Manitoba Club News: Lee River Snow Riders

by Brian Ross

Theo Vanderzwan is a man of many talents. He’s very picky when it comes to the condition of snowmobile trails.
Theo Vanderzwan is a man of many talents. He’s very picky when it comes to the condition of snowmobile trails.

Theo Vanderzwan is a man of many talents. He’s a certified diesel mechanic, accomplished heavy equipment operator and fortunately for thousands of snowmobilers ─ he’s very picky when it comes to the condition of snowmobile trails.

Vanderzwan is the grooming director of the Lee River Snow Riders and he’s absolutely hands-on when it comes to ensuring safe and smooth trails for snowmobilers. When opening the trails, Theo and his grooming partner will routinely go out for 20-hour runs several times a week in the early season.

“You have to enjoy what you do,” Vanderzwan said with a laugh. “If you’re going to sit in a groomer for all those hours, you’d better like it. I enjoy being outdoors. I enjoy being in the machine. Grooming isn’t just sitting in the cab and looking out the windshield.

“There’s moving snow, adjusting blade heights on the drag and keeping the groomer on the trail. Sometimes you get stuck. Sometimes a hose will break. There’s always the unexpected. You have to be prepared and know what to do when the unexpected occurs.”

Snowmobiling is just one of Theo’s many passions. During the non-snowmobile season, he loves to ride his quad with his large group of friends, and he’s an accomplished barbecuer. But when the weather turns cold and the ice begins to form, Theo gets down to business.

Prior to opening the trails, Theo spends considerable time checking the ice conditions on the lakes and swamps over the 220 kilometres of the LRSR trail system. He logs hundreds of kilometres on his snowmobile doing this before he even gets the groomer out of the shed. He cares greatly about the safety of his operators and will not take any risks.

“Theo is a very valuable member of our team,” said LRSR president Brad Wall. “His years of experience are invaluable in terms of safety and efficiency. He is our go-to man in many areas. He is a workhorse in the groomer. He’ll pack several meals and head out for an entire day of grooming.”

Dedicated to safety, Theo also organizes and oversees training and orientation and safety sessions with the operators before the season starts. Then he deliberately partners the new operators with the experienced operators to ensure everyone is trained in the operation of the groomers. Upon season’s end, Theo and his team will have groomed more than 5,400 kilometres at an average speed of eight kilometres per hour.

Theo brings a wealth of experience to the cab of a groomer. In addition to being a heavy equipment operator, he is also a licensed diesel mechanic. It’s an understatement to say he knows groomers both inside and out. He spends countless hours wrenching on the machines, ensuring they are in tip-top shape. These volunteer hours save the LRSR paying rates to shops and mechanics. In addition to being a groomer extraordinaire, Theo is also a member of two volunteer fire departments in the rural municipalities of Alexander and Lac du Bonnet. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Theo, thousands of snowmobilers yearly enjoy the trails within the LRSR system.

Theo is just one of many volunteers with the Lee River Snow Riders who make it enjoyable for all snowmobilers who visit the trail system. Volunteers are invaluable when it comes to maintaining a trail system. Those interested in joining the LRSR can visit the club website at

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