clubs can go down. SnoMan has realized these fluctuations are hard on the clubs and at times would fall below actual operating costs for the clubs. To stabilize the rate SnoMan puts an amount most years into a stabilization fund so they can ensure clubs are getting enough to cover their operating costs. If we get two or three high snow years in a row, such as happened recently, the fund gets depleted. Last year SnoMan had to completely drain the fund and it was still not going to be able to pay enough per kilometre to meet the club’s operating costs. They lobbied the
provincial government and were successful in getting a grant of $250,000. This allowed them to pay out at a level that would cover the club’s expenses. If the government hadn’t made this grant available the low payout could have put some clubs under.

What happens in a low snow year: As is the case this year it was a low snow winter. Several clubs, including ours never groomed or opened trails this winter. So what happens to the snow pass money? Clubs have operating expenses and some have loan payments for groomers or drags. SnoMan realizes that if there were no pay outs when clubs don’t groom they would not be able to meet their payment obligations and could be forced to shut down the club. To protect the clubs SnoMan pays out the equivalent of two full groomings if clubs don’t groom at all. This allows clubs to make payments on loans and any other annual expenses such as insurance on equipment and shelters. SnoMan will use a low snow year like this to help rebuild their stabilization fund.
Some people also question why we don’t groom in low snow years when we did get some snow. There are a couple of things that affect grooming. One is ice thickness if we cross any waterways. We need to have 18” of ice for our groomer. If we don’t have that then we can’t cross. The other thing we need is good snow on all of the trail. While there may be good snow in the bush areas often the fields are blown clear so we are unable to groom. Also grooming
with insufficient snow is very hard on the equipment. Cleats on the tracks can break and damage to the drag can also happen. These repairs can be costly.
 In conclusion, SnoMan and your local clubs do the best we can to have a safe, reliable trail system each year but we can’t control the weather. We hope this memo gives you a better understanding of the operation and funding of the trail system.

Your Club Snow Executive