River Valley opens tonight, local snowmobile trails not far behind

By Dan Rankin
A cold and snowy weekend left many winter recreation enthusiasts chomping at the bit to get outside and hit either the slopes or the sleds. Starting tonight at 6:00 pm, River Valley Winter Tube Slide south of St. Marys opens their doors for the season, although only one of their two hills are currently operational. According to the president of the Science Hill Drifters snowmobile club, it will be another week or two before their trails are marked, groomed and ready for use. A consistent stretch of sub-zero temperatures is still needed by both groups to get up and running at full capacity.
Frigid conditions Monday had employees working around the clock making snow at River Valley, said Sarah Forbes, facility manager alongside outdoor supervisor David Tkaczuk.
“We’ll have one hill open with four runs [tonight], and we’re making snow like crazy hoping to get the second hill up and running as soon as possible,” she said, noting that if the temperature stayed below -4 degrees that would take “no time.”
Out at the hill, their fleet of snow-making machinery consists of five snow guns as well as a more state-of-the-art “snow-making pole” that shoots water out of the ground, she said.
“We’re going to be making snow around the clock until we have both hills made,” said Forbes. “For each hill, we like to have a four- or five-foot base of snow on the bottom. That way, once we’re done making snow, we’re done for the whole season. Even if the temperatures get a little bit warm, or we get a little bit of rain, we don’t have to make snow after that.”
To build a hill to that depth takes about four or five days of round-the-clock snow making, she said.
“We don’t know when the second hill will be done,” she said, noting that it could be as soon as next Friday, but adding that it all depended on the weather.
“If the temperatures stayed below zero, it will be in no time,” she said. “But they seem to be going up and down; plus 14 then minus 14.”
In the meantime, four runs will be open for the sliding enjoyment of River Valley’s roughly 300 tubes tonight beginning at 6:00 pm. Saturday, the hill is open 10:00 am to 10:00 pm, while Sunday their hours are 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. A two hour pass for children aged 12 and under is $16 plus tax, while a pass for guests 13 and over is $18 plus tax. “Children 12 and under require helmets,” Forbes said. “If people own helmets we ask them to bring them along, otherwise we rent them here for $4 each.”
For more information, call River Valley at 519-225-2329.
As for snowmobilers itching to get out on the trails, Science Hill Drifters president Doug McIntosh said they will have to wait a little bit longer until trails are marked and groomed. “There’s nothing open right now,” he said, of the club’s 225 km of trails. “We won’t be open until we’ve been over them and groomed them.”
Earlier this week, McIntosh said the club was very close to finishing signing and marking the trails. “But then it will be a matter of when the snow comes,” he said.
The club asks all riders to refrain from taking their sleds on the trails until they’re open, he said. Trail conditions around the province can be tracked online using the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Club’s Interactive Trail Guide, at ofsc.mapbase.ca/viewer. Trails that appear green are open, while red trails are closed.
The Science Hill Drifters oversee trails from Parkhill to Shakespeare, and from Thorndale to Kirkton, McIntosh said. They have 30 working members and are always looking for more, he added. The club is an OFSC-affiliated club, so riders must have a valid snowmobile permit to ride their trails, as is the case for all OFSC trails.
Jan. 30 is the group’s annual steak barbecue, at their clubhouse at 1709 Thames Road, north of St. Marys. Events planned for the day include a “poker run,” in which participants visit five different shacks to acquire cards and the rider with the best hand at the end wins, and a radar run to test sleds’ speed, he said.
For more information, visit ScienceHillDrifters.com or find them on Facebook.