Sledding is a popular pastime in Grande Prairie, Alberta. The Swan City Snowmobile Club is the local organization that helps make sure everybody’s favourite riding areas stay well maintained and ready for use. The club has been in existence for longer than most, as it was established back in 1973. As well, it features the largest membership of any club in the Alberta Snowmobile Association with over 500 members.
Lou Maffret has been sledding for more than 40 years, starting when he was only 12 years old. He has been a member of the club for nearly 20 years and now serves as executive director. Still, he said, it is only more recently that he has come to realize the numerous ways that the volunteers within a club serve the snowmobile community.
“A lot of people don’t understand what a membership means to the big picture,” said Maffret. “We run two groomers . . . Along with all the incidentals like fuel, insurance, repairs—it takes a lot of time and money to make sure we have a place to ride. People don’t necessarily realize what goes on behind the scenes.”
Thanks to the club’s volunteers, there is an abundance of riding areas that can be found around Grande Prairie. The Big Mountain trails are a popular option that can be accessed 20 minutes out of town. This area features two warm-up cabins and 150 kilometres of groomed trail, making it a great choice for just about any level of experience.
Kakwa Wildland Provincial Park is two hours southwest of Grande Prairie but the riding makes the drive well worth your while. A trail in leads to a plethora of mountain riding, much of it in B.C. Be prepared for some awesome views and terrain.
“(Every area has its) benefits,” said Maffret. “Around here we get more snow in the mountains just minutes out of Grande Prairie that takes you to hundreds of kilometres of great riding. You take the terrain and the river valleys—that’s where the beauty lies. It’s great to have access to the mountains from the Grande Prairie area, as it extends our riding season and has unreal scenery.”
Maffret believes that sledding is, by nature, a social sport. He emphasized an appreciation for the club volunteers, and the importance a membership can make to the sport overall. He also enjoys inviting his brothers up from Edmonton, or taking friends out into the backcountry.
“Some of the memorable times for me have been out in Kakwa when I’ve been taking people that have maybe sledded once in their life,” said Maffret. “I’ve been able to take them out and on the groomed trails—do a loop through the mountains. We can have a huge day that's not an extreme ride but I can take beginners—my nephews and my wife's girlfriends—out to places that very few people get to see.”
With the involvement of a great club and the area to promote it, it looks like sledding will continue to be a favourite form of recreation in Grande Prairie for a long time to come.