Deer Lake – The Hub of Western Newfoundland Snowmobiling

By Andrew Goldsworthy

So what business are you in? “Winter Tourism Sir”, said the cab driver. Same question to the lady at the gas station and the dude at the sandwich shop. Both matching the cab driver, “Winter Tourism sir!” Is this happening yet in the Town of Deer Lake? Not quite, but if the Town Council of Deer Lake play their cards right, it could be a reality for this Western Newfoundland town that wishes to become the hub of Winter Snowmobiling activity for Western Newfoundland.

A focal point or a centre of activity is a rough definition of what a hub is in the context of business. The Town of Deer Lake desires to be the hub, or centre of activity for Western Newfoundland Snowmobiling. So why, is Deer Lake positioned to capture this title? Number one; they have set it as a goal and no other municipality has anchored themselves to it yet. Number two; geographically they’re positioned as a gateway to the Great Northern peninsula and the rest of Western Newfoundland. Number three; they have an airport which makes it easier for visiting winter tourist. Number four, the Town of Deer Lake is snowmobiling friendly. As long as folks use commonsense, this will continue. Number five; they have multiple snowmobile rental operations renting both touring sleds and mountain sleds. Number six; understanding the needs of snowmobilers when it comes to staging areas, loading ramps and big parking lots (try pulling 50+ feet of truck and trailer into a cramped and poorly ploughed gas station), but that’s not the case in Deer Lake. Number seven; accessibility from all directions while on snowmobile. Number eight; trail signage and businesses that communicate their offerings. Number nine; possibly one of the best non-OEM snowmobile parts/accessory/clothing retailers – Deer Lake Home Hardware. And finally, number ten; communication. The Town of Deer Lake wants to speak to snowmobilers and they’re doing that here, in the pages of Sledworthy Magazine.

Last winter, close to one-hundred individuals attended the Town of Deer Lake’s Winter Tourism workshop on March 12th (2015). My fear with this session was that it wasn’t going to lead anywhere or at least point folks in the right direction. Many of the speakers discuss being prepared, expectations, liabilities, qualifications for guides, a lot of operational type things which is normal. However, when Dennis Burns, director of the Canadian Council of Snowmobile Organizations (CCSO) took the mic and said “what business are you in?” He looked at Damon Clarke (Economic Development Office with the Town) and continued with, “you and every person in this town have to be in the winter tourism business”. Dennis continue with telling the room to “get ready” because Newfoundland’s secret is leaking out. That being the fact that Newfoundland has some of the best snowmobiling in the entire country, not trails but natural assets. The trails are just the necessary roads to get folks around. Things that other provinces would love to have, they’re all here – the off trail experiences, the mountains and incredible vistas. Dennis finished up telling the story of the Town of Pickle Lake in Ontario. This one-industry town lost that industry and had to innovate. They picked winter tourism and specifically snowmobiling to help save their economy.

I applaud the Town of Deer Lake for taking this necessary step. In my opinion, they’re already the Hub of Winter Snowmobile Activity for the West Coast. In fact, other municipalities should learn from them.

However, we have a bigger issue at play here. The fact that our provincial Government has dragged their heels on initiating a mandatory annual off-road vehicle registration. Yes folk, I think we need the annual registration like PEI, NS and NB have. Without it, we’ll stay in a holding pattern. The NLSF will continue to sell low numbers of trail passes, they’ll shut down early and the complainers will complain. Maybe with the looming change of political color that will happen in Newfoundland, we’ll finally see this necessary progression or as I like to call it innovation. In a nutshell, if we don’t innovate, we’re dinosaurs and guess what, there are no dinosaurs left… they’re dead.

The Town of Deer Lake is innovating and I’m super proud of them. Many winter operators are starting to talk about how they can partner on packages and feed off of each other. This is where we need to head. Talk has to be followed by actions because if we’re all going to survive, we all need to be saying the same thing, “We’re in the Winter Tourism Business!”