For snowmobilers, this winter has been one to forget.
However, when there’s a will, there’s a way ... and Dave VanDerlinde of Clyde has still logged close to 700 miles on his sled this year.
Unfortunately, that riding has been up north near Old Forge, where the colder temperatures and higher elevation have enabled the snow that has fallen to stick around. VanDerlinde, secretary/treasurer of the Lakeshore Snow Devils Snowmobile Club in Wayne County, hasn’t ridden a single mile on the local club’s trail system, which runs from Red Creek in eastern Wayne County to Sodus Point and also encompasses the Lyons, Clyde and Savannah areas.
At this point, many have already called it a season.
“A few guys who bought new sleds are antsy and want to go riding, but most have covered their sleds,” VanDerlinde said.
The Snow Devils is one of four snowmobile clubs in Wayne County. The others are the Webster Ridge Runners, the Williamson Drift Riders and the Canaltown Snowmobilers in Palmyra. Although the Lakeshore club typically has about 400 members, that number is down this year due to the balmier weather. Many of those members join because of the financial incentive — snowmobile club members get a big break when registering their sleds — but the club has a core group of about 15 to 20 people who are busy year-round grooming trails, organizing events, publishing trail maps and the like.
VanDerlinde, 52, is one of them.
He and others maintain 120 miles of trails. Some of it is public land along state highways, the rest private land where agreements have been made with landowners. The club has two grooming machines and would like to buy a third, as well as build a groomer barn, yet there’s more work to be done than snow grooming — in fact, VanDerlinde said they “haven’t turned the key on the groomers all year.
“Our club puts up and takes down 3,500 signs each year. It’s a lot of work,” he said, explaining that the signs range from stop ahead, junction and hazard to upcoming curve or yield. “We’re not riding on engineered highways. Surprises happen on the landscape, and that’s what the signs are for, to promote awareness of hidden obstacles, changes in direction.”
In cooperation with the other Wayne County clubs, the Snow Devils help produce a joint trail map to the tune of 3,500 copies. As land changes hands, club members are always moving and developing trails and making new agreements with property owners.
“Denser populations create trail reroutes,” VanDerlinde said. “Obviously, it’s easier in the rural area.”
The club offers social events like pancake breakfasts, group rides, non-competitive poker runs, some speed runs and the like. There are also work parties to build bridges or install signs, and a holiday party as well.
Bryan Klekota of Huron, the club’s vice president and a Snow Devils member since 2005, returned to snowmobiling when he realized how much the sport had changed.
“Before, you took your chances on the road,” he said. “Now, being up here with marked, groomed and interconnected trails, that got me back into the sport.”
Klekota describes himself as “a cold-weather kind of guy” who would be miserable just sitting around all winter, waiting for spring. Many times he’ll take his sled out alone for a jaunt to Lake Ontario or through the woods to enjoy nature and perhaps stumble upon deer.
He also enjoys the camaraderie the club provides and the opportunity to get together with a group and go for rides here or there.
When he joined the Snow Devils, Klekota said he didn’t know a single person but wanted to be a contributing member.
“I spend a lot of time putting trails in, cleaning brush, planning events, planning work crews ... There’s a lot of time involved, but it’s a lot of fun to me.”
VanDerlinde said the club has an educational and safety mission too. Statewide, the trail system is moving toward safer trails with better signage.
He also noted young riders 10 and older have to earn a safety certificate after undergoing eight hours of education. Until they reach 16, they can’t sled alone.
“I enjoy being outside and enjoy being with friends. It’s a group activity,” said VanDerlinde, who, along with his wife, Sharon, will split his sledding time between Wayne County and Old Forge depending on the snow conditions and any club activities that may be planned. “Obviously, with no snow, we’ve been going to Old Forge this winter.”
VanDerlinde has been snowmobiling since 1969. As an active member at the state level, he has his pulse on the sport. Although last year was a banner year with snowmobile registrations at 130,000 statewide, it was atypical. VanDerlinde attributed the spike to the early and consistent snow. For the past six years that he’s been privy to registration numbers, he said the overall trend is downward.
“It’s the cost,” he said. “In five years we’ve seen the cost of sleds rise 25 percent in price, and the average rider age is 55, not 25.”
VanDerlinde admits it’s an expensive sport but feels the rising cost of gas doesn’t make a difference when it comes to devoted riders.
“I’ve never heard anybody say it will slow them down,” he said. “They may moan and groan, but it doesn’t stop them.”