The recent Oregon State Snowmobile Association convention in John Day was a great success, Grant County Snowballers President Tim Holly told the Eagle.
The convention drew a good crowd to John Day on Jan. 12-13, with about 140 people attending the dinner event at the Grant County Fairgrounds on Saturday, he said.
Drought-like conditions have impacted snow levels in Grant County this year, Holly noted, but visitors commented on how much more snow was in Grant County than other parts of Oregon. That was expected to change, based on the latest weather forecasts, Holly said.
According to Snotel records online, the snow-water equivalent for snowpack at Blue Mountain Summit, on Highway 26 east of Austin Junction, is at its lowest in four years, Holly said.
“We had a lot of snow early, in November, but not much since then,” Holly said.
The Grant County area has about 500 miles of groomed snowmobile trails and four Sno-Parks, including Huddleston Sno-Park, south of Prairie City on County Road 62; Starr Sno-Park, south of Canyon City at the Starr Ridge Summit on Highway 395; and Idlewild Campground, north of Burns off Highway 395.
A Sno-Park has been under development at Blue Mountain Summit for the past two years, Holly said. A large area has been cleared for parking, but grant money is needed to pay for paving and restroom facilities, he said.
Snowmobile trails groomed by the Snowballers, the Burnt River Snowmobile Club and the Sumpter Valley Snowmobile Club converge in the Blue Mountain Summit area, Holly said.
Sno-Park lots are plowed using state crews or funds, and a Sno-Park permit is required by all winter recreationists using the lots. The permits cost $25 per year and are available from the Department of Motor Vehicles and some local stores.
Two avalanche training seminars were provided during the two-day convention, but avalanches are rare in this area, Holly said. Many members of the Snowballers club respond to Grant County Search and Rescue calls.
“We can get 25 machines on site right away,” he said.
Communication in the mountains can be difficult, he noted, but riders can sometimes gain cell service at high points in the terrain. Groomers, who work at night when the snow has hardened, carry satellite phones or a SPOT satellite messenger in case they have trouble miles from the trailhead.
Three trail-groomer manufacturers attended the convention. Grooming machines are owned by the Oregon State Snowmobile Association and provided to local clubs with certified operators, Holly said. OSSA also pays for the fuel, but the operators are generally volunteers, he said.