The McMurray Sno-Drifters cut no corners along their trail system

The Sno-Drifters' 110-mile trail system loops through frozen muskeg forest, flat cutlines and up into higher elevations

by Karissa Gall

Ron Fetzko stands smiling waist-deep in snow
Ron Fetzko, the McMurray Sno-Drifters Snowmobile Association president, said the club is already waist-deep in clearing activities to get their trail system ready for this season. Photo courtesy Ron Fetzko

With between three and seven inches of fresh powder already on the ground—depending on the elevation—clearing has begun on the mapped corners of the 110-mile crown jewel of the McMurray Sno-Drifters Snowmobile Association. The club's looped trail system consists of the Anzac, Connector and Stony Mountain trails.

“This trail (system) offers beginner- to intermediate-level riding through a wide range of terrain consisting of flat, straight cutlines through the frozen muskeg forest to tight, twisting, winding climbs through the hills and ridges of Stony Mountain, south of Fort McMurray,” said club president Ron Fetzko. “For the more advanced and experienced riders, the system offers endless off-trail adventures and challenges that . . . satisfy that need to shred it up and push machine and rider to the max.”

The Anzac Trail

The Anzac Trail staging area at Saprae Creek Estates, one of several along the trail system, is the suggested starting point for riders wishing to take on the full Fort Mac sledding experience.

“Take off from the Saprae Creek storage area,” said Fetzko, "(then) go towards the A corner and travel straight south, take the eastern leg towards C, D, E and F, and the first point you’ll see is the Bean firepit. The Bean firepit is named after Elburn and Freda Bean, longtime residents, volunteers and members of the Fort McMurray Sno-Drifters.”

Carrying on through the muskeg, flat lines, wide, swooping corners and the small brush trees that characterize the lower Anzac Trail, riders will come to H corner and back onto the main pipeline corridor, heading straight south to the Connector Trail.

The Connector Trail

The newest trail in the system, Fetzko said, is the fast-moving Connector Trail; the trail is the recent work of two groups: the Sno-Drifters together with the Anzac Heritage Trail Committee (AHTC).

“The Sno-Drifters always had the Anzac and Stony Mountain trails, and we struggled for years and years trying to connect those two trails,” said Fetzko. “The AHTC came on board, which I’m a part of, and basically had a route up on top of Stony Mountain that was unclaimed . . . and we partnered with them to build the trail.”

Fetzko said that travelling south on the Connector Trail towards Stony Mountain, there are a few ways to get into the town of Anzac and enjoy a hot meal or purchase fuel.

“Right in the middle of this entire trail system we have services for food and we have fuel, which is really critical to how this trail is laid out,” he said. “There’s not a lot you can do with 110 miles without a top-off, so it alleviates the need to carry fuel.”

Continuing south past the railway crossing you cross Highway 881, where the trail system starts to get “twisty and windy and you start to climb.”

“From F corner up, you’re a steady climb, and you climb about 1,000 feet or so until you get up to the Stony Mountain ridge,” said Fetzko. “You know you’re climbing; you can feel it."

At G corner is the popular Connector Trail firepit, which Fetzco said is sponsored by the AHTC.

“It’s actually the gem of the whole system," he said. "It’s one of the firepits that we find the most families go to and hang out at because it’s just a nice spot with good visibility and a good view.”

When you start to crest out on Stony Mountain at J corner, Fetzko said, it is time to start preparing for a challenging draw just past K corner going straight west.

“It’s a big, natural creek draw and really it’s an area that a beginner can push themselves or a novice can push themselves a little bit, and it’s a challenge for them,” he said. "It’s a great experience for people to spread their wings."

Stony Mountain

Sledders will enter completely different terrain on the upper Stony Mountain range, Fetzko said, describing an alpine setting with sparse trees and lots of lakes, creeks, draws, valleys and, of course, snow.

With an ultimate elevation change of almost 2,000 feet between the valley bottom and Stony Mountain, the area gets "a ton of snow up there,” Fetzko said, and riding can be expected to continue well past Easter.

After taking in a few more trail system highlights, including Drifter Lake and the Wells firepit, sledders return to the Saprae staging area with the experience of “100 miles, a long day, a great ride and every variety of riding,” said Fetzko.

“And that’s just on our groomed trail,” he added. “In lower Anzac or up on Stony Mountain there is untouched cutline after cutline and right-of-way.  Just pick a line and go.”

Snowmobilers should keep in mind that the Draper Rail Bed trail was damaged during the Alberta floods and will be closed for the season.

Tips for visiting sledders

Ron Fetzko, president of the McMurray Sno-Drifters Snowmobile Association, provided these tips about the area.

• A group heading onto this trail system should be prepared for a long day, as the trail loop is almost 110 miles starting and returning back to the Saprae Creek staging yard. There are two other staging areas along the trail, one at Highway 881 and Gregoire River C corner, and the Stony Mountain staging area, accessed from Highway 63, south of Fort McMurray on the Maqua Lake day-use access road.

There is fuel around the halfway point at the Anzac Esso as well as the well-known local hangout the ZeeBar to break up the day's travel.

For families, there is hot food available at the Anzac Esso as well as a sit-down restaurant close to the Anzac grocery store in the heart of Anzac.

All these businesses can be accessed easily with minimal disturbance to the community via the well-marked access points on the main ASA trail system.

Remember to bring a friend and let someone know where you are headed as well as when you expect to return.

Watch or "like" the Sno-Drifters’ Facebook page to stay up to date on upcoming events.

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