Chasing The Snow
I fell in love with a new expression of adventure last winter. It was borne upon a 2002 Arctic Cat ZR 800 snowmobile.
All of a sudden winter was no longer the long, dark season of my discontent.
I managed to slide 3,000 kilometers under the skis of my sled during what was, by all accounts, a less than stellar winter in the Ottawa area in 2016-2017.
The OFSC trails in our area didn’t open until after New Years – and they closed again due to rain and melt in February, opening again for a short time just before March.
My friend John O’Brien and I learned quickly during our first season of sledding together that if you live in the Ottawa area, and want to enjoy a good season of snowmobiling, you go where the snow is. When you are looking for a ski club or resort, check the weather in the area at the time you’re planning to go!
Which is exactly what we did.
In October of this year I went out and bought a new sled in anticipation of a great season of riding here in the Ottawa Valley area. A lot of people will look at the top 10 best snow sleds ahead of this, which isn’t a bad idea.
Unfortunately, this winter has been even worse, as far as sledding conditions on the Ottawa area go. The local trails – some of them at least – went to ‘Yellow’, or open but ride with caution status, for about a week before closing again due to rain and melt.
They have yet to go ‘Green’, or fully open.
So John and I are once again following the snow.
On Wednesday a week ago we loaded our sleds onto our new trailer and threw all of our gear into the back of John’s half-ton and headed off up to Smooth Rock Falls, Ontario, about 50 kilometers north and west of Cochrane.
That was the closest area in the entire province of Ontario – at that time – to have ‘green’, fully open Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs trails.
What followed was 4 days of some of the most incredible sledding that I have ever experienced.
We based ourselves out of The Moose Motel in Smooth Rock Falls. A no-frills, inexpensive spot right on the trails, it is our go-to lodgings when we are in the area. They do not yet have a website up, but as TripAdvisor shows, I am not the only one saying good things about The Moose. With heated indoor storage for the sleds, a gas station and a great little restaurant right across the street and the most accommodating motel owners I have ever met, you will not be disappointed by staying at The Moose.
On Thursday morning we got up, packed some clothes into our saddle-bags and knap sack and hit the trails, heading west towards Kapuskasing and Hearst.
There was at least 40 centimetres of snow on the ground, and the OFSC trails were in incredibly good shape. It didn’t hurt that we were out early in the morning, mid-week either. There were no other sleds out at all – we had the trail system basically to ourselves!!!
Groomed to perfection, it can sometimes be a real challenge to adhere to the posted 50 km/h speed limit.
The answer to that challenge is, of course, the setting. There is so much beauty laid out before your eyes in North Eastern Ontario that you just have to slow the pace. Stop. Take a breathe.
John and I spent four days on our sleds during our January trip to the Northern Corridor snowmobiling region of Ontario, and each day brought more smiles, and more of a sense of wonder.
Day 2 brought an extraordinary gift: we were privileged to see three bobcats, and one of them even gave me an opportunity to catch her in a photo.
I cannot say enough about the snowmobiling in the area. The trails are wide, the snow is deep, and the variety is great. We covered over 1,260 kilometres during those 4 days of riding, and the one thing that I can say is that the only thing greater than the riding is the natural beauty of the area.
The deep forests of the Hearst and Hornepayne area; the wide-open power-line on the west side of the Abitibi Canyon Loop (which has deep, deep powder running right beside the groomed trail); the incredible east side of the Abitibi Canyon Loop with its mix of long and fast straights, super-twisty forest sections and wicked elevation changes.
It is just not possible to go wrong, snowmobiling up here in sledder’s Nirvana.
If you are considering making the trip, I have a couple of recommendations for you:
- Call ahead to book accomodations
- Carry snacks and water on your sled – the days can be long before you know it!
- Pick a spot with heated storage for your sleds if you can.
- Look for ‘snowmobiler’ packages. Many hotels and motels offer deals to sledders.
If you are in the Hearst, Ontario area during your sled-vacation, I recommend checking out the Companion Hotel. There is a wonderful restaurant right in the hotel, heated garage sled parking, and a great sledder’s package available. The staff are courteous, the rooms are very nice with huge bathtubs for a hot soak after a day of riding, and the trail is right outside the door.
Oh, and one other note: I was due for my first service on my new ZR 6000 before leaving Ottawa. I called ahead to an Arctic Cat dealership in Hearst, Lebel Chainsaw, as we were driving up to Smooth Rock Falls and explained to the service manager that I was on my way up to the area for a few days of sledding and that I planned on being in Hearst on Thursday and Friday of that week.
“Have your sled here first thing Friday morning. We will have you back on the trails before 10:00am.”
I cannot express my appreciation enough to the team at Lebel Chainsaw.
If you are in the area, and need anything for your Arctic Cat, these guys will take good care of you.
John and I have been back home in the Ottawa Valley area for a week now. There are a few kilometres of trail opened with ‘Yellow’ status between Arnprior and Pembroke, and a few more kilometres of ‘Green’ trail between Pembroke and Stonecliffe, but the snow is thin. The trails are rough.
Mother Nature has been tough on us this year. The forecasted “return to winters of old” just never happened.
Which leaves only one thing to do: load the sleds up onto the trailer, throw our gear into the back of the ½ ton, and head off, chasing the snow.
The Mont Laurier region of West-Central Quebec is our next sledding destination.
Because sometimes in order to make the best of your Ontario snowmobiling season, you have to leave Ontario.
We leave Wednesday morning. And it is going to be great!