Blue River is home to the snowmobiling trail they call the Holy Grail

Russell Critchlow tells all about his favourite rides in Blue River

by Kimberly Schoenberger

Prestine view of a snow covered mountian.
Photo courtesy Blue River Powder Packers Snowmobile Club North Blue region.

Blue River, located between Kamloops and Jasper and nestled in the Cariboo and Monashee mountains, has long been known as the Jewel of the Yellowhead, and for good reason. This town is famous for its prime outdoor adventure territory, and it certainly will not disappoint snowmobilers in the mood for exploration. The wide variety of terrain and trails, easily accessible and right close to town, is cherished among local sledders.

Salmon and Groundhog

“My favourite place to ride generally is probably the Salmon riding area,” said Russell Critchlow, lead guide and owner of River Safari, a popular guided river tour business in Blue River. “It’s so big and vast, you can go back so many times and ride completely different country every time. That’s probably the biggest thing—just the size and the vastness and the variety of the terrain. Literally everything you can imagine, you can go back every single day of the week and each time get a different kind of valley or terrain.”

The Salmon riding area is located approximately 15 kilometres south of Blue River and includes a large parking area at the start, as well as a groomed access trail. If you’re in the mood for a shorter ride, you can also check out Groundhog, a slightly smaller riding area that you can find about halfway into Salmon.

“Something unique about Groundhog is that it’s a special open area inside of the caribou closure,” said Critchlow. “It’s a traditional riding area, and because we’ve taken care of it for so many years we’ve gotten to maintain the core riding area, while closing the riding area all around.”

Local riders are protective about this riding area in particular, and in order to keep it open for sledding they do their best to ensure that all visitors follow the proper guidelines.

“We ask anyone who rides there to be really careful and respectful about staying inside the boundaries,” said Critchlow.

Big Blue and the Holy Grail

No, not a Monty Python movie, but two trails that are certainly just as memorable.

Critchlow noted that the the trail he and other local riders call the Holy Grail is another one of his favourite Blue River rides.

“I love it because it’s challenging to get to and when you get there, it’s literally like… I would have to say God was a snowmobiler and he carved out a terrain park for us,” said Critchlow. “It’s absolutely beautiful out there.”

Though this trail might not have as much variety or as many trees as sledders might find at Salmon, the view and open beauty make up for it tenfold. On a day when the weather isn’t cooperating, head back down through the tree-covered trail and you can still get in a fantastic day of riding.

“Another thing I love about the Holy Grail is that it’s right next to Big Blue, and when you get there on a no-cloud day, you can explore both areas in the same day,” said Critchlow. “You can’t see all of the trails in one day, but you can go to all different places, and all of them are just unbelievable and spectacular.”

Name: Russell Critchlow

Occupation: Owner and lead guide for River Safari

Age: 48

How long have you been riding snowmobiles? “Probably since I was three, so pretty much my whole life.”

How long have you lived in Blue River? “I’ve been here for about 15 years now.”

What is your current sled? “I actually have three brands of sleds that I ride, since I own a snowmobile rental place in Revelstoke. We rent out about a dozen sleds, and we’ve got Artic Cat, Ski-Doo and Polaris. I own that with two other guys, Curtis Broza and Shane McKinnon, and we’ve gone out on rides as a team, each taking a different machine. Then when we’re out there we ride and swap and take notes. We’ve all found distinct differences, but unanimously the easiest ride goes to the Ski-Doo.”

Which sled is your favourite to ride?
“If I get to choose which sled I’m going to be riding, it’s always Ski-Doo. This year, the machine was just phenomenal, and it’s always been at the top of the game. I think it has a small advantage over the other machines. This year it really took a jump above the others, but there’s no such thing as a bad sled right now. When someone asks for my advice on how to pick a sled, I always tell them to pick one with a dealership you’d most like to deal with. But if you’re really only concerned about what you’re riding and how well it rides, I would recommend Ski-Doo. They’ve done a fantastic job last year catching up to the other machines. It’s just such a smooth-handling machine. It handles so well, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s got a little more power as well.”

What is your favourite kind of ride (specific terrain or weather)?
“I don’t care about the weather, I just love the ride. My favourite terrain is probably just challenging backcountry through the trees. I love to explore. I’m not really a hill climber. My passion is more just exploring new terrain and trying to get somewhere no one’s ever been before. That usually combines steep hillsides and trees.”

What are you looking forward to most this year?
“I’m just looking forward to more time on the snow, and checking out my new KTM. My new ride this year is a Snow Bike KTM 450 with a track from Timbersled. They built a track conversion for dirt bikes, and that’s going to be my main ride this winter. The biggest difference between just a regular sled and a snow bike is the boondocking ability. It just sidehills so easy, and that just opens up so much more terrain and gives you the opportunity to explore country that’s a lot more difficult. Particularly with sidehills steep in the trees, it’s always a challenge, and on a snow bike it just gives you so many more opportunities to travel in thicker timber and snow.”


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