The Whitecourt Trailblazers snowmobiling club maintains about 420 km of amazing trails.
WHITECOURT, ALTA. – The thermometer read -24ºC in Edmonton. As I drove the 90 minutes to Whitecourt the radio reported a wind chill of -31ºC, meaning skin freezes within 10 minutes. It didn't seem like an ideal day to go snowmobiling.
But the Whitecourt Trailblazers snowmobiling club was having its annual VIP and Media Ride and since I had been invited for a second straight year I wasn't going to pass up a rare chance to get out and experience the sport once again. I wanted to see what the self-proclaimed Snowmobile Capital of Canada had to offer this winter.
One thing seemed certain, the snow conditions would be great after the heavy snowfalls of January.
Fortunately, the sun was shining by the time the machines had arrived at the starting point and everyone had their equipment and were dressed and ready to hit the trails. It was a stunningly beautiful blue-sky day and the temperature had warmed noticeably.
Suddenly the temperature wasn't that big of an issue. Well, not once I got myself properly protected. I was partnered with Marlene Eckert, president of the Alberta Beach snowmobile club, and her husband Marvin, president of the Alberta Beach Lions Club. I was driving a SkiDoo 800 MXZ courtesy of their son and his company, Ecko Marine. The $13,000 machine easily hit the 90 kilometres per hour mark when I asked it to at one point, but that was my maximum, certainly not the machine's.
Our ride took us along trails running mostly parallel to Groat Creek, through heavily forest regions and undulating terrain. The trails were well groomed – veteran groomer Alex Manweiler had plenty of snow to work with – and while we followed a relatively easy route (since there were a number of novice riders among the nearly 100 drivers), one had to pay attention.
There were plenty of steep hills and sharp corners, some that got the better of us. I came flying up one steep incline only to discover an extremely sharp right-hand turn at the top. I was carrying too much speed to make the corner and ended up in the trees. Fortunately the trees were well spaced. I stopped quickly and with a nifty roll to the right and a quick burst of speed I was out between the trees and back on the trail before anyone even noticed.
Trailblazers trail groomer Alex Manweiler (and his wife) cutting the ribbon for the opening of the Manweiler Trail.
Manweiler says the Trailblazers maintain about 420 km of trails, which takes him about a week to fully groom. Those hook up with others to form the Golden Triangle route connecting Whitecourt with Swan Hills and Fox Creek.
The triangle is a route that takes veteran sledders about nine hours to complete.
Our ride was considerably shorter and quicker, taking us along a new trail to the Groat Creek Canyon lookout that towers above the creek, and on to the Summit Trail warm-up shelter. There we spent a leisurely hour roasting hot dogs over a warming outdoor fire, enjoying snacks and socializing. Then it was a quicker ride back to the staging area.
"The ride lets everyone know what we have here and the kind of trail system we have,” said Whitecourt mayor Trevor Thain. “It gets people out on the trails earlier than our poker rally. It's just a great showcase for our community.”
Snowmobiling is huge for Whitecourt, one of the few communities where snowmobiles can be driven in town.
“When you figure we're an hour and a half from Edmonton, and the people who live in Edmonton have no place to ride, so why not come to Whitecourt where we're got hundreds of kilometres of groomed trails?” said Thain. “It fills out hotels, people eat here, they buy gas here. For our economy it's great.”
The Trailblazers developed and relocated about 127 kms of trails last year, including the new Manweiler Trail – named after Alex – that was officially opened this day. In accepting the honour, Manweiler noted it takes a lot more than one person to create and maintain the excellent trail system the club has developed since it was formed back in 1979. A perfect example of that was that 75 club volunteers who spent nearly 600 hours last summer and fall clearing the trails of fallen trees and other debris to get them ready for winter.
For more information on Trailblazers events, go to the website
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