We have hundreds of square kilometers of forest, lakes and pure spectacle around the community of Snow Lake and only those who paddle in the summer or snowmobile in the winter ever get to take in any more than a glimpse of it.
Those who paddle take the natural path … our exquisite waterways. The many that snowmobile do so mostly on a network of trails that are pared into our wilderness by a group of committed and concerned outdoor enthusiasts, members of the SnoDrifters Snowmobile Club.
This year, those area trails didn’t open till Thursday, Feb. 2. Reason being, a freak, fall snowstorm dropped close to a foot of wet snow on the area in mid-October. The storm left thousands of broken and bent trees in its wake; all but obliterating the area trail system. However, on Feb. 2, they were signed, groomed, and ready for action.
Robert Stoupe is the president of the club, and on the afternoon of the Feb. 2, he and fellow club member Bryce Henderson took me out to have a look at the results of the club’s efforts. Stoupe noted it was a group effort to get the trails into riding shape. “We had several groups from town – the fishermen, and a lot of the guys who don’t ride all the time – they were all out cutting, and large groups of us who do, well, we were out cutting as well,” said Stoupe. “We also hired somebody to cut (Lars Stoltz). It’s been a lot of work. I’ve never seen it like this. You always get downed trees, but I’ve been at this for almost 20 years and I’ve never seen it like this.”
The club president says area trees must have been saturated with moisture, because even after an initial clearing, more continued to bend, break and clutter the trail network. He is very appreciative of the depth and commitment of the people who volunteer for the club. “A lot of people don’t want anything to do with meetings or any of the political stuff that goes on with a club,” said Stoupe. “They don’t want to listen to people argue, but put a saw in their hands and point them at the bush, they’ll go for days. Even though we don’t always get a lot of attendance at meetings, when it counts we get the support.” Stoupe also takes his hat off to the people who go out and do things without anyone even being aware of it. He says they do it that way for their own reasons, so he won’t name names … but he knows who they are and values their selfless support.
Decked out for warmth and pointed towards a machine that Stoupe called the “club’s workhorse,” I noted several differences from the last time I’d drove a snowmobile – probably 15 years ago. It started with the turn of the key, had a reverse gear, heated handlebars, and was actually quite comfortable to sit on. And for a workhorse, it went about 40 kilometres per hour faster than my last machine.
We toured several of the club’s trails between Snow Lake and Squall, back onto Snow Lake to English Bay, then up to the Katimavik cabin on Herblet Lake. Near the powerline on the way up to Squall, we met up and travelled with Jason Samborski and Logan Stoupe. Other than spilling the machine in a quad track near Squall (thanks for the help Bryce), it was an extremely smooth, warm and enjoyable ride. The club trails are made for touring. Wide, level, well-marked and nicely laid out … I’ve driven highways that weren’t this nice – lately!
It took a lot of physical labour to clear the trails for grooming, but operating the machine that puts the final touch on the trails is time consuming as well. Both Stoupe and Henderson admitted to a few late nights getting things ready over the last week or so. They could certainly use more snow, but they have done well with what they have … pulling it from the outside of the trails to build up the centre.
The SnoDrifter’s original groomer was bought when the club was in its infancy … Stoupe says that they paid $14,000 for it at the time and relied on the generosity of New Brit Mine and Bob and Connie Pohl to get it here and keep it trail-worthy. Their new groomer was purchased in 2016 from the Dauphin Club at a price of $35,000 and the drag and its (side-mounted) cutting tool came from Portage la Prairie and was another $25,000. In the four outings (25 hours) they have put on it already, the machine and drag appear to be well worth the investments.
Plans for future years will involve continuing to clear the current trail system, putting up three more area warm-up shacks and clearing a trail to Cranberry to link up to other northern trail networks. Till then, they are one group who will be continually hoping for “snow days.”