Head north to chill way out
Let’s face it; predictions of another year of polar vortex have fallen flat on their face. The Quebec snowmobile association isn’t showing much open, and the parts that are open have limited availability. Rain and warm temps are keeping much of the southern part of Ontario closed, with a few dribs and drabs open north of the Soo and Algonquin Park. And the word from the Michigan trails is that even with the snow they got, warm temps are messing everything up again.
So what’s a diehard sledder to do? Complain about it on snowmobile forums? Trade the Ski-Doo for a motorcycle? Take up jogging?
Absolutely not. There’s one place that regularly gets tons of snow, deep cold and miles and miles of perfectly groomed and wide trails, along with some decent backcountry options.
It’s called the Northern Corridor and it’s renowned within Ontario, Canada as the first and last place to have trails open in a province known for sledding. Last year its trails were open on December 16th (a few short days after the Sault Trailblazers got theirs open) and they didn’t close until late April – maybe even May. It’s that cold up there.
Just a few short days ago the Northern Corridor opened its first tour loop, the Gateway to the North and as of the writing of this article, 75% of the system is open. If you wanted to ride for five days straight, you could easily do it. Take that El Nino!
For all those sledders out there getting cabin fever, this is exactly what the doctor ordered. If you’re heading up from southern Ontario, you probably have your favorite place to stay in Cochrane or Smooth Rock Falls. Cochrane is a pure sledding town – so if you need parts you can generally get sorted out here. As with all of Northern Ontario, there is plenty of parking all over the place for big trucks hauling trailers full of sleds.
Plenty of riders link up with Bill Froud at Extreme Tours Cochrane to take them to do some backcountry riding in the legendary Abitibi Canyon or the powerlines north of Smooth Rock. You can also go for the hardcore adventure and ride all the way to the Arctic ocean. Bill runs the only gas station on the Abitibi Loop, so you’ll definitely run into him if you’re sledding this side of the Corridor.
Further west you’ll find the Francophone communities of Kapuskasing and Hearst (for you English kids, don’t worry – everyone speaks English too.) These lumber towns have some decent sized loops as well (165 and 145 kilometers respectively) – you could literally do a new loop every day in the Corridor. Or, for the incredibly adventurous, you could do the mammoth Northern Adventure Loop – at 1645km (or 1000 miles!) of uninterrupted trail riding, with a little extra gas, you could snowmobile for five days straight.
Finding food and accommodations is pretty easy, especially because these are all die-hard snowmobile towns. Everyone who lives there, from the minute they are born, rides a snowmobile in winter, and knows how to cater to visitors coming in from the cold. The top tier places, known by locals as the best of the best, are as follows:
- Best Western Swan Castle Inn (HOT TUB! Need I say more)
- Terry Steakhouse
- Kaylob’s Kafe
- Moose Motel
- Le Moonbeam Club Des A’s (you gotta get a photo op with the Moonbeam UFO)
- Papa Franco’s
- Le Companion Hotel – Motel (right on the trail system)
- Queens Motel
- Pizza Place (the owner knows the trails here like the back of his hands)
- Le Companion Restaurant
For US sledders, the start of the Northern Corridor in Hornepayne is only 415km (257 miles) from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. For Quebec sledders, you can actually enter the “Corridor du Nord” from the town of LaSarre in the Abitibi region.
There is a vibrant motorsports community throughout this region and there are plenty of opportunities for off-trail riding as well. Unlike southern Ontario, much of the land here is known as Crown Land, meaning that the government owns it and it is accessible to anyone. It’s completely different from mountain riding like in the US or in Alberta, but it’s a rush all its own. River running and using areas that have been clear cut for lumber harvests make for a ditchbanging good time. And high winds get the ruts filled in quickly.
So if El Nino has got you churning dirt on your home trails, check out the Northern Corridor. There’s a reason they won Yamaha’s Early Season Power Tour – because they’ve got the deepest snow, the coldest cold, and the longest winter.