Even in a light year, Ontario snowmobile trails are thriving
Looking out the window of our rental car as we left Toronto on a late-February morning, we were hard-pressed to find even a flake of snow anywhere in this concrete jungle. This was more than a little upsetting, as a snowmobile trip with more than a dozen people was planned for the next morning.
Similar scenes have doubtless occurred thousands of times for snowmobilers all over Canada and the United States this winter, as snowfall has been sporadic in areas where it normally falls in abundance. Snowplows, salt trucks, and shovels have been in a prolonged and unexpected hibernation for too long, while the poor souls in the hot cocoa industry must be popping antacids at a record pace. The Swiss Miss is surely in a foul mood.
But not everybody is suffering. About 45 minutes after pointing our car north on Hwy. 400 the landscape began to change. Brown grass was replaced by light blankets of snow. After passing by Barrie and turning onto Hwy. 69 North the transformation to winter was complete. Even in the worst snow season in recent memory, snowmobiling in Ontario is thriving!
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Our destination was The Rosseau, a J.W. Marriot Resort & Spa in Minnet, Ont. Though it sits less than a two-hour drive from Toronto, it was like stepping into another world. The crown jewel of beautiful Lake Rosseau, we have never seen anything as opulent as this that caters to snowmobilers. Shortly after arriving, we were greeted by an honest-to-goodness snowfall. Almost cartoonishly large flakes landed on outstretched tongues as childlike excitement over the next day’s ride took over. Landing smack-dab in the middle of snowmobile country has that effect on us.
Following a quick lunch at Cottages (pulled pork sandwich and soup) we decided to explore The Rosseau’s facilities while our room was being prepped. We stepped onto the deck outside the restaurant and found a skating rink, which looked over Lake Rosseau. Wandering a little further we found an indoor/outdoor heated pool and noticed a couple swimming around outside with snow falling on their heads. An outdoor hot tub was also available for those craving a little more heat. Spa Rosseau can be found inside and offers an array of services, including several couples treatments that I plan to use to lure my wife up north.
After settling into our room and enjoying a pint at the bar, we met the rest of our group for dinner at Teca, an Italian restaurant located within The Rosseau. Dinner was superb, but we can’t stop thinking about the chocolate and mascarpone cannoli we had for desert.
With bellies full, the entire group headed to an area called the Library for a pre-ride meeting. It was here that we got to know everybody, which is a good thing because it was quite a mix of some of Ontario snowmobiling’s leading voices. Our group included Josh Grills, marketing manager for the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (OFSC); Luc “The Groomer Guy” Levesque, Dubreuilville Alouettes Snowmobile Club president, groomer operator, and prolific snowmobile blogger; Jeff McGirr, executive assistant at Mattawa-Bonfield Economic Development Corporation and YouTube sensation; Craig Nicholson, The Intrepid Snowmobiler and Snowmobile.com contributor; John Arkwright of SuperTrax; and Dan Arcand, owner of Muskoka Sports & Recreation (MSR).
MSR is interesting because Arcand works directly with The Rosseau to provide various forms of recreation to its clients, including snowmobile rentals and guided tours (as well as all the necessary riding gear). One of the most personable people we’ve ever met, Arcand is a great ambassador to the sport. If we were just starting out, we’d want a guy like Arcand to show us the ropes. He did just that for another member of our group, Mike Jacobs, who is new to snowmobiling.
For our ride day we decided to trailer up and head northeast to Kearney, which is just north of Huntsville, east of Hwy. 11. We pulled into Rickwards Small Motors, a Polaris dealership that provides sales and service. Owner Robert Rickward was kind enough to let us use his parking lot as a staging area. We were joined by Ben Sansall, owner of Near North Recreation, an Arctic Cat dealership in Parry Sound, who loaned us a couple of sleds and accompanied us for the ride.
Snow was coming down pretty heavy when we left Rickwards Small Motors and hit the trails, but the area hardly needed it. The local trails were covered with plenty of snow. In fact, on one occasion we stepped off trail and found ourselves nearly waist deep in powder. Toronto has never seemed so far away.
As with any large group, our pace was fairly deliberate as we explored the area and stopped for pictures and video along the way. It was no surprise to see plenty of other snowmobilers out on the trails as word of snow-filled trails must travel fast in a year like this. It always impresses us how considerate complete strangers can be on the trails, offering hand signals to let us know how many more were in the group and slowing down when they passed us as we stopped to take in the scenery. Speaking of scenery, this area has just about everything a snowmobiler could hope for. Tight and twisty trails that occasionally offer long straights and pass by open and inviting lakes are accented by trees with branches weighed down with pillows of freshly fallen snow. It’s about all you could hope for.
By the time we finished lunch it was starting to get late in the day, so there wouldn’t be as much lollygagging on the way back to home base. We zipped across a corner of Sand Lake and didn’t look back. We stopped a time or two to switch sleds and snap more pictures, but the group kept up a pretty good pace the rest of the way.
After shaking hands and saying goodbye to some new friends we packed up and loaded the car for the trip home. However, before taking off we scheduled another trip with Jeff McGirr to Mattawa. Keep an eye out for a story and video from that trip in the coming weeks.
Driving home was a little weird, as just over two hours after leaving snow-filled Kearney we were back to the dry streets of Toronto. But it just goes to show that you never have to travel far to go snowmobiling in Ontario in any winter, even one as strange as this.