Vintage snowmobiling inspires retro fun, nostalgia
Lac La Biche, AB — Sitting on the seat of a stalled 1980 Ski-Doo Citation, somewhere in the boreal forest between two bays of Beaver Lake on Tom's Trail, near Lac La Biche, was not where I expected to find myself on a fine winter afternoon. At least, not without travelling back in time. But here I was, surrounded by nothing but birch and aspen, and the sound of Rob Kruk cursing the machine as he made on-trail repairs.
I'd headed out to check out the preparations for the region's annual Winter Festival of Speed, Feb 25-26, 2023, but along the way, I got unexpectedly introduced to a niche sledding subculture: vintage snowmobiling.
Kruk, co-owner of local motorsport and gear rental shop Offroad Adventures, is a bit of an afficianado when it comes to sleds. The vintage sleds, like the classic 1980 Ski-Doo Citation I rode, have a certain nostalgia to them, he says.
“For a lot of people it’s part of their upbringing, the sleds they rode as kids," Kruk explains. "They’re actually really reliable if you maintain them."
But not this time, as it turns out: the Citation is going to need some shop work to get it back in action. So instead, I jump on the back of his sled and we head further down the trail, scouting for some fresh snow to lay a carve in.
If you're looking for the same, Alberta's north is full of wide open spaces to rip around, including the Golden Triangle Circuit, and the upcoming Winter Festival of Speed.
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As we ride around, Kruk tells me about some of the fun and hijinks he and his friends in the local sledding club have planned for the Winter Festival of Speed.
Snow drags, featuring big turbo-charged new machines, are one of the highlights of the festival. But there will also be an introduction to snowmobiling for new sledders, including safety protocols and driving lessons, offered through the weekend.
And for the vintage afficionados like Kruk, there’s a group trail ride out to the Lac La Biche Mission.
There’s also a “snowball” race, which involves relay teams riding together and switching drivers halfway through—but there’s a catch.
“Two people to a sled, a 100-foot run, jump on the machine, make one lap over a closed course, and then the driver and passenger have to change positions without touching the snow,” he describes, adding it’s a three-lap total for the race.
“You get two big guys on one of these, trying to switch positions without touching the snow, it’s going to be entertaining.”
I get it: the ol' two stroke cold smoke experience out here in the wilds beyond Lac La Biche takes me back to different times. While I've personally never been a gear savvy type, cruising the snow-laden trails on the old Ski-Doos sparks my imagination.
Snowmobiles of this vintage weren't made for freestyle tricks, high marking or Red Bull Sledhammer. These rides are all about cruising the forests in style, and enjoying the crisp winter air.
And for vintage sledders, the Winter Festival of Speed is a great opportunity to celebrate the retro fun of the sport and show off your rides.
If you're looking to take a bigger tour, on any type of machine, you'll also want to check out our features on Alberta's Golden Triangle.
WHEN YOU GO
Check out FestivalSeekers' Winter Festival of Speed event listing for the schedule and event details.
Where to stay
You can find a listing of local accommodations on the Lac La Biche Region website. For an especially unique stay, check out the cabins on Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park.
For more details on the weekend's events, head to the Winter Festival of Speed website.
More Alberta sledding adventures
Alberta's Golden Triangle features a 350km circuit connecting Whitecourt, Fox Creek and Swan Hills, and over 1000 kilometres of maintained snowmobile trails.