Outdoors

Sharing the joy of snowmobiling

Woodford SnoBusters keep vast network of trails clear for winter fun

Snowmobiling is a popular winter sport. Photo provided by Woodford SnoBusters

By Cherise Forbes
WOODFORD, Vt.

In 1984, the Woodford SnoBusters got their start from the front porch of the McKenna homestead, thanks to a group of snowmobilers determined to share the sport they love. Since then, the group has grown to oversee a robust network of trails spanning more than 100 miles through Green Mountain National Forest — as well as an equally rich community of riders from near and far.

Woodford rests in a snow pocket at the southwestern corner of Vermont, at an elevation of approximately 2,300 feet. The rugged landscape surrounding the town offers beautiful views and no shortage of wildlife sightings, which, alongside Woodford’s proximity to nearby states, attracts a bustling community of snowmobilers and other outdoor recreation enthusiasts.

When the SnoBusters got their start more than 30 years ago, the sport’s culture was solidifying. Grooming equipment was less advanced, sometimes consisting of a weighted-down pallet hitched to a snowmobile. There hardly were any laws regulating the sport or ensuring safety on the trails, and no centralized group coordinating grooming and trail maintenance.

Through partnerships with the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers (VAST) and the U.S. Forest Service, those founding SnoBusters established a network of trails that eventually would encompass more than 100 miles of trails. Photo provided by Woodford SnoBusters

The group’s founding members knew they had a prime location to share good times, though, and that straightforward mission has inspired their stewardship ever since. Through partnerships with the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers (VAST) and the U.S. Forest Service, those founding SnoBusters established a network of trails that eventually would encompass more than 100 miles of trails.

“They built up the trails slowly, but surely, and, as more members came in, they were able to build up a treasury to buy the equipment needed to maintain them,” said SnoBusters Secretary Stacey Bleile, a longtime snowmobiling enthusiast and volunteer who met her husband through the sport. Today, she says, the group boasts four grooming machines, a physical facility for classes and equipment maintenance, ATVs and other equipment for trail-clearing work, and more.

“Service is a big part of what we do,” Bleile said. “Not just to keep the experience fun for the riders, but also to keep everyone safe on the trails.”

In a typical year, the club coordinates six to eight weekends of trail clearing from September to October, known affectionately as “work parties,” in which volunteers traverse the trails in their entirety. Projects can range from clearing a fallen tree to addressing a bridge or culvert in need of repair.

But, the real work begins in the winter, when Woodford SnoBusters’ volunteers take to the trails four nights a week — typically around the weekend — for grooming and trail maintenance.

“We have just over 100 miles we’re responsible for, and a grooming run will typically be about eight hours or more,” Bleile explained, admitting that the task is a big ask for volunteers like herself. “In the old days when we had less equipment, runs could be 12 to 14 hours.”

In a typical year, the club coordinates six to eight weekends of trail clearing from September to October. Projects can range from clearing a fallen tree to addressing a bridge or culvert in need of repair. Photo provided by Woodford SnoBusters

To further ensure safety on their trails, the SnoBusters work with the Southern Vermont Snowmobile Task Force, made up of state and local police, and sheriff’s department employees who patrol the trails. At busy intersections or areas of concern, they will gather to check the registration and other documentation of passing snowmobilers. Each winter, the group will host task force members at their facility, to help them conduct checks, complete with soup, cookies, and hot chocolate.

“You can come and socialize and hang out, but it helps the task force complete their sled checks as well,” Bleile said. “During a busy holiday weekend or something, you’re less likely to get checked again. It’s a time saver for them and a courtesy for you.”

Additionally, the SnoBusters offer four six-hour educational courses required for new riders, thanks to volunteer teachers like Bleile.

Snowmobiling is an encouraged activity this winter, although state COVID-19 guidelines strongly suggest group rides should be limited to immediate household members. Photo provided by Woodford SnoBusters

“Everything we do is volunteer-driven,” she adds.

Though those endeavors don’t leave as much time for group rides or other social events, the Woodford SnoBusters have become known for their two annual charitable events.

The group’s “Very Special People Ride” connects individuals with special needs and their caregivers with riders for the day, allowing them to “enjoy this sport we all love,” according to Bleile. Complete with a party-like atmosphere, the event is one that volunteers and participants look forward to year-round, evidenced by gleeful run-ins at grocery stores and elsewhere.

Each February, their outdoor hot dog roast in Somerset raises money for various Bennington-area charities and serves meals to about 300 riders.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has made both events, as well as other potlucks or social rides, unlikely to happen in 2021. Still, the group’s members are hopeful that the community culture and connections they have established over decades will continue through shared enjoyment of the trails, and a shared mission to keep them safe.

“This year, when we can’t do much else, we’re grateful to still be able to snowmobile,” Bleile said. “We all have the same goal each year: let’s get out there and enjoy this great sport that we love. Let’s help others do that.”

Snowmobile Clubs: Where to find trails and fellow enthusiasts near you

In Southern Vermont

Green Mountain Trail Blazers: gmtb.org

Shaftsbury Sno-Pilots: shaftsburysnowpilots.org

Woodford SnoBusters: snobusters.org

Deerfield Valley Stump Jumpers: dvsj.com

Derry Sled Dogs: facebook.com/derrysleddogs

West River Sno-Goers: facebook.com/westriversnogoers

Wardsboro Pathfinders: wardsboropathfinders.com

Jacksonville EZ Riders: ezridersvt.com

In the Berkshires

Adams Sno-Drifters: adamssnodrifters.webstarts.com

Berkshire Snow Seekers: berkshiresnowseekers.com

Florida Mountaineers: facebook.com/FloridaMountaineers

Knox Trail Sno-Riders Snowmobile Club: knoxtrail.com

Sandisfield Snowmobile Club: sandisfieldsc.webs.com

Savoy Kanary Kats: savoykanarykats.org

Worthington Snowmobile Club: facebook.com/smithwicks18

Cherise Forbes is an independent writer, photographer, and designer based out of Southern Vermont. She currently serves as Communications and Marketing Manager for The BOMA Project, a non-profit organization empowering women entrepreneurs affected by climate change.

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