This retro dad harkens to a time of old school sledding and inspirational parenting

Tinkering with old sleds leads to fun-filled family rides in southern Manitoba

by Kyle Born

Five people ride three vintage snowmobiles in a Manitoba field.
Jeff MacAulay is a rad dad who takes his young children on grand adventures. (L to R) Paul and Neil MacAulay ride a ’94 Arctic Cat Pantera, Chelsie and Joshua ride a ’91 Yamaha Phaser II and Jeff MacAulay rides a ’79 Ski-Doo Elite. Photo courtesy Jeff MacAulay

There’s nothing quite like the classics. In particular, sleds and old souls. Jeff MacAulay is a throwback to what snowmobilers used to be. He’s got that old-school hospitable charm and more vintage sleds than you could load on a flatbed.

“I can’t afford to justify the expense of a newer model sled,” MacAulay said. “So I enjoy buying 25-year-old two-stroke Yamahas for $1,000 and then put a few hundred more dollars in parts and repairs into them—recovered seats, new windshields, clutch parts, sliders and ski-skins—for a great ride. I guess you could say I’m not afraid to tackle repairs.” 

MacAulay likes restoring vintage snowmobiles like RUPP, Ski-Roule and Mercury. He hopes to someday show off his collection of era sleds from the 1970s and 1980s in a new barn loft.

Something for everyone

For now, MacAulay rides a ’92 Yamaha Exciter II. He recently bought another one with an overhauled top-end that had been parked for the last five years and has only 5,000 kilometres on it. MacAulay also has a ’91 Phazer II, ’88 Enticer II LT, ’94 Arctic Cat Pantera, ’80 Ski-Doo Blizzard 5500 and ’79 Ski-Doo Elite.

“With seven good running sleds, my family always has something to ride,” he said. 

MacAulay is a family man through and through. His ties to family and snowmobiling go back to 1972 when he was six years old and his dad bought him an Arctic Cat “Kitty Cat.” MacAulay would ride along his old man in his SkiRoule RTX 440 and has enjoyed riding his own sled ever since.

Kids ride vintage snowmobiles on a trail in Manitoba.
Jeff MacAulay enjoys restoring vintage sleds so his kids can enjoy the sport as much as he did growing up. Photo courtesy Jeff MacAulay

This winter, MacAulay aims to teach his two youngest children to ride their own sleds so that they don’t have to bump helmets with him. He plans to take the whole family out for more rides into town for Saturday lunches.

Where to ride

MacAulay’s favourite place to ride is the Pembina River Valley between Killarney, Manitoba, to where it enters North Dakota, south of Morden, Manitoba.

“The valley holds its snow, while the fields up top are drifted rougher,” he said. “I enjoy running the frozen river between lakes, too.”

MacAulay also enjoys taking advantage of the Pembina Valley SnowKickers groomed trail network.

“When there’s enough snowfall to groom, it sure is nice to ride smooth, signed trails,” he said. “But boondocking and venturing across fields and off the beaten path in the valleys are often more my style.

“The coolest thing to do on a snowmobile is to ride over all terrain—across fields that are cropped in the summer, crossing frozen creeks and rivers that are too deep for quads in the summer, across lakes to explore roads closed for winter, or just trying to high mark a really steep hillside—let alone try to reach the top! In the 1980s, we’d spend an afternoon just trying to summit.”

While riding across this varied terrain, MacAulay has learned some lessons the hard way, such as not ignoring worn/leaking shocks.

“The rebound from compressed rear suspension while going over an approach will catapult you right over the handlebars,” he said. “Another time, I spiralled my Yamaha SS440 when a ski clipped a small hay bale. The track sawed pretty hard into my thigh. It was sorely bruised. A friend rode my sled home and I got a car ride, but at least it wasn’t an ambulance ride.”

Aside from a few bumps and bruises along the way, MacAulay appreciates everything snowmobiling offers: smelling fresh winter air, seeing scenery from a different perspective and bouncing on a sled to help his joints stay loose and limber. More than anything, though, MacAulay loves winter and snowmobiling for two big reasons: “No bugs and no sweating in hot heat,” he said.

Fun family outing:

If you’re looking for some inspiration for a day full of family fun, take some tips from a man who knows a thing or two about creating lasting memories with his loved ones.

“My favourite ride was the time I rode with my wife, Nancy, and our two youngest children, Paul and Chelsie, from our Rock Lake home to Glenora,” he said. “We topped up the gas tanks at the general store and headed west to Killarney for lunch at the Blarney Stone Pub & Grill.

“The Pembina Valley SnowKickers trail meets up with the Tri-Lake Trailbusters’ trails west of Glenora. It’s a lovely ride that follows the old railway line, crossing through the Pembina Valley at the west end of Rock Lake. There are pretty meadows, ravines of wildlife and a well-stocked warm-up cabin overlooking the valley. It’s a popular hangout spot for folks who bring along some food for grilling atop the wood stove.”

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