A very welcome surprise

Our reader survey winner from Nipawin, Saskatchewan, offers a first-person account of a fabulous getaway

by Richard Douslin

Richard Douslin's sled on a trail near Valemount, B.C.
Reader Richard Douslin won a snowmobiling getaway to Terracana Ranch Resort. Richard Douslin photo

Last summer I received a surprise  when I opened an email on my computer and found that I had won first prize of a wilderness resort getaway for two at the Terracana Ranch Resort near Valemount. This was the result of my filling in a reader survey in SnoRiders/RidersWest magazine. I was quite excited but quickly sobered up when I realized how far to go it would be from my home in Nipawin, Saskatchewan, and the cost and time of going out to B.C.

But the mind starts working on things and I did have a 2015 Polaris Voyageur, 600 liquid cooled with a 144-inch track and two-inch lugs that I felt would do the job if I ever was going to ride in the mountains.  I realized I could rent a machine if my wife and I were to go to the resort but how could I leave my baby at home and not ride it on a special trip!  Another snag, if I was to entertain the thought of heading to B.C., was that our current truck was a 1994 GMC with 355,000 kilometres. Though in good shape, it had lately been experiencing a few electrical problems.   Because of these concerns I put the idea of this western trip way way back on the back burner. 

Toward fall, though, my wife started mentioning a winter holiday and since the Canadian dollar was taking a hit she thought a western trip would be nice. This surprised me as winter means down south in the heat for her so my wheels really starting grinding.  So I brought up the idea of taking the Polaris to B.C. and doing the snowmobiling trip but she felt renting a snowmobile locally and going out in the car was the smart thing to do. I could not disagree with her logic but how could I leave the Voyageur home? 

It took a bit of work but I managed to convince her. Now for a newer truck.  We had been saving up for five years knowing the GMC would have to be replaced so the dollars were in place.  To make a long story short, the old GMC went to a good owner (who gave me more than I had asked for) and a 2010 Chevy Silverado Z71 LT is now parked in our yard. 

I had been in email contact with the manager, Lisa Lavasseur, and she was very good in providing the details to my many questions.  I got on the website of the Terracana Ranch Resort  and the place looked gorgeous. Now I was really getting anxious and excited.  My wife and I talked and we decided to purchase two additional days ourselves so we could have a good four-day stay at the resort. I emailed Lisa again and we booked the dates of January 6 to 9.  My wife had previously booked her holiday time off at work and I am retired so we were all set. 

We had visited a relative of my wife at Rocky Mountain House and left there on the morning of January 6. 

The drive toward Banff National Park was great as the road was dry and the scenery was stunning. I did notice, though, that there was not a lot of snow and wondered how the snowmobiling would be. The highway was fine until we connected to the Icefields Parkway and that highway was aptly named as it was mostly ice right through to Jasper. We saw a herd of elk and bighorn sheep,a few mule deer and just before the Terracana Ranch Resort  a pair of moose eating in the ditch. 

We checked in late so we picked up a package of information and the key to our unit, which had been left for us at the lodge entrance.  As we were in the mountainous Fraser River Valley, the circuitous road down to our cabin made me glad I had four-wheel drive. Our unit was at the far end of a large log structure, which held four units in total.  As we unloaded the truck and I grunted with the luggage down a wooden walkway alongside a beautiful river and numerous large trees, I felt pretty contented. 

The heavy wooden door opened up to a large entrance room with a large bathroom off to the side.  The main room had double queen-sized beds, television, stove, fridge and all the other necessities  anyone would need to live for a number of days. On the coffee table there were even some snowmobiling magazines—but that was for another time as the pillow was calling.

The next morning after breakfast we headed up to the main lodge to check in.  There we met the friendly staff and did up the necessary paperwork. I gleaned from them as much as I could about where to go snowmobiling.  Walking back to our room I was constantly gawking around as every direction showed the beauty of nature. As my wife would not be snowmobiling we decided to spend the day together travelling around and having a look at the area.  During the day we drove to the small towns of Valemount and McBride where I picked up brochures, which provided information on snowmobiling in the area. 

In McBride there was a snowmobile rental business with real friendly folks and they suggested that, since I was by myself (which they did not recommend), and that I had never ridden in the mountains before, I should go to the Mount Bell snowmobiling area as it had the least severe terrain.  They also recommended that I rent a transponder. Now I was set for where I was going to snowmobile tomorrow.

