High-mileage rider finds the best days on a well-groomed trail

Perfect weather, a perfect companion and a perfectly groomed trail all add up to a perfect experience

by Gail Jansen

On a trip to Melfort on February 25, 2010, Saskatoon sledder Bob Nicol took a break near Humboldt. John Popoff photo

With over 15,000 kilometres and 41 years of sledding under his belt, Bob Nicol said picking a best day ever is like picking the proverbial needle out of a haystack—or in this case, snowdrift. Still, despite so many days to choose from, Nicol—who is considered a high-mileage rider, said there is a day that stands out above all others—a day on which the perfect trifecta of conditions just happened to fuse together to make it the best of the best. 

“A perfect ride takes the perfect combination of conditions,” said Nicol. “Perfectly groomed trails, a perfect companion and perfect temperatures.”

Such was the case when Nicol and his good friend and snowmobiling companion Marcel Voyer, with whom he’s ridden for the past 25 years, headed out from Nipawin one day in 2000.

“That day, Marcel and I travelled from Nipawin to Little Bear Lake,” said Nicol, “a 400-kilometre trip we did all in one day—and what a beautiful day it was, with temperatures only at around -3 degrees Celcius. The conditions of the trails also played a huge factor in the day—they were just excellent.”

Perfectly groomed trails are something that Nicol, a trained trail inspector for the Saskatchewan Snowmobile Association, knows quite a bit about. Nicol has experienced for himself how much the condition of a trail can add to a rider’s overall snowmobiling enjoyment; he said that and safety are why he became a trail inspector, and why he works diligently to ensure that hundreds of kilometres of trails each year are well marked. Having well-marked trails assists both riders and groomers in identifying trails when weather conditions make it difficult—or when riders choose to head out at night, as Nicol and Voyer did on their perfect day.

“Once we got to Little Bear Lake, we decided we’d go out that evening as well, to take in the trails around the lake," said Nicol, "and it was just as beautiful that evening as it had been that day.”

For Nicol, even on those less than perfect days, snowmobiling is not just a sport, it’s a passion. The older he gets, he said, the greater his interest grows—and with over 9,000 kilometres of well-groomed and well-marked trails in Saskatchewan, he’s got plenty to fuel that passion.

“Here you can actually get on your snowmobile and in less than 10 minutes, not see anybody else for the rest of the day if you want,” said Nicol. “So it’s a very tranquil experience and the sense of freedom is terrific. You can have a whole bunch of issues at home, but once you get on a snowmobile, you forget all about them.”

Nicol said he spends about 90 per cent of his sledding time on marked trails, and he admitted that for him it’s not just a matter of safety—though knowing he won’t come across any unknown obstacles is comforting—it’s also a matter of enjoying a ride that’s a little less taxing.

“Let's face it,” said Nicol, “when you get a little older, those groomed trails are much easier on the body.” 

And while some like to travel in larger groups, Nicol said he enjoys the familiarity of riding with those he knows well, and he counts Voyer and his friend John Popoff as the two individuals he rides with the most.

“I know their riding habits and style and I don’t have to second guess their moves as I would with a bigger group,” said Nicol. “The three of us ride together pretty consistently and that’s just how we like it.”

Looking back on the one perfect day he and Voyer shared from Nipawin to Little Bear Lake, Nicol admitted that his days don’t all have to be perfect in order to be memorable—just getting out on his sled is good enough for him.

“I’ve had so many trips since then and they’ve all been really good,” said Nicol, who last year alone travelled 5,000 kilometres with Voyer and Popoff,  “but for some reason that trip just sticks out.”

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