This is perhaps the most common question asked by snowmobilers early in the season. While there isn't a standard date for the opening of trails, typically you can expect that trail systems should be available for riding by the later part of December or early in January. Naturally, weather conditions will dictate when trails open and early winter weather will result in earlier start dates. It takes a significant number of cold days for ice to thicken, so expect lake trails to become available considerably later than land trails.
Club "trail bosses", as they are commonly referred to, use their experience together with the opinions of other club representatives to determine when a trail is ready for public travel. Many factors contribute to their final decision and problem areas may not always be visible to the general public. Sections of trail are only opened once the club is confident that the trails are ready for regular grooming operations.
In order to establish a solid trail base, snowmobile trails require a layer of frost in the ground. Ironically, a deep snowfall early in the season can delay the opening of the trail system. Snow acts as an insulator, protecting the warm ground from winter's cold winds. The warm ground actually melts the snow from the ground up, creating a soft, mushy base. These same conditions prevent lakes and swamps from freezing. With our rugged terrain and the multitude of swamps, many areas are only accessible for trail inspection after the swamps and ponds are frozen. Cold temperatures with smaller amounts of snow allow for a solid base. Clubs pack this base down with small groomers gradually building a thick layer of frost before the heavy industrial groomers are moved out onto the system. Without a good layer of frost or ice, some areas cannot be accessed as early as others. It's common for clubs to discover as late as December or January that tree removal or bridgework is required in some of these remote areas and this work will delay the trail from opening.
No, trails across swamps, lakes and ponds generally require more time to develop a solid base. Clubs generally open their trail networks in stages with summer access roads or bulldozed trails opening first, and the lake or swampy areas opening last. A significant number of snowmobile related fatalities take place early in the season on lakes that haven't had sufficient time to freeze properly. Snowmobilers are reminded to stay off trails crossing lakes and ponds until clubs declare the trails safe for travel. Remember the golden rule, "if you don't know, don't go".
Trail crews or groomers operating on a trail should not imply that the trail is open to the public for travel; it only signifies that trail operations are underway. On many occasions, groomers are turned around by unforeseen hazards; so don't assume that a groomed trail means the trail is available for riding. Trails have far too many access points to police, so the responsibility is with you, the snowmobiler, to ensure that trails are available before riding. Never travel on unavailable trails. For Trail Status information, please visit the OFSC Interactive Guide. Click here for Trail Status information for OFSC District 7 - Muskoka and for other areas in Ontario.