In 1971, on the back of a 1968 skidoo, Barrhead, Alberta, resident Darren Strawson started his journey into snowmobiling. His father Eldred Strawson knew the purchase of a snowmobile was a surefire way to keep his young sons out of the house and out of trouble, as well as provide a fun family activity for everyone to enjoy.
The snowmobile was like freedom for Strawson. He and his brother enjoyed endless hours taking turns pulling each other on toboggans and exploring their quarter section of land.
"The snowmobiles back then were different than today’s sleds," said Strawson. "You were cruising if you hit 12 miles an hour."
Strawson’s mother Edie also joined in on the fun, as a passenger behind his father.
When he found himself a father of two boys, Strawson found the song of the snowmobile engine and the smell of two-stroke smoke came calling yet again. Strawson was eager to introduce his wife and his two sons, Larry and Mike, to this fun family activity. They bought a small fleet of Polaris snowmobiles: a 340 Indy touring, a 500 Indy and a 700 RMK.
“Snowmobiles encourage families to spend time together, sharing in real-life fun," said Strawson.
He believes that kids on snowmobiles learn driving skills that aren't found on Grand Theft Auto.
“They learn throttle control, stopping distances and respect for motorized transportation."
Strawson became very active in local snowmobile culture, twice sharing ownership in powersports dealerships. Currently he shares ownership in Wild Country Powersports, working with his wife Baukje. They knew in their hearts that Barrhead needed a dealership, and they were willing to take the leap of faith to make it happen for their town.
“We enjoy riding as a couple," said Strawson. "Baukje spent one afternoon as a passenger in 2008 and decided that she would never ride double again. She bought her own machine and has been shredding solo ever since."
This year Baukje will be the pilot of a Polaris Pro RMK 800.
Their store is an unofficial headquarters for the sled scene, with staging right beside their shop. As active members of the Northern Lights Snowmobile club, the Strawsons do everything they can to promote organized snowmobiling. A pot of hot chocolate is always on for riders who stop by throughout the winter months.
One of the most popular, family-friendly rides in the area is the 600 shack, featuring 12 kilometres of groomed trails to the warm-up cabin. Kids on 120 cc machines can easily navigate this trail, creating the perfect family adventure. The trail has great views as it winds through the farming community to Shoal Lake. Coyotes, deer and all kinds of birds present themselves, adding to the magic of this ride.
“Seeing a child riding their own machine, grinning from ear to ear, with cheeks rosy from the crisp Alberta air makes it all worth it," said Strawson. "Some may say the sport is an expensive one to get into, but you only live once, and I plan on spending it enjoying the outdoors with my family."
Now a new grandfather, Strawson has a sneaking suspicion that someone will be seeing a little Polaris 120 under the Christmas tree.