Snowmobiling is more accessible than you might think
Ontario snowmobilers are blessed with an enormous network of snowmobile trails and an army of volunteers that make sure they are well maintained, signed and mapped. It’s a remarkably easy sport to participate in and enjoy – at least for most of us.
For people with disabilities, however, snowmobiling may seem out of reach. While snowmobiling isn’t for everybody with a disability, I was hoping to show how the sport is more accessible than many might think – especially in Ontario, which has hotels, restaurants and gas stations reachable on a snowmobile.
I asked my brother-in-law, Caleb Ray, to join me on a snowmobile ride to get his thoughts on the subject. Caleb has cerebral palsy – spastic diplegia in particular. As Caleb explains it, this means his lower body doesn’t work particularly well, but his upper body compensates; he uses crutches to get around.
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Caleb has experience riding ATVs, but as he only recently moved to Canada after growing up and in Texas and South Carolina, snowmobiling is completely new to him. We headed to Gravenhurst, Ontario to change all that.
We booked a beautiful two-bedroom suite at the Residence Inn Gravenhurst Muskoka Wharf, which overlooks Lake Muskoka. The suite was equipped with a full kitchen, fireplace and two bathrooms, but most importantly the property has direct access to the C101D connector trail. Throw in trailside gas and restaurants and Caleb would be able to ride his sled anywhere he needed to go.
Yamaha Canada was nice enough to loan us enough sleds for me, Caleb and our videographer, Chris – a pair of SR Vipers and an RS Vector LE. We were able to park the trio of Yamahas right in front of the Residence Inn.
After settling into the Residence Inn and taking care of the snowmobiles, the three of us drove up to Bracebridge to see a movie at the Norwood Theatre and grabbed some dinner back in Gravenhurst at Boston Pizza (also accessible on a snowmobile) before calling it a night.
To give us some fuel for our ride the next morning, we took advantage of the breakfast buffet that was included with our stay at the Residence Inn. Not having to go out for breakfast gave us more time for riding.
We strapped Caleb’s crutches down on one of the Vipers and hit the trail. After a slow start to the winter, Gravenhurst was hit with a lot of snow in the days before our ride. Luckily, the groomer had been out and the trail was in impeccable shape. Many thanks to both the Snocrest Riders and Muskoka Sno-Bombers snowmobile clubs for making sure the trails were in such great condition for our ride!
It didn’t take long before Caleb got comfortable on his sled and we made our way northeast along the C101D trail to the main D trunk trail towards Bracebridge. This main trail features some good elevation changes, leading to some spectacular views. As we were riding on a Wednesday, we mostly had the trail to ourselves. We saw maybe eight or 10 other snowmobiles throughout the day and a lone cross country skier taking advantage of the freshly groomed snow.
Not in any particular hurry, we stopped a few times so Chris could take photos and video and just enjoy what was turning out to be a beautiful day.
We took the D trail right into Bracebridge and the three of us made our way to Bracebridge Yamaha, where we stopped for more photos and took a peek inside to see what the dealer had in stock.
With lunch drawing near we headed back south to a restaurant we rode past earlier in the day. Located on the C101D, the Frosty Pint Pub is the quintessential trailside restaurant. A big snowmobile map is proudly displayed on the wall, letting you know snowmobilers are welcome and appreciated customers. Caleb and I each ordered the fish and chips, which was exceptional. Just a little friendly advice – unless you are incredibly hungry, go with the single-piece instead of the double.
After lunch we switched sleds so Caleb could try the Yamaha Vector after a morning on the Viper. We continued to cruise around the C101D and the main D trail to get some more miles under Caleb’s belt.
Before calling it a day, we rode up to a gas station in Gravenhurst to fill up the sleds before returning them to Yamaha.
From my perspective, it was a fun and successful day, but I’ll leave it to Caleb to explain his thoughts on snowmobiling for those with disabilities.
“It depends on the disability and the person,” says Caleb. “I would advise them to just sit on a machine; get the feel for it, find out where the controls are. Just get out and try it and don’t be afraid of it. I think this is perfect for someone like me.
“Try the machines. Get comfortable. And just go out and enjoy.”
The convenience and amenities of the snowmobile trails in Ontario and how they are helpful to those with or without disabilities was not lost on Caleb.
“The beauty of riding in Ontario is everything is trailside. You can park your snowmobile and get your gas, your food and your lodging right on the trail. The accessibility is great. For somebody like me, who comes from a background of riding four-wheelers in the states, we didn’t have that. You got your gas and you went out and rode until somebody brought you some more gas or you made it back to your truck. But here, you can ride everything and it’s all right trailside. It’s awesome.”
Anybody interested in giving snowmobiling a try would be wise to contact their nearest club. Club volunteers are always looking to share their sport and can help point you in the right direction. Visit OFSC.on.ca for a complete list of snowmobile clubs in Ontario.