Sault Ste. Marie Snowmobile Association

By Nick Nolan

Thanks to a volunteer driven organization, the Eastern Upper Peninsula has become a snowmobiler’s paradise for locals and tourists alike. For over 25 years, Sault Ste. Marie Snowmobile Association (SSMSA) has worked tirelessly to ensure quality trail conditions for the recreational sport. In all, around 75 members make up the association.

75 SSMSA volunteers transform Eastern Upper Peninsula trails into snowmobiling heaven.

The process begins before it’s even officially winter. Spring through fall, volunteers are hard at work cutting brush and making sure signage meets Michigan DNR standards. SSMSA meets early December to cover procedures on managing the 103 miles worth of trails under the club’s care.

“We are an all-volunteer group,” said SSMSA President Tom Brown of the 501.c.3. “Funding is by donation or fundraisers that we have.”

Fundraising efforts helped SSMSA purchase necessary grooming equipment and vehicles to pack down snow for optimal driving conditions throughout the winter. Additional funding has been awarded to the association through grants. In 2021, Yamaha awarded SSMSA $4,000 in grant funding.

“We operate four groomers and a tractor. This year we have a new groomer that cost $240,000. The equipment is very expensive and a big reason for the fundraisers.” added Brown. “The shortest run for groomers is about four hours between the Sault and Brimley. The longest is a 6 or 7 hour trip. It’s tiring and requires a lot of attention. We try to mainly groom at night so the trails are set up.”

The SSMSA works to groom whenever it’s possible. Of the membership, 32 volunteers operate the tracked groomers that compound snow for optimal snowmobiling conditions. In 2021, Brown states that the club groomed 11,000 miles total. According to SSMA’s website, during peak snowmobiling season, volunteers may be operating the groomers daily. Grooming takes utmost attention for operators to ensure trail safety.

SSMSA volunteers (from left to right): Jason Nichols, Dennis Hank, Dan Schultz, Mike Jarosz, Pat Romeri, Ryan Shunk (in driver’s seat), Dave Smithers, and Pete York.

Snowmobilers can enjoy trails that connect Sault Ste. Marie to Raco in the west and to Kinross in the south thanks to SSMSA. In addition, 63 private land-owners allow the association to maintain trails on their land. From those routes, riders can connect to trails that encompass the entire Upper Peninsula and even stretch to Wisconsin.

Brown pointed out that snowmobile tourism to the area is a big economic driver during the quiet winter months for many businesses and lodging establishments in Sault Ste. Marie. A 2017 report from the Michigan Snowmobile & ORV Association estimated that snowmobilers generate upwards of $500 million in revenue for the state out of $8 million spent yearly on trail permits and on gasoline. This factor means that for every $1 spent by snowmobilers to use trails, there is a $62.50 return that goes into the lodging establishments, restaurants and local businesses. This estimate emphasize what a crucial service the nonprofit group performs.

“The last few years we’ve been pretty successful and getting a lot of thank yous,” said Brown. “Mother Nature needs to work with us to make sure we have a good winter.”

In addition to grooming and tending for trails, SSMSA works to educate snowmobile drivers on trail safety with DNR certified youth training courses in the fall at its clubhouse and groomer barn in Sault Ste. Marie. In the coming years, Brown says SSMSA hopes to open buildings in Kinross and Raco to help streamline the grooming process.

The club looks to continue providing an invaluable service to the Eastern Upper Peninsula over the coming years thanks to fundraising and grant funding. Businesses have been great partners, which includes the Cozy Corners in Barbeau, Hucks Pub and Grill in Rudyard and the Cozy Inn and Jack’s Grub and Pub in Brimley.

Visit or SSMSA’s Facebook page for more information or to join the efforts to turn snowfall into a snowmobiler’s delight.