A beacon on the trail

The middle of nowhere is a safer place now, thanks to satellite technology

by Marie Milner

Snowmobile grooming machines can now be tracked on the trails by AtlasTrax, using Globalstar satellite technology.
Snowmobile grooming machines can now be tracked on the trails by AtlasTrax, using Globalstar satellite technology. Photo courtesy Globalstar Canada

Most snowmobile trail grooming has to be done after the joyriders have gone home, and for much of the time the groomers are out of cell phone range. The men and women who operate groomers on far-flung snowmobile trails in Ontario are happy to know that friendly eyes are on them when they’re out there alone in the cold darkness.

Data collected by the Canadian Council of Snowmobile Organizations indicates that snowmobiling generates $8 billion annually in Canada, partly because clubs across the country maintain the sledding trails. In a great many cases, that maintenance is done by club volunteers.

New technology from Globalstar Inc. and AtlasTrax has been adopted by the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (OFSC) to track more than 360 groomers belonging to 225 member clubs, which maintain more than 30,000 kilometres of trails. The tracking unit, called the SmartOne, is a small satellite modem that uses GPS to link it with the network of satellites owned by Globalstar, and thus to a central communication hub.

A Globalstar SmartOne satellite modem is typically attached to the roof of a snowmobile trail grooming machine.
A Globalstar SmartOne satellite modem is typically attached to the roof of a snowmobile trail grooming machine. Photo courtesy Globalstar Canada

“We own and run a constellation of satellites that orbit the earth,” said Fintan Robb, senior director of marketing for Globalstar. “The SmartOne device takes a GPS coordinate and communicates that through our satellites and back to our central hub, to locate the groomers at any time.”

Metal shielding interferes with signals, so the OFSC SmartOne devices are usually mounted on the outside of the groomer cabins. Robb said that the devices are rugged enough to withstand extreme weather and ordinary trail conditions.

Information collected by the OFSC SmartOnes includes the location of the trails that have recently been groomed, and that’s valuable information for the snowmobile enthusiast who is planning a day on the trails.

GPS satellite tracking coordinates, plotted on a map at 10 minute increments, provide information to a central monitoring hub.
GPS satellite tracking co-ordinates, plotted on a map at 10-minute increments, provide information to a central monitoring hub. Photo courtesy Globalstar Canada

Most importantly, though, it ensures that should a groomer run into trouble, its location can be pinpointed and a rescue effort can be initiated quickly. Mechanical breakdown and severe weather are the most common problems prompting a rescue, and other hazards include sudden-onset illness.

“The SmartOne can also alert you if your vehicle is being moved when it shouldn’t be,” said Fred Marsh, CEO of AtlasTrax. “It’s a great option for snowmobiles and trailers and any other vehicle or carrier that has to be left unattended.”

In general, the snowmobiling associations use the information provided by the SmartOne for purposes of scheduling and for determining their funding requirements. For the groomer operators themselves, it’s comforting to know that their trails are being tracked.

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