Carrying on the sled family tradition in Athabasca

Like father, like daughter—Lynn Olson has passed the sledding gene on to her family

by Kirsten Armleder

Two young children on sleds in a meadow.
More and more families are getting out to enjoy the trail system around Athabasca. photo courtesy Lynn Olson

As one of the founding members and a 15-year president of the Athabasca River Runners, Dave Bilsky, 64, has had a big influence on the local snowmobiling scene—but he’s had an even greater impact on his daughter, Lynn Olson.

“He introduced me to snowmobiling,” she said.

Olson was only three at the time but her passion for the sport grew stronger each year. When she was 17, Olson made her first big purchase—a 1993 Polaris XLT. Later on, she and her husband were married on sleds. It seemed only natural, then, for Olson to introduce her three kids to the sport.

“They all have their own sleds,” she said. “Even our little guy, he started driving his own sled when he was four-and-a-half.”

A mother and father with their three kids on snowmobiles.
The Olson family get ready to hit the trails around Athabasca; they ride just about every weekend. photo courtesy Lynn Olson

Living west of Athabasca, right next to the club’s trail system, Olson and her family have doorstep access to 300 kilometres of groomed trails, plus an unlimited supply of off-trail riding on Crown land. One of her favourite rides, however, is the Bilsky Loop. Named after her dad, this 45-kilometre loop takes riders to a trapper’s cabin that has been in the Bilsky family for decades.

The Athabasca trail system is ideal for families and Olson is starting to see more riders venturing out with their kids, which also means more women are riding. This is good for the sport and for women who, like Olson, have gotten used to being the only lady in the group.

“I find it very encouraging to ride with other women,” said Olson. “I’ve done a couple of clinics and ladies rides and I find that they are very helpful in building confidence.”

A women riding wrong foot forward on a black Polaris sled.
A mountain rider as well, Lynn Olson is one of only three women in Alberta who were selected to be brand ambassadors for Divas SnowGear during the 2015-2016 season. She is hoping to organize a local ladies ride this winter to help promote and encourage more women to get into the sport. photo courtesy Lynn Olson

Like her father, Olson is an active volunteer for the Athabasca River Runners. Having held the position of treasurer and now communications co-ordinator, she works to promote the riding around Athabasca.

“We just purchased a new groomer and we’re getting more active as a club, trying to promote our trails” said Olson. “We got a few more trails put in and more and more people are coming out to ride for the day, realizing we are only an hour and a half from Edmonton.”

Attracting new riders and getting your kids into snowmobiling is a good way to ensure the longevity of the sport. In fact, most of us wouldn’t be sledding today if it weren’t for our parents sitting us down on the old 440 to bounce away with them on the trails. Olson is carrying on a tradition.

Everybody Rides: 

Name: Lynn Olson
Age: 37
Lives in: Athabasca, Alberta
Sledding since: 1982
Rides: 800 Polaris Pro-RMK 155
Day job: Mother and volunteer
What do you love most about snowmobiling? You just forget about all the other stresses in life, enjoy the scenery and feel free floating on top the snow. I love the camaraderie and just seeing other people out riding and having fun.

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