Conquering peaks and powder: Rijel Hunley’s lifelong passion for snowmobiling

This avid sledder shares his favourite snowmobiling gear, tips and riding areas

by Danielle Brost

Rijel Hunley crashing through powdery snow on his sled
Rijel Hunley has been in love with snowmobiling for most of his life. Photo courtesy of Rijel Hunley

Venturing into the snow-covered landscape of Revelstoke, British Columbia, we enter the thrilling world of snowmobiling with Rijel Hunley—a 24-year-old adventurer whose passion for backcountry sledding has been ingrained since the age of 12.

Originally hailing from Whitecourt, Alberta, Hunley's fondness for mountain riding led him to the captivating terrain of Revelstoke, Golden, and Sicamous. He kindly took the time to share his insights into what makes the local snowmobiling scene unique, the exhilaration he finds in the sport, and the essential gear that defines his riding experience.

- Photo courtesy of Rijel Hunley

Can you tell us a bit about yourself? 

I am 24 years old, and have been snowmobiling in the backcountry since I was 12 years old.

I grew up in Whitecourt, Alberta which is where my love for snowmobiling was born in my early ages. My dad had an old sled we would bomb around with on the farm and eventually he bought me my first sled at eight years old. From there I knew I wanted to ride in the mountains one day and not just around the farm. Fast forward a few years and we had moved to Calgary where I soon realized I was much closer to some of the worlds best mountain riding in Revelstoke, Golden, and Sicamous. After moving I had also outgrown my first sled and it was time to get onto a real mountain sled. I shopped around on the marketplace and ended up buying a 2008 Ski-Doo Summit 800 and was ready to head to the mountains.

I had made a few trips out with my dad through middle school and highschool, however only rode around 10 days a year.

Once I graduated highschool, I was accepted to a university only two hours away from Revelstoke which allowed me to ride almost every weekend and during all the long weekends and breaks I had. This is where I took my riding to the next level and was starting to ride 40 or 50 days a season.

- Photo courtesy of Rijel Hunley

What is it about snowmobiling that you find most exhilarating?

Snowmobiling is different than any other sport I take part in. Dirt biking you are confined to the trail, or track, mountain biking you are confined to the trails, and snowboarding you are at a resort. However, backcountry sledding offers freedom in every aspect to explore and ride wherever your skill level can take you. For me, constantly pushing myself in steeper and gnarlier terrain as well as exploring more areas is the most exhilarating part of snowmobiling.  

What makes the snowmobiling unique in your area?

Revelstoke offers the deepest snow, most exciting terrain, and the most beautiful scenery I have ever ridden in.

I have yet to ride in a lot of other locations outside of British Columbia. However, when it’s snowing in Revelstoke, it’s extremely hard to leave the town because of what it has to offer.

There is amazing riding for all skill levels and that’s what makes it so unique. If you want a leisurely stroll up Boulder Mountain to watch the sunset, the trail is perfect for families and new riders, and there is a massive cabin to enjoy your lunch at. There are also plenty of meadows and alpine riding to develop your skill, as well.

For more experienced sledders, there are endless logging roads to explore up new mountains that offer some extreme terrain, or you can even find some of this terrain by dropping into more technical areas at the club-managed mountains.

Overall, Revelstoke has everything sledders could want.

Are there specific trails that you consider your favourites for snowmobiling?

My favourite area to ride is Sale Mountain in Revelstoke. It has endless features to build jumps, hit drops, tear up pillow fields, and tree ride for days on end without seeing another set of tracks. I have spent many days riding there and always find something new to appreciate about the mountain. 

Can you describe the community or culture around snowmobiling in your region? Are there any events or gatherings you look forward to?

The snowmobile culture in Revelstoke is also what makes the town so compelling to ride in. There are plenty of snowmobile club events that further build the culture and sense of community. One in particular that I am looking forward to again this season is the vintage ride. I do not have a vintage sled myself, however, I really enjoy seeing all of the old iron come out for the day and be a part of the action.

Another ride that I am excited for is put on through the dealer I ride for. The Rainy Creek Demo Ride was a lot of fun last year and brought out many familiar faces as well as some new ones. I am looking forward to being a part of it this season, as well.

