VAST Wants State To Be Snowmobile Destination

April 10, 2017

A snowmobiler enjoys excellent conditions on a VAST trail in East Montpelier. JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR / STAFF FILE PHOTO

 

Vermont’s landscape offers endless opportunity for outdoor recreation, and some of the best snowmobiling in the world. Since 1967, The Vermont Association of Snow Travelers has groomed about 5,000 miles of terrain each year for snowmobiling enthusiasts.

 

“The economic significance that the sport of snowmobiling has on the state of Vermont i s outstanding, at approximately $ 500 million annually — which is second only to skiing in the state in the line of tourism,” said David Rouleau, president of the Barre Town Thunder Chickens club.

According to the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association, there are more than 1.2 million registered snowmobiles in the United States, and snowmobilers in both the U.S. and Canada put $28 billion into local economies each year. This includes expenditures for equipment, clothing, meals and snowmobiling vacations.

 

“VAST is fully funded through the people who purchase trail passes each year. There were approximately 20,000 passes sold this year, which was a great year,” Rouleau said.

 

Founded 50 years ago, VAST is one of the oldest snowmobiling organizations in the U.S. It is a private, nonprofit group that includes 130 clubs with about 24,000 members, and is responsible for the maintenance and operation of the trail system. The Barre Thunder Chickens is one such volunteer club.

“At Thunder Chickens, we have 300 members, 60 miles of trails, and we work with approximately 70 landowners. Furthermore, membership numbers were up this year (a 50 percent increase). Last year we had 200 members, this year 300,” Rouleau said.

 

Part of the reason for that is the sport is 100 percent reliant upon weather.

 

“This last season was good in comparison to the year prior. Our biggest challenge is snowfall — if we don’t get snow, we don’t operate. And if we don’t get business, business doesn’t trickle down to the other businesses,” said Philip Brown, owner of Northeast Kingdom Adventures in St. Johnsbury. “ Without the rental of snow machines, we have very little going on in the winter. When the season is good, it’s good for all. The revenue brought in from snowmobiling trickles down to gas stations, mom-andpop shops, hotels — you name it. It’s a huge impact in Vermont, and we need it,” Brown said.

 

Steve Malnati drives a 2010 Tucker Cat while grooming snowmobile trails for the Barre Town Thunder Chickens snowmobile club. The club hoped to have all of its 43 miles of trail rolled after a midweek snowstorm. JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR / STAFF PHOTO

 

During winter months, many Vermont farmers offer up their land for club members to enjoy. Snowmobiling has a low impact on the land. More than 2,400 miles of VAST trails cross Vermont farmland — about half of the VAST trail network.

 

“Approximately 80 percent of VAST’s trail system is private land. More than 2,400 miles, or 64 percent of that, is farmland. The remainder of that percentage is state and federal land,” said Cindy Locke, VAST’s executive director. “Our trail network is statewide. We are fortunate here in Vermont, our trails are diverse and we are accessible to bordering states — even Canada.”

 

The clubs and their volunteers, and the landowners who allow snowmobilers to cross their land, are what make up the heart of the organization.

Through the organization, rather than being state run, we have the ability to create a phenomenal destination, and at VAST we do just that. We spend approximately $2 million per year grooming our trails,” Locke said.

 

Snowmobiling in Vermont attracts visitors from all over the globe and the industry works to brand itself as a positive family activity. Out with the old and in with reformed greener machines; the industry has gone greener, manufacturing machines with less emissions, and that are significantly quieter.

 

“It’s an incredible familyoriented sport. It’s pretty hard to get off a snow machine at the end of the day without feeling as though you’ve had a fun day,” Brown said. “Snow machining is the best way to see the backcountry. It’s different than hiking — you feel the air, you feel it on your face, you feel like you’re a part of the landscape.”

 

With snowmobiling tours and vacations growing in popularity, the Green Mountain State has become a destination, benefitting business owners and tourism in general.

 

“We get people from all over the world. When you’re out on the trails there’s a sense of community. The state needs it — it’s important to all of us here in Vermont,” Brown said

 

Rutland Herald, 4/8/17

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