Canadians have a soft spot for snowmobiling. Perhaps it’s because the snowmobile was invented by Joseph Armand Bombardier, a 15-year-old from Quebec, in 1922, using parts from an old Ford Model T.
Since then, the sport has taken off in Canada, with more than 1.6 million riders exploring 121,000 kilometres of trails across the country, according to the Canadian Council of Snowmobile Organizations.
Executive director Dennis Burns, a life-long snowmobiler based in Thunder Bay, Ont., says that, during COVID-19, interest has grown.
I recommend that people ride in the early morning when it’s the most peaceful and you have a great chance of spotting wildlife.— Bob Island, operations manager, Deerhurst Resort
“It’s an ideal activity for everyone, especially now,” he says. “People are choosing to staycation more and they want to be out in nature, enjoy its beauty and have fun.”
While many areas in Canada have groomed trails and snowmobile rentals, with outfitters offering trips and hotels with special amenities catering to snowmobilers, Quebec is recognized as a leader in the sport.
“[Quebec] has taken the trail system to a whole new level,” notes Burns. “They have some of the best infrastructure in place.”
He mentions hotels like the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu, a five-star resort in the Charlevoix region. It has special indoor heated parking for snowmobiles, as well as a range of packages for guests which include Ski-Doo rentals and guides. They range from half-day packages, ideal for newbies, to more challenging four-day trips into the backcountry suited to veteran riders.
Snowmobiling has deep roots in Quebec. The first officially incorporated snowmobile club in the world was founded in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts 50 years ago in the Laurentians, just north of Montreal. This type of organization ensures trails are well maintained and safe. The Laurentians alone have more than 2,437 kilometres of dedicated, groomed snowmobile trails blessed by a reliable amount of annual snowfall.
Routes are well marked and have their own unique characteristics. On the Station to Station trail (182 kilometre) riders can check out a series of heritage train stations along the way. The Wood Runners’ Loop stretches 464 kilometres alongside waterways and dramatic valleys. Accommodations for longer journeys run the gamut from rustic chalets and amenity-packed resorts to charming inns.
At Deerhurst Resort in Ontario’s Muskoka region, guests can walk a short distance from their hotel rooms to hop on a snowmobile. Tours are offered through Yamaha Motor Adventures, located on-site, to adults with a valid driver’s license.
Those who have never operated a snowmobile can take a 90-minute class to learn how to manoeuvre the machines, safety protocols and rules of the trails from professional instructors like Bob Island, who has been snowmobiling for more than 40 years.
“We provide a safe, structured environment,” says Island, who is also the company’s operations manager. “We provide everything guests need, including gear, to introduce them to snowmobiling.”
Once the basics are mastered, you can book a three-hour or full-day package and start exploring, accompanied by a guide. Follow the ice road across Peninsula Lake, before heading into the shelter of the surrounding bush.
“I recommend that people ride in the early morning when it’s the most peaceful and you have a great chance of spotting wildlife, like deer and wild turkeys. The scenery is stunning here. It never gets old.”
At the end of the ride, grab a seat and warm up by one of the roaring fires around the outside of the resort or head to the Eclipse Restaurant for an après-snow fondue (chocolate or cheese) and a Spanish coffee or a glass of wine.
Deep snow and mountain peaks lure riders west. To navigate through them, visitors will want a mountain machine, much more powerful than touring machines and able to access tough terrain. Even experienced riders get some instruction on how to handle them safely.
Toby Creek Adventures, located near the Panorama Ski Resort in Panorama, B.C., in the Purcell Mountains on the edge of the Rockies, about two hours from Banff, offers excursions using both types of snowmobiles.
“This is an incredible area for snowmobiling,” explains Jason Smith, the company’s operations manager. “We have a lot of sunny days and plenty of snow. We’re on the warmer side of the Rockies.”
It makes for more comfortable rides as guides take guests to spots like an abandoned silver mine, a dramatic frozen waterfall and an old blacksmith shop converted to a rest stop to lounge and warm up.
It’s an experience that leaves an impression on participants. “They’re totally blown away,” says Smith. “They’re just completely outside of their element, especially international guests who haven’t seen snow before. They’re keen to come back again.”
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Consider these other stellar Canadian spots worth exploring:
- Northern Odyssey Network, New Brunswick. This route takes riders from Edmundston, Campbellton, Bathurst and the Acadian Peninsula, through snow-dusted forests to wind-swept coastal areas.
- Iron Horse Trail, Alberta. Experienced snowmobilers love this route that passes through 18 communities for its diversity and wide range of amenities, from fire pits and picnic tables to hotels, stretched 300 kilometres across central Alberta.
- Bon Echo Loop, Ontario. Situated in Ontario’s Highlands, Bancroft is the best starting point for the 232-kilometre route, notable for the diversity of sites, including abandoned rail lines, the scenic lookout at Mazinaw Lake, and places to stock up on food and gas, like Cunningham’s Country Store in McArthurs Mills.