Local snowmobile clubs make for safer riding on the trails

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Snowmobiling is all about sharing a friendship with fellow riders having similar outdoorsy interests, seeing nature’s snowy beauty, and feeling the freedom of leaving behind the rigors of daily life.

For the maximum enjoyment of riding the trails, membership in a local snowmobile club delivers both an organized gathering of fellow riders and money-saving benefits. Plus club members are out there grooming and clearing the trails to make them safer for all riders.

“It’s really advantageous to join a club,” said Tim Taylor, New York State Snowmobile Association district director for Onondaga County and vice president of the Onondaga County Snowmobile Association, as well as past president of the Toad Hollow Trailriders from Syracuse.

Taylor said beyond simply being with people of like interests, the benefits of joining a club include a reduction in the snowmobile registration fee from $100 to $45. Club memberships across the state run about $30 a year.

Registration fees are then used to create a Snowmobile Trail Fund that delivers a stipend to each snowmobile club maintaining the trails. No taxpayer dollars are used to finance the maintenance, Taylor noted. Every club has a trail groomer, he added; the Toad Hollow group alone will spend hundreds of hours maintaining their own 19 miles of trails.

A snowmobile driver races during the Boonville Snow Festival in this February 2015 file photo. (Michael Davis/Syracuse New Times)

Clubs have regular meetings and often host special events for members and sometimes non-members.

“There is definitely a lot of camaraderie,” Taylor said. “You can get a lot of great advice on where to go and how to ride by talking to fellow club members.”

Bill Howland is the president of the Snow Owls Snowmobile Club based in Clay. He said the most important part of creating a trail is meeting with the land owners to seek their permission.

“We meet with property owners to find out exactly where they will allow a trail and clearly mark it with signs and delineation,” Howland said. “We place ‘No Snowmobiling’ signs and ‘Stay on the Trail or Stay Home’ signs to keep riders from straying, and speed limit and ‘Quiet’ signs if the trail is close to houses. We will even place fences along the sides of the trail if requested. If the property owner is a snowmobiler, we give them a free membership to our club every year.”

Howland said they generally have good relationships with the property owners, and at Christmas show their appreciation to some owners by giving out gift cards. There are more than 100 property owners along their 22 miles of maintained trails, so they can only do a few each year. Many property owners also like having the trails for hunting and hiking in the off-snowmobile season, Howland explained.

The main stumbling block to granting permission has often been the question of liability on the trail. Yet Howland said that is not an issue for the property owner.

“The New York State Snowmobile Association maintains general liability insurance with a private carrier, which covers all property owners on the 10,000-plus miles of trails throughout the state,” he said, adding that the association is not a state governmental entity.

Dennis Sullivan, a trail boss with the Morrisville-based Moonlight Riders Snowmobile Club, counts the savings of his yearly registration — especially with more then one sled to register — as his biggest benefit. He also enjoys meeting with other club members with the same interests, riding with them, and sometimes learning new trails.

“There’s nothing better then a Sunday-afternoon ride with family and stopping along the trail to take in the scenery and make memories,” he said.

His son Matt Sullivan says he likes the nice savings on his registration, but also getting to know others with the same interest and volunteering to work on the snowmobile trails himself. During the year he takes part in various events to raise money to work the trails and help maintain trails and bridges.

Fellow club member Connor Ogrydziak of Morrisvillle agreed he likes the savings on registration, and the way the club members improve the trail so both members and non-members alike can benefit.

Blossvale’s Amanda Vergalito credits her husband, Cole, for getting her into the sport. When their daily work schedules don’t offer a lot of free time, one of their favorite date night events is riding their sleds out to dinner somewhere, and they can go just about anywhere in the winter when the snow comes. They are both members of the West Rome Riders.

Safety is very much on her mind, as Vergalito lost a friend in a snowmobile accident last winter. She said the snowmobile club volunteers are out there clear-
ing away fallen trees and other obstructions, fixing any other trouble spots along the trails they maintain.

“There is a lot of prep work that needs to be done before the trails are safe to ride,” she explained. “Accidents can happen in the wink of an eye, and it doesn’t have to be your own fault.

“I thank all of the snowmobile clubs for their dedication. They are out there keeping the trails nice. It’s the snowmobile clubs who are making our trails safe.”

The New York State Snowmobile Association offers a list of the hundreds of clubs organized by each county on their website, as well as other information for the snowmobile enthusiast. For more information, visit

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