Ready to sled in Fort McMurray

With some great sledding areas as well as an expanse of Crown land, riders in Fort McMurray pretty much have it made

by Kristen Mitchell

A group of sledders take a break on a cutline trail surrounded by bush.
Riders enjoy the long-season riding in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Photo courtesy Tom Tabbert

With a long season and some great riding areas, sledders in Fort McMurray start to get eager to get out their sleds about the time autumn rolls around. Tom Tabbert, vice-president with the McMurray Sno-Drifters, said he generally begins riding in the Stoney Mountain area south of the city in early November.

With 275 kilometres of groomed trail, Fort McMurray’s club keeps busy throughout the season. For those familiar with the area, the Draper Rail Bed Trail was heavily damaged in this summer’s excessive rain. The Sno-Drifters will be meeting with the city to conclude the fate of the area for the 2013/2014 season—watch for updates on the club's website. Regardless, there remains plenty of great places to sled around Fort McMurray.

“We have our Thickwood Tower Trail, which gets used quite extensively,” said Tabbert. “Then south and east of McMurray is our main system because we go right from the outskirts of the city through powerline and pipeline and trail, right to the town of Anzac. People can go in there for burgers, pizza or coffee and then the trail extends south. We cross the highway and go up through the connector trail and that connects to the Stoney Mountain Trail. If anybody’s ever been to the mountains, the trail leading up is a lot like the trails when you’re heading up to the alpine—kind of a picturesque wooded area with hills and valleys.”

One of the major benefits of riding in Fort McMurray is the abundance of area that is open to riders. Most of the land surrounding the city is Crown land that is criss-crossed with pipelines, cutlines and rivers, but no fences. The terrain is mostly bush and Tabbert said he has ridden to High Level and even Fort Smith in the Northwest Territories. Saskatchewan, by contrast, is an easy hour and a half away once the rivers are safely frozen and smooth.

Along with the unrestricted riding, however, sledders must make sure to take reasonable precautions. Along with riding with others who know the area and only exploring with a reliable GPS, Tabbert said that anyone out snowmobiling in the area has to be aware that oil exploration work takes place in the region through the winter.

After a phenomenal season last year, Fort McMurray’s snowmobile community is amped for more great snow. Tabbert is simply ready to sled and excited for what winter will bring this season.

“I like to go exploring,” he said. “Not necessarily down the groomed trail all the time because I can do that any day—I like to get off the beaten path. The few people that I normally ride with have the same feelings I do. We like to get off the beaten path and go explore places that maybe we haven’t been or go a little bit further into the bush.”

Meet the rider

Name: Tom Tabbert
Age: 58
Occupation: Welding inspector
Sledding since: Up here in McMurray for 45 years, but I did a little bit when I was a kid before I lived here. My brother and I would walk a couple miles up to a friend's house—they had a Ski-Doo. We’d go up and burn circles out in the field with it.
First sled: 1969 Ski-Doo Olympic
Current sled: 2013 Polaris Switchback Pro-R
What did you like about your sled? Power, handling and comfort. For my style of riding it works really well.
Describe your riding style: Aggressive trail riding
What is it that keeps you coming back, year after year? Well, I hate sitting around the house. I don’t go to the bars and go drinking—so that’s my form of stress release and exercise. I’m not into jogging or working out at the gym. My working out is wrassling my sled down the trail or in the bush.

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