updated on: January 22, 2016
You Never Forget Your First Time—A First-Time Sledder Tells All
What do maple syrup, beavers tails and snowmobiling have in common? Besides being on my loosely crafted bucket list, they are pure Canadiana. The snowmobile is a Canadian creation first produced by Bombardier back in 1937, as for maple syrup and beaver tails…no explanation is necessary.
I was lucky enough to be able to check the first two items off my bucket list quite early in life; the snowmobiling, not so easy. There are a couple of constants that have kept this dream on the back burner. One, I don't own a snowmobile. Two, I don't have a budget that would allow me to own a snowmobile. All was good until the epic winter of 2014 and my sled dreams got all fired up again. I’m still kicking myself for not getting out there last season.
I’m not about to make that mistake again.
I’m not about to make that mistake again.
Turning to my trusty Google dream planner, I type in my first search phrase, what’s currently the snowiest place in Ontario? A few more minutes of keyboard dancing and I landed on the Muskoka Sports and Recreation web site.
Introduction to snowmobiling, all gear provided, fully guided tours and as a bonus, located at the JW Marriott, a five star resort in the heart of Explorers’ Edge; it couldn’t get more perfect. One phone call and I’m going on my first sledding trip! Break out that bucket list, I’m about to snap a checkmark.
A two and half hour drive from Toronto on the shores Lake Rosseau, the J.W. Marriott is a spectacular sight but it’s the snow banks that steal the show. Four feet of snow over the past six days have turned the roads into tunnels, roofs on homes are being shovelled, road signs buried. Winter here has been turned up to eleven.
“Welcome to Muskoka” the sign says. I stop gawking at the grandeur of the hotel lobby and focus on the man talking to me. “I’m Dan Arcard, from Muskoka Recreation.”
A few minutes of chitchat and we make our way down to the staging area. I say “we” because I managed to talk a friend into joining on this adventure. Unlike me, a first timer, my friend has plenty of experience but owning a sled is also not feasible, so this is a perfect way to get a snow fix.
A couple of Ski-Doo CTX 600’s are purring away outside. Dan talks us through the sleds: safety, stopping, starting, reverse, turning, etc. Next, it’s onto the practice track to asses our skill levels. As practice tracks go, this is not your ordinary loop in an open field kind of set up.
Fresh snow, groomed, a dozen turns, bumps, powder, I would be happy just riding the practice track. We stretch out our training session as long as we can. Stepping off the machines in the darkness of a Muskoka night and make our way back to the hotel for a rest before a full day of sledding the next AM.
The list of things to do at the JW Marriott is staggering, but a couple of things calling our names, the outdoor hot tub and a very inviting bar stool, both offering lake views.
Good morning Muskoka, breakfast by the lake anyone? The horizon over Lake Rosseau glows a bright orange with the first rays of the rising sun. The landscape, silent and pristine with a coat of fresh snow. We make quick work of our breakfasts and head out to our sleds parked and ready just outside the main entrance.
Little did I know as we hit the first forest trail that I was about to have the best winter day of my life. Proclaiming something the best ever on your first try is presumptuous, but I really can’t see how a day of snowmobiling could be a better winter activity.
Blue sky and sunshine, tonnes of snow, first tracks on groomed perfection, powder fields for the taking, 1200 km of trail at your disposal and all this in the company of friends.
We ride the slowly sweeping turns of the Sequin Trail, a historic rail line that’s now a multi-use recreational trail, breaking sweat on some tight and twisty sections and then blast across open lakes.
We stop for lunch at Memories Of Muskoka, and were quickly following our leader back to the sleds like happy little puppies grinning ear to ear. I tell ya, having fun can be exhausting and it showed as we arrived back at the hotel. For Dan this is just another 9 to 5 day at the office but for a first timer? Pretty much the best winter day of my life.
We step off the machines into the falling darkness of a Muskoka evening. What an amazing day. My only regret, I didn't book another night stay at the J.W. Marriott, I can hear a hot tub and bar stool calling my name.