Off trail riding
The off-trail dimension of snowmobiling is nothing new. In fact, one can even state that this particular aspect of the activity is in fact more faithful to its origins. If modern snowmobiling in Quebec is largely associated with our incredible trail network, off-trail riding preceded the establishment of our trail system by many years. What we are witnessing today, then, is essentially a re-birth of off-trail riding, an evolution led by the tremendous technological advancements in snowmobiles designed for this purpose.
From utility to trail
Soon thereafter, snowmobile`s evolution in Quebec took a tangent as work began on development of a formal trail network. While some snowmobilers remained true to the activity`s utilitarian roots, most got on board the trail riding bandwagon as clubs began to form and a new social scene began to develop around snowmobiling. This evolution continued through the years and the result is the creation of an important recreational industry whose economic impact is in excess of $2 billion annually.
The re-birth of off-trail riding
The proliferation of off-trail riding is hardly surprising, notwithstanding the evolution in hardware, in light of current socio-demographic trends. In essence, the increasing urbanisation of our society, together with the ever-increasing regulatory framework encompassing our lives and hobbies, has led to an expansion in so-called “adventure” activities, as the growth in SUV and adventure-sport motorcycle sales have clearly demonstrated. The snowmobiling community has not resisted this trend and off-trail riding in Quebec is growing rapidly, with sales of crossover and deep snow models occupying an increasingly important place in new unit sales. Every year, thousands on new enthusiasts are discovering this activity, attracted by the freedom and adrenaline rush it provides.
Mastering the art
In the off-trail environment, dangers (including ice, rocks, stumps,…) are hidden below the snow’s surface, waiting to be discovered at the most inopportune time and in often dramatic fashion. Also, while speeds are generally low, certain manoeuvres that are considered normal in this setting can become dangerous. It is precisely for these reasons that a specialized riding course is recommended for neophyte riders or those not accustomed to riding off-trail, the knowledge gained making it possible to improve the riding experience while also enhancing safety.
- Inconveniences caused to other users: Damage caused to trap lines and cottage properties, to snowshoe and cross-country ski trails, etc.
- Damage caused to vegetation: breaking young tree shoots, snow compaction that may reduce vegetation survival.
- Wildlife disturbance: flight and exhaustion of animals (caribou, moose and deer) that may potentially lead to death; displacement to habitats of lesser quality; increased vulnerability to predators travelling in snowmobile tracks.
To help mitigate these negative impacts, it is recommended that the following behaviours be adopted:
- Avoid riding in areas where you may cause damage to trees or forest regeneration, especially when snow cover is minimal.
- Slow down or stop completely when meeting wild animals to avoid frightening them.
- Slow down as much as possible when meeting other land users.
In addition, some actions are strictly prohibited at all times and punishable by fine:
- Pursuit or harassment wildlife.
- Damage trees or hinder forest regeneration.
To learn more about snowmobiling best practices, please refer to the following leaflets:
Where to ride
The FCMQ and off-trail riding
Answering a need
In initial phase of the project, the FCMQ elected to put the emphasis on education and awareness. To do so, a leaflet is produced and distributed, serving to identify those areas where riding was permitted and not. In addition, a basic code of conduct was provided. The other main thrust is signage, that is, the design and installation of signs whose purpose was to inform riders in the field. The end of season results were extremely favourable, with very few instances of delinquency reported. Perhaps more importantly, landowners and municipalities were pleased with the outcome and encouraged to pursue it further.
Following through on the success of the Gaspésie project, the Québec region becomes the second to be targeted due to its numerous problem areas, as well as its strategic location within the provincial trail network. Working in close collaboration with various governmental bodies, the FCMQ produced a map which enables users to identify FCMQ trails which are located in zones where off-trail riding is permitted (and more importantly, where it is not). This map also helps to raise awareness about wildlife challenges (mainly the woodland caribou).
Furthermore, recommendations are provided for clubs wishing to establish such parks on their territory. Among other things, it is recommended to provide parking spaces in close proximity to trails, to have appropriate signage and to have required services nearby.
It is important to note that while FCMQ has given itself the mandate of providing member clubs with the necessary tools, the final decision regarding the establishment of snow parks will fall to the clubs themselves. Given that the project is significant in its breadth, the FCMQ will be undertaking consultations with members clubs, thereby allowing the clubs to elaborate plans, if applicable.
In the long term, it will be possible to increase membership numbers by offering a special trail permit, thereby providing access via FCMQ trails, to the said snow parks.