We got back to Terracana Ranch in time for supper and were the only people there for the meal.  This is where we were introduced to Chef Michael who had come from Paris, France.  He was super friendly and a super good cook!  On the menu was rib-eye steak, cubed potatoes, a delicious salad, lentil and curry soup and dessert was deep-dish apple pie or cheesecake topped off with homemade ice cream!  The bar was open for what we wished  and the usual coffee/tea or other non-alcoholic drinks were available as well.  I am sure Chef Michael came out five times to see how the meal was and if we wanted seconds of anything.  By the time I was finished I had wished the Polaris had the 800 motor for the next day!

I was worried about riding on a mountain on a grey overcast day but Friday turned out bright and sunny and about minus 10—perfect.  I arrived at the Bell Mountain trailhead and there was only one other vehicle in the parking lot so another plus was that it would be quiet.  I walked over to the booth and paid the $25 trail pass fee, which was good for one day at any of the McBride club’s groomed trail areas.  I unloaded the machine and as the groomed trail was packed and not much loose snow evident I engaged the scratchers, which I had put on for the first time the previous day.

The ride up the mountain was great and I was glad I had purchased some scratchers. After about 10 minutes I arrived up in the bowl area and all I could say was, “Wow!”—for two reasons.  One was that the scenery was beyond description, and the second was that I had never seen such a very large area that was so completely covered in snowmobile tracks!  It was hard to find a spot as big as a kitchen table that did not have a tread mark—no exaggeration.

I was very hesitant going up the inclines at the start (and the remainder of the morning) and quickly realized my biggest enjoyment was to ride up to the highest points I could find and then to shut off the machine and just enjoy the scenery.  I was on top of the world and the sunshine was just brilliant. There was just enough snow and that was all so I did not have to worry about avalanches. I saw three snowmobiles once and that was it, otherwise I had the mountain to myself.  After three hours I had seen and done what I wanted to do so I decided to go to the Renshaw snowmobiling area. 

Going back down the groomed trail it was much more noticeable the degree of slope I had come up on; it was quite deceiving to my prairie eyes.

I drove to the Renshaw staging area at about 2 p.m. and realized I would have to move smartly as I didn’t want to be coming back in the dark. There were about 70 vehicles in the staging area so obviously this area was going to be a lot busier. The trail leading to the snowmobiling area followed beside a flowing creek that was mostly frozen but here and there open water could be seen. 

Again the scenery was gorgeous as the Polaris kept going up and up. I was just about to the top when I came onto the groomer doing its job so I pulled over and shut the machine off. Again I was glad I had the scratchers installed; otherwise I know I would have had cooling problems.  After five minutes I started the machine up and took off and quickly I topped out onto the mountaintop.  The riding area was huge and the inclines were sharper and larger than on Bell Mountain. I could see a few machines sledding around but as the area was so big it appeared that I had the area mostly to myself. Again a lot of the snow was tracked up but not nearly like Bell Mountain. Snow conditions were OK but up on the top exposed areas of bare rock could be seen. After zipping up onto one pinnacle to look around I went to go back down at a different slope but as I went I could not see where I was heading as the slope was too steep. So I chickened out and with much difficulty disengaged the scratchers and backed up and turned around. 

Anyone watching would have laughed and said, “There is a flatlander!”  As it was getting dark I headed back to the staging area.  After I loaded up my machine into the truck and headed back to the highway I noticed some reds and blues ahead. The RCMP were doing a roadside inspection for alcohol infractions by snowmobilers, which was nice to see.

At supper there was a group of four riders from the Lloydminster area. One of the guys had fallen off his machine after the first hour of riding and dislocated his shoulder so no more riding for him for the remainder of the weekend. They had been riding in an area south of Valemount.

Saturday was a non-riding day as I wanted to spend time with my wife so we drove around and did various things.  We made sure we were back for supper, though, and again enjoyed a feeding extravaganza—roast beef cut a half-inch thick, delicious gravy and a huge wedge of salmon, veggies and a dessert of upside-down apple pie smothered with home -made vanilla ice cream.  Life was good!

On Sunday we reluctantly checked out and drove a short distance west to Horsey Creek where we intended to walk the trail.  When we got there, though, my wife said she didn’t feel like walking so she suggested that I go riding for a little bit. Yes ma’am!

This turned out to be my kind of riding. The trail was a logging trail that again followed along a creek and there could not have been more than 30 machines that had driven the trail. It was smooth and soft and just perfect. There was no one around as I travelled up the trail.  After an hour of riding I was up near the top and found the logging equipment that was parked after the summer logging.  I could see a glacier off to the east but my time was up and I had to head back down. I had saved the best for last!

I strongly recommend Terracana Ranch Resort as the accommodations, food and staff were great. They also have lots to do in the summer as well. Go on their website and see what they have to offer.

I also want to thank SnoRiders/RidersWest magazine for giving me this prize. It was great!

For more information about Terracana Ranch Resort and to book a stay, visit the resort's website.

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