Criss-cross the terrain in Swan River, Manitoba

Trail 549 is a fan favourite for the North Mountain Riders of Manitoba

by Jillian Clark

Trail 549 varies in terrain along its 120 kilometres.
Trail 549 varies in terrain along its 120 kilometres. Photo courtesy North Mountain Riders

Swan River has plenty of trails that criss-cross the countryside just a few kilometres from town. From Trail 2 at Swan River, riders head along a two-lane, groomed snow highway separated by a median for 13 kilometres. Trail 549 meets up with this stretch of Trail 2, and shortly afterwards riders can choose between fresh powder in any direction.

Leona Sweetser, a long-time member of the North Mountain Riders, suggests that riders stick to Trail 549 if they’re looking for a long haul with a little bit of everything in terms of terrain. “The first section of it is on the boundary of the forestry reserve, so you can look down into the valley, and you have the bush on your right-hand side,” she said. “It’s very pretty. You can see both Swan River and the Duck Mountains.” The next stretch takes sledders into the bush, through both straight stretches where snowmobiles can rip wide open, to windy trails through the rolling hills. “You cover thick, dense bush, wide openings, hills, and you cross a few creeks,” said Sweetser. Riders leave the groomed trails to play in the powdery hayfields, as well as around the lakes and swamps.

The 549 has three warm-up shelters scattered across its 120 kilometres. Mafeking marks the farthest northern point of the North Mountain Riders territory, and this is where riders can refuel before heading back south to Swan River. For the return trip, sledders can choose to backtrack from the direction they came, or take the easier route on Trail 2 directly south to create a large loop.

Bellsite Annual Poker Derby

The Bellsite Annual Poker Derby is scheduled for Sunday, February 26, 2017. Riders register in the morning and draw for their cards before heading out on the 100-kilometre loop. Riders are told to “travel as you wish down the trail,” said Sweetser. “It’s very scenic.”

Riders begin at Bellsite. They drive north on Trail 2 to Mafeking, where they will meet the popular Trail 549. “Half-way around the trail they have a pit stop at North Steeprock Lake,” said Sweetser. Food and drinks wait for the riders at Steeprock Lake, so riders can refuel for the afternoon. “Lunch is sponsored by the local community, and they do a really great job,” she said.

The derby's half-way checkpoint at Steeprock Lake. Lunch is served here, and included in the registration fees.
The derby's half-way checkpoint at Steeprock Lake. Lunch is served here, and included in the registration fees. Photo courtesy North Mountain Riders

From Steeprock Lake, riders have the option of cutting across the lake onto Trail 550 for a shortcut, or continuing south to Trail 558. The Olson Lake warm-up shelter acts as the second pit stop for rally riders before they start on the final stretch. Both 550 and 558 eventually lead to Trail 553, which takes riders back to Bellsite. “Once you get into Bellsite, there is a full-course supper ready,” Sweetser said. “You’ll burst by the time you’re finished.” On top of the provided lunch and dinner, the club hands out door prizes to participants as they arrive at the finish line.

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