Learning to Love Winter

A full range of family activities awaits families in northern Saskatchewan

by Gail Kesslar

A youth enjoying ice fishing while sitting on his snowmobile.
A little bit of ice fishing rounds out the day's activities at Elk Ridge. Photo by Kevin Punshon

After purchasing a vacation home in the Elk Ridge region of Saskatchewan, four and a half hours away from their Regina home, Kevin Punshon and his family soon discovered that the best vacation downtime wasn’t only to be found during the summer months as they had initially thought.

“We bought our place in 2001,” said Punshon, “and we mostly just spent summers there at first. But it wasn’t long before we discovered that it was just as enjoyable in the winter.”

Elk Ridge is nestled in the boreal forest within the shadow of Prince Albert National Park and near Waskesiu Lake. While sledding isn’t allowed within the park’s borders, the equally stunning areas to the east of the park offer a full complement of winter activities, with snowmobiling on the top of the list.

The area features fully groomed trails that meander through the forest and deep, inviting expanses of powder on surrounding lakes—which allow those with a little more need for speed the ability to cut loose. Elk Ridge also features plenty of rest areas and heated shacks as shelter from the cold. It’s the epitome of the ultimate Canadian experience, said Punshon.

“Half of the fun, when you head out for a day, is just in getting there,” he said. “When you’re riding through the forest you’re really experiencing Saskatchewan and Canada at its best. I think anyone who hasn’t snowmobiled in northern Saskatchewan is really missing out. While a lot of people just head to the mountains, northern Saskatchewan is just an incredible place to enjoy winter. And considering how long winters are here, I find you can really enjoy them if you put some effort into getting outdoors.”

A family affair

Punshon said both his daughter and his son (now 20 and 17 respectively) each took snowmobiling courses when they were younger so that they could enjoy riding their own sleds along with their parents.
“For us it’s really about the family experience and being together doing something that’s different,” said Punshon. “A lot of the younger generation is experiencing life through technology and video games, whereas getting out and doing it is so much more important.

“When company or family visits us at Elk Ridge, we offer them what I refer to as a real Northern Canadian experience,” said Punshon. “And sledding is always a big hit for the visitors who have never experienced it.”

Luxury for sledders

The nearby four-star Elk Ridge Resort caters to snowmobilers, with both hotel rooms and cabins for rent, fine dining at its restaurant, and a place to put your feet up next to the fire in the lounge. It also offers a full-service spa to help you ease out the kinks caused by a long day on the trail. For families with kids who need just a little more to round out their visit, they also have an indoor pool and water slide.

The resort offers visitors the chance to experience skiing, snowshoeing, tobogganing, dog sledding, skating and skijoring.

Winter picnics

For Punshon and his family, though, the highlight of their winter escapes are something they call a winter picnic.

“A couple of times each winter, especially when we have company, we’ll take our machines out onto the lake and have a bonfire, roast some hotdogs and marshmallows and enjoy some hot chocolate, just to experience the outdoors together as a family. It’s something we really look forward to.”

While others may seek out sunny destinations as the cold envelops Saskatchewan, Punshon said he and his family will continue to enjoy immersing themselves in the winter experience they find at Elk Ridge.

“Elk Ridge is a little piece of heaven that everyone should experience. Saskatchewan is very lucky to have Elk Ridge and all of its first-class amenities. I can hardly wait to see the northern lights dance again this winter.”

 Meet the rider

Name: Kevin Punshon

Lives in: Regina

Hometown: Regina

Age: 51

Sledding since: 2000

First sled: 2000 Ski-Doo Grand Touring 600

Current sled: 2010 Ski-Doo Rev XP GTX Sport Grand Touring with Powder Max Track

What is your favourite riding area? I love to go riding up near our vacation home in Elk Ridge, up in northern Saskatchewan near Prince Albert National Park and Waskesiu Lake

Describe your riding style:  I’m more of a casual rider. I like to go fast, but I also like to take my time and see the scenery around me. For me, half the fun is just getting there.

What is it that keeps you coming back, year after year? I love the peaceful, picturesque surroundings. When you’re riding through the forest you’re really experiencing Saskatchewan and Canada at its best. To me, snowmobiling here is that true Canadian experience.

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