After graduating from the automotive marketing program at SAIT Polytechnic, Brett Smyl moved to High Level, Alberta, to take up ownership of the local Chrysler and GM dealerships in partnership with his dad, “the old mountain king back in the day.” Smyl said that being in the car business keeps him in the loop on some of the best spots to sled, and that, especially in High Level, word of mouth is how riders find out about the best off-the-beaten-path places to play.
“Our trail system is like a pipeline, and we use the trail to go places” said Smyl, who describes himself as a deep snow mountain rider. “That’s why we have good variety up here, because we’re in a very secluded area and there are a lot of areas that are very remote.”
Smyl said that the groomed trail system, which includes a loop up Watt Mountain as well as a loop to the neighbouring town of La Crete, is what local riders use to find meadows off the trails and more.
“You could spend the whole day and not even get 10 kilometres out of town and find meadows of fresh snow. The trails can go forever,” he said, adding that some of his best memories of riding in High Level are “when there are four or five guys and (they) get up Sunday morning, throw (their) sleds in the trailer and drive maybe 20 minutes to a half an hour in any direction from town and find untouched areas.”
Last season, during which the local airport reported over 18 feet of snowfall, Smyl said there was one day he remembers driving just north of town, parking at a gravel pit and finding some of that prime untouched powder. “It was springtime, so it must have been plus two degrees,” said Smyl. “We were riding in our sweaters and T-shirts part of the way, and we had to stop at times because our sleds were overheating. It was beautiful out. We actually were just riding in the ditch and we found an opening in the bush and this huge meadow that hadn’t been touched all year with five feet of fresh snow and really cool terrain of trees and hills. It was really technical (riding) and untouched snow and it was plus two out.”
Smyl said that a less random local favourite is something called the Rib Shack, a resting area in the bush just outside of town where people haul stacks of wood, hotdogs and ribs for a fireside supper.
“That’s usually a last-minute lunchtime phone call or a mass email text that goes out, and then by 5:30 everybody’s loading up,” he said.
For out-of-towners, Smyl recommended sticking to the trail system at first, and then simply asking around town for tips on where else to ride.
“We tell stories,” said Smyl of the local riders. “Most people that have been here their whole lives already know about all those areas. Basically how you find out about them is by riding with guys in the area.
“There’s a lot of exploring,” he said.