Cresting the top of a well-groomed trail in 1971 to a breath-taking view of a snow bound expanse in Northern Idaho, I had no idea how popular the sport of snowmobiling would become. According to the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association, snowmobilers generate more than $34 billion dollars of economic activity in North America annually. Here in Central Oregon, snowmobiling has become a major tourist draw and is a popular pastime for locals, as well.
In the Mt. Bachelor area, there are more than 250 miles of trails maintained by the volunteers of Central Oregon Snowbusters, Inc. According to Vera Riser, who acts as president of the group, there are nearly 18,000 snowmobiles in Oregon and approximately 6,500 miles of trails in the state. The sport contributes to a robust outdoor economy in Oregon that, according to Travel Oregon, has reached $10 billion in annual consumer spending, employing more than 100,000 Oregonians.
Central Oregon Snowbusters is part of a larger umbrella organization, the Oregon State Snowmobile Association, formed in 1972 to promote "better, safer, and more scenic trails." The group works in collaboration with the National Forest Service and the Oregon Department of Transportation to maintain this system of trails. Statewide, there are 27 clubs, of which the Central Oregon Snowbusters is one.
Vera Riser says her non-profit group will groom up to 3,500 miles of trails in a good snow year and is looking forward to using a new trail groomer they received this year. The average snowmobile user rarely sees the work performed on the trails by the group's nearly 100 volunteers. This is because most trail grooming is conducted at night so the trails are fresh for users the next morning. As many as 800-1,000 snowmobilers will use the trails on a good snow day.
Many of us have traveled the well-maintained trails along Century Drive from Wanoga Park around the base of Mt. Bachelor down to Elk Lake where the beer is cold and the soup is hot for snowmobilers who venture to the Elk Lake Resort. On a clear day the landscape is breathtaking, providing photo ops and memories. Looking up from Dutchman Flat to Mt. Bachelor or west to the Three Sisters provides winter views few others will ever see.
Central Oregon Snowbusters, Inc. also works hard within the sport to promote safety and respect for the natural surroundings. Staying on designated trails and confining activity to user areas, obeying trail signs, and respecting other recreational interests is critical not only to the safety of all, but to the preservation of cherished Central Oregon habitat.
The group has a 20-point "Rules of the Road" document that can be viewed online. Many of the rules are common sense items such as "do not follow closely behind snow groomers," "adjust speed to visibility," and "look out for cross-country skiers, sled dog teams, ATVs, and groomers." Knowing the area in which one is riding seems pretty straightforward, but as the sport grows along with the number of first-time drivers, these fundamentals are critical to all.
The group also promotes safety classes, which are held on the second Saturday of each month beginning November 12 through March 10. These classes are held at the Sheriff's Special Services Building – Search & Rescue Center.
Central Oregon Snowbusters is also proud of its ongoing involvement with "Candlelighters," a program that raises funds for children with cancer. The group says it has raised thousands of dollars for young cancer victims and stages events on their behalf.
As we head toward the winter months, we're all hoping for plenty of snow—not only for the sake of our water needs, but also for the vitality of the Bend outdoor economy. If a snowmobile trip in the Mt. Bachelor area is in the future, remember the volunteers who help make the experience fun and safe for everyone—the Central Oregon Snowbusters.