- Photo courtesy of Rijel Hunley

What kind of equipment or gear do you find essential for a great riding experience?

There are many essential items to create a good riding experience for me—to cover safety, comfort and convenience. 

Staying warm and dry while riding is extremely important as well as being comfortable and having mobility which is why I wear Klim from head to toe. Their gear is durable and fits my riding style well and after trying other brands which is I will stick to Klim.

Avalanche safety is very important in creating a great riding experience, as well. Having the proper items and knowledge to navigate avalanche terrain is essential to snowmobiling in the backcountry.

At bare minimum, everyone riding in the backcountry should carry a shovel,  beacon, and probe to rescue or be rescued if an avalanche was to occur and I will never leave the truck without ensuring all of this these items are working properly and functional.

Beyond that, I use an airbag system, as well as radios and satellite communication device as a part of my essential toolbox of gear which allow me to feel confident leaving cell phone service with everything I would need if an emergency was to occur.

On top of all of this, I also bring a few spare pairs of gloves, as well as a spare pair of goggles. These things can commonly get wet or fog up and wreck the riding experience for me, which is why I like to have extras. 

Lastly, a good tool kit can save the day of riding if something breaks or is not functioning properly.

- Photo courtesy of Rijel Hunley

What has been your most memorable sledding trip?

The most memorable day of sledding I’ve ever had was last season, exploring some new area with a killer group of riders. This day was featured on Muskoka Freerider’s, YouTube channel titled “He jumped the Heli” where we rode all day until late afternoon. The boys needed some fuel and decided to order some pizza and refreshments along with the fuel, and have it delivered via helicopter to the mountain we were riding on. It was a crazy experience to be part of the day exploring new area, riding some very cool, terrain, watching one of the best riders in the world, Caleb Kesterke, hit some jumps. If you haven’t seen the video, I would check it out, I’m not sure any day in the future for me could top this day, but I would sure love to try.

Do you have any advice for someone interested in trying snowmobiling for the first time?

I would say that if you are looking to get into snowmobiling for the first time that it would be a good idea to rent a couple machines to try out or borrow a friend’s to see what brand you like before purchasing. Everyone has preferences from handling to ergonomics which is why it would be important to try a variety of machines to see what works best for you.

From there, make sure you have a good set of gear and the necessary safety items to make the ride the best it can be.

Buying a brand-new snowmobile is awesome, however, there are many used sleds on the market that can save you some money before really immersing yourself in the sport. Snowmobiling isn’t cheap by any means and it can be overwhelming to get started, but easing into it slowly and making decisions based on how many trips you are going to make and the time you’re going to put into it can allow you to make better decisions based on what you need versus what you want.

Finding a solid group of riding buddies is also very important to making your first experience a good one. Having someone to show you around and give you tips is going to take away some of the learning curve and allow you to have a better time.

- Photo courtesy of Rijel Hunley

What brands are you an ambassador for?

I am fortunate enough to have support from a few awesome companies:

Rainy Creek Powersports in Eckville, Alberta is by far the best dealership I have dealt with for Polaris, and the team makes finding parts, accessories, or buying a new machine an enjoyable and easy experience. I am lucky enough to be a part of their sponsored team of riders again for the 23-24 season. If you’re in the area and looking for anything Polaris related, this is the store to shop at!

This season I am also a part of the Klim Backcountry team which has been a great experience so far in adding some new gear to my bag and staying warm and dry this season.

Remer’s Renderings in Cranbrook, British Colombia provides superb protection for any brand of sled with handmade front and rear bumpers that look awesome and provide bracing and support for areas of the sled that the stock bumpers can not compete with.

Uptik Graphics continues to provide top notch graphics for my sled and showcase the awesome companies that support me. They have a great team that can bring any idea to life when it comes to custom wraps that are also extremely durable and protect the plastics on your sled.

Diamond Led in Calgary, Alberta provides powersport lighting as well as headlights for trucks, sled decks, and trailers—which are essential in the winter during those shorter days. Their headlamp is something I carry with me riding every day and get a lot of use out of when coming off the mountain in the dark.

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