Toboggans and traplines to technology

In 1959, a trio of Kimberley boys set the snow-riding trend for the Mark Creek Valley

by Sheila Milloy

Bob Plant makes the trek in to Haystack Lake. First he shovelled, then dug in along the ridge with his 2003 Scandic 700 Ski-Doo. photo courtesy Bob Plant

Elvis may be King and Bruce Springsteen the Boss, but when it comes to snow riding, Bob Plant is the Dean. A retired machinist from mining giant Teck (formerly Teck Cominco) and a lifetime resident of Kimberley, B.C., Plant will tell you straight up that every day out snow riding is a best day ever. His wife, Jackie, agrees.

Plant’s love of the sport started when his version of highmarking involved a pair of snowshoes and a toboggan. He and his friend Doug Barrclough spent hours sliding the banks of Lois Creek as youngsters. Things changed when Plant was 22. He was working at Teck Cominco with Nick Rhodes, who ran a trapline up Mark Creek and Cherry Creek to the Sullivan Cabin. Rhodes brought the first Ski-Doo into the Mark Creek Valley to run his trapline. 

In the meantime, Barrclough’s father-in-law, a cattle farmer in Springbrook, brought in a Ski-Doo to ease the burden of winter chores. Since Barrclough helped out with the fall slaughter and market, he soon became familiar with the machine. Eventually, Barrclough took over Rhodes’ trapline and the snowmobile became a way of life.

The trio were quickly acquainted with the snowmobile's recreational benefits. Horizons that had long been out of reach were suddenly attainable and Plant wanted his own ride. He built himself a machine using the motor from his 200 cc James motorcycle, a pair of water-skis made by his brother, a frame fashioned in his basement and a laminated mine conveyor belt for the track. 

Plant and his wife were hooked. They loved to jump on the machine, head straight from their backyard along Matthew Creek to Bootleg and replace the smoke and commotion of urban life with the exhilaration of fresh snow and mountain air. They would find themselves at Cherry Creek with friends or 7, 000 feet above the valley at the VOR (VHF omnidirectional range for aviation guidance) on Pudding Burn. Gazing at the Rockies across open space through clean air high above the cloud-filled valley was far beyond the limits of those Lois Creek toboggan slides. 

By the time the Plants' two sons, Keith and Michael, were born, Bob was riding an Olympic 300 single-track Ski-Doo and towing a sled he’d built to accommodate the boys; Jackie was on the runners shouting “mush.” Countless Sunday afternoons were spent up Mathew Creek at Bootleg. For this young family, these weekly outings meant many hours in the outdoors. The boys learned the basics of balance and tenacity on little plastic Ski-Doos, warming themselves at the campfire and eating more hotdogs than you’d care to imagine. They were born to the lifestyle.

Just as Bob had traded his toboggan for a machine—though the snowshoes are always on the back just in case—the boys are now riding adult sleds. Mike favours the Ski-Doo and Keith the Arctic Cat. Nowadays, they break trails for Mom and Dad, creating a path of their own. Mike and his wife, Marnie, own and operate Summit Concrete Finishing in Cranbrook and Keith is a helicopter pilot. Mike and Marnie are members of the Cranbrook Snowmobile Club and enjoy the trails out at Lumberton, often competing in the local poker run. 

Highmarking with toboggans and snowshoes on the banks of Lois Creek were a great beginning, and a recent Sunday afternoon jaunt to Haystack Lake was déjà vu for this snow-riding family. Last winter, there was no logging up Meachen Creek, so Keith, Mike and Marnie unloaded at the three-kilometre mark on the forest service road. The run into Haystack has always been a challenge. Bob’s early escapades involved shovelling a slot into the snow traversing the south side of the mountain a few kilometres above the creek and leading into Haystack. The ride across involved one ski leaning in and the other in mid-air. Last winter, his sons buzzed across it, digging in with their powerful machines to cut the slot. Bob and Marnie simply putted along the swath enjoying the scenery. It was a great day, overcast but with the mountain peaks visible. Marnie and Bob settled in at the end of the lake looking on as Keith and Mike took off, climbing every slide in sight. 

The Dean, and Jackie the musher, don’t distinguish one best day from the other. Good times and challenging times come. It’s faith, the outdoors and family recreation that create a lifetime of best days ever.

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