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AB, BC or ON: The Great Canadian Snow-Down

AB, BC or ON: The Great Canadian Snow-Down



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This is the time of year us sledders get really amped for the snow to start falling. With the Toronto Snowmobile show done and summer toys put away for the winter, it’s only a waiting game for the snow to start flying and to get the sleds out. Around this time I always end up watching a lot of snowmobile related movies, from Slednecks to Boondockers, which in turn makes me want to just go to sleep and wake up when the snow is here. 

Growing up watching Slednecks movies (back when they were doing back flips on old Summits) and virtually any snowmobiling movie I could get my hands on, it was always a dream of mine to go mountain riding as most sledding movies are primarily mountain riding, boondocking through trees and launching off mountain sides and carving through snow deeper than I am tall.

Last winter I was able to fulfill my dream of mountain riding as I was working and living only an hour away from the Kakwa Wildland Provincial Park mountain range in northern Alberta/ British Columbia. From spending my whole life riding in Ontario (started on a Kitty Kat when I was 3), being able to ride in Alberta/ British Columbia and cross something off my bucket list was super exciting. In this article, I will briefly discuss my experiences mountain riding and explain in my opinion, what province is best all around for a sledding experience. 

Off to a Rocky Start

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Riding in the mountains was the coolest thing I have ever done and was one heck of an experience. There are very few things more empowering and humbling than being on a mountain and remembering how small you actually are, especially while doing something you love. When we got into the higher elevations we started playing around in bowls, exploring different paths, carving and doing drops. Although we did not have the powder we wanted nor expected, we were still excited to experience mountain riding and enjoyed our time. 

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For a first time aspiring mountain rider reading this, I feel this part of the article is imperative: make sure to go with somebody who knows the area rather than trying to go by yourself because, if you don't you will get lost or hurt. We would have gotten lost or may have ended up in a dangerous area if we went alone. Luckily we had my co-worker who grew up riding in the area to lead us around because we did not have the proper safety equipment (REALLY not advised).

If for whatever reason you have to go alone, take an avalanche safety course and make sure you have a transponder (as there is no cell service in the mountains to call for help), along with a fully packed avalanche pack; these safety precautions could save your life. 

 

A Steep Learning Curve

It is a completely different style to ride in the mountains in comparison to Ontario. I honestly thought it was going to be easy, considering I had been snowmobiling all my life and have years of riding experience under my belt, I will admit I was a bit cocky. 

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When I was there, I felt as if I had to relearn how to ride, especially sidehilling and safety techniques. I learned a lot in one day of riding in the mountains: stay on a track when climbing a steep incline that’s icy or your sled will slide back and roll like mine did; your brakes are useless so don’t bother using them; the importance of using my body weight when sidehilling and the most important thing I learned while riding in the mountains was, when in doubt, throttle it out. 

Mountain riding can be a very fun and incredible experience for a qualified and confident rider if you know what you’re doing and take the appropriate safety precautions before going up. However, from my experience, as wicked as mountain riding can be, it’s not suitable for a beginner...at all. You won’t survive, keep up, and won’t enjoy yourself if you can’t ride confidently. You will find yourself getting severely stuck and spending the day digging yourself out of deep trenches of snow.

If you can’t lift your snowmobile to get it unstuck and want to mountain ride in the future you’d better hit the gym because you’re going to need the muscles and stamina. The truth is, you need to be an assured, experienced sledder to ride in the mountains; you need to understand and respect the mountains and snow and you need to be able to handle your sled.  

It’s Good to Have Options 

A couple of things I found disappointing were that when we weren’t bounding about in the mountains we were riding in prairie fields trying to find drifts to play in. In order to access some points with ample snow (that didn’t just blow across the prairie) we’d have to trailer our sleds, and ride on long roads to find some decent powder. 

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We did have the opportunity to ride a trail through the foothills to access the higher elevations. The trail was wide, groomed and the views were stunning however it wasn’t like the OFSC trail system, in that there was only one trail in and one trail out. 

Being from an area where one of the main OFSC trails is only a 5-10 minute ride away from my house, I found myself appreciating the easy access to trails and the increasing number of loop tour options that we have in Ontario. 

Before I move on to riding in Ontario it must be said that when living and riding out west, you are limited to a single purpose machine. You need a sled with a long track and huge paddles to make it in the mountains, even the foothills. Trail riding and field riding on these mountain sleds, if for whatever reason you have to (which we did when we weren’t in the mountains) was worrisome as we had the scratchers down and had to watch our temps because the heat exchanger wasn’t obtaining enough snow; literally any time we were not in the mountains, in powder, the scratchers were down.

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In addition, when we rode trails or fields, we were burning through our sliders and bending paddles on our tracks. Moving home, back to Ontario, I have really dug a hole for myself with regards to trying to sell this single purpose mountain sled. I traded my mountain sled for a machine that was more versatile for any terrain in Ontario, I purchased a 2016 Skidoo Freeride 137” from St. Onge Recreation

The Snow Isn’t Always Whiter

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Every winter I ride in Ontario, I hear some sledders grumble that Ontario sucks for sledding, that it’s boring and it doesn’t have as much to offer as other Canadian provinces. Let me tell you that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side and that once you’re away from what you’re used to, you will come to miss it. I am back in Ontario this sledding season and I couldn’t be more excited! 

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It’s impossible to dictate which province is “best” for snowmobiling. Different regions across the country have their pros and cons with regards to riding. It all depends on the rider and what kind of experience you are looking for. From beginners to seasoned riders, a winter spent sledding in Ontario will amaze you from start to finish.

I am blessed to live in a province that makes snowmobiling a priority. In Ontario, you are able to ride SO many different areas; traversing wide open fields in Southern Ontario; negotiating tight forest trails in Muskoka; letting it fly out on the Great Lakes, climbing small mountains up north on the Abitibi Canyon Tour or boondocking in the middle of nowhere (Wawa!) and everything in between. 

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In Ontario, you can easily ride from the south right up to the north on the 30,000+ km of to quality trails lovingly groomed throughout the season that connect all across the province (which cannot be done in Alberta or BC), with great snowmobile-friendly places to stay, places to eat and amazing things to see along the way

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Yes, many will argue that mountain riding is the holy grail of sledding and it truly is an amazing experience for a sled junkie, I encourage any rider, if given the opportunity, to get out and try it. However, in my opinion, if I had to choose a province to ride in the rest of my life, I would choose Ontario all day every day. I love the varying terrain, vast trail system and various experiences.

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Some of my best memories are of bombing around in the fields around Barrie, ripping through the tight trails in Muskoka, riding out to see a totally frozen lighthouse on Georgian Bay, sidehilling on the small mountains up north or any of the family rides I’ve done on Ontario's famous RAP tour. Ontario is the perfect all around sledding province, if you don't know this already I encourage you to make this the winter you do! 

The OFSC and countless volunteers work hard throughout the year to maintain existing trails and to create new trails and tour loops. These tour loops are clearly mapped, maintained and have fuel and accommodations on or near the trails making them ready to ride. Just get your permit and go!

 

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