The snow guns are going full tilt on Vermont’s ski hills and snowplows have already been working the interstates, but in Shelburne and Charlotte, there’s a handful of snow enthusiasts especially eager to see the landscape covered in white without the threat of an afternoon melt.
Next Tuesday, the Shelburne Charlotte Association of Snow Travelers Snowmobile Club – S.C.A.T. for short – has its organizing meeting planned and the leaders are eager to see some new faces. At age 32 and representing the third generation of snowmobilers in his family, the group’s new president Chris Myers hopes more people his age get involved to keep this winter tradition alive. Based on an earlier gathering this fall and the handful of returning members he knows, Myers optimistically pegs the group’s membership at around 20.
Statewide, the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers known as VAST has been around for nearly 48 years as the main organization for snowmobiling. It lists 128 regional clubs with over 24,000 members combined and a network of more than 5,000 miles of trails groomed each winter by volunteers on land where owners grant permission for its use.
The local club claims one of the oldest winter trail systems for snowmobilers in Vermont. Its trail network covers some of the most scenic in Chittenden County, allowing riders access to the top of Mt. Philo. The club’s home base is the Dutch Mill Restaurant in Shelburne, where owner Jamie Bissonette welcomes riders and which serves as the spot for trail maps and membership materials.
But, as any volunteer organization knows, the future of local snowmobiling hinges on an influx of new members willing to put in time and effort to keep the tradition alive.
Myers gets visibly animated talking about snowmobiling, especially about his time on the trails and the people who make this activity possible year after year. He says his earliest memories of being out on the trails are from about age 9 with his parents, brothers, and friends. In his mind’s eye, he still can trace the path:
“I remember leaving from our backyard on a trail we made to connect to the VAST system and taking trips to the Dutch Mill, embarking on long stretches through Mr. Farrington’s property to Dorset Street followed by mystical woodsy trails leading to and grazing Shelburne Pond, followed by long stretches of open fields leading to the crossing at Palmer’s Sugar House [and] welcomed into Hinesburg by a large posting supporting our CVU teams,” he said.
Once in Hinesburg, the trail would lead to the home of trail groomer of Norm Thibault, whose dedication to the club has been “priceless” and continues today, Myers said.
Thibault lives near the Shelburne-Charlotte town line and regularly uses his own equipment to groom trails. “He is a thankless hero to me and the rest of our group, along with the Denton family who also live a lifestyle of constant work,” Myers said. The Dentons help out with trail maintenance as well.
Myers’ admiration stems from the fact that snow comes at all times of the day and night and the volunteer groomers are the first ones out. “When the snow hits, they know people like me are firing up the snowmobiles ready to take advantage of the gift of snow,” Myers said.
His virtual trail ride continues: “Following Norm’s property is another scenic mix of woods and wide open fields leading to Marbles Store and onwards past the Nichols farm to the flats leading to the great ascent to the top of Mt. Philo,” he recounts from memory.
It’s not just snowmobilers who enjoy the trails the S.C.A.T. club provides each winter. Myers said the trails appeal to many for different reasons but the end result is the same – fond memories of winter days outside on the snow.
“(My) goal is to invite all who utilize the trail, from cross-country skiers, snowshoers, and all who just enjoy walking these fine trails with pets, neighbors, friends, and children to enjoy the nature of our community to get involved and help us preserve this wonderful system to bring memories and stories to future generations,” he said.
Myers said the club is particularly grateful to the landowners who allow the trail to cross their property each year, “true Vermonters in my book,” he said. “Words cannot describe the appreciation for these landowners for the memories they’ve created for me, and generations amongst our group before me.”
John Debrule has signed on as vice president and support also comes from others such as the Dutch Mill and Aubuchon Hardware that just donated paint for this year’s trail signs. The Shelburne Recreation Department is helping coordinate the required safety course for riders.
Myers recently started his own business, a home-inspection company, located in Charlotte. Proximity to the winter trails might have had something to do with that.
Tuesday’s meeting starts at 7 p.m. at the Dutch Mill Family Restaurant in Shelburne. Questions can be emailed to the group at firstname.lastname@example.org.