The Prince Albert Trail Riders recently awarded its city mayor, Greg Dionne, honorary membership. In return, Mayor Dionne has been promoting the club’s efforts to make Prince Albert a snowmobile hub of northern Saskatchewan.
Riding for the community
Mayor Dionne rode a Snow Jet while growing up with friends in a farming community. “I first started riding when I was 18,” he said. At that time, he lived in Saskatoon with friends in Aberdeen. “It was easy to ski-doo because we had lots of area out there in the country.” He got out on his sled every winter weekend for 10 years.
The community aspect Dionne always enjoyed rings true in Prince Albert—especially since the foundation of the Prince Albert Trail Riders a couple years ago. The club has worked hard to grow the trail system into the real outdoors, running beside lakes and through forests.
“What I like about it, especially living in Prince Albert now, is we have all these new trails. I’m not a ski-dooer who can follow the highway and ride in the ditch,” he said. “That’s what I like to do—get out into nature.”
His favourite rides take Mayor Dionne and his friends to the nearby towns. “I like that we can all get on ski-doos and ride from Candle Lake to Christopher Lake and have a coffee, sandwiches and hot cups of soup before heading back to our own community,” he said. “It’s about friendship, and you’re out in the fresh air.” These are the things that most snowmobilers get on their sleds for again each year.
The beauty of Prince Albert
Mayor Dionne made the point that, contrary to popular belief, Saskatchewan is not barren and flat.
“There are a lot of areas in the north that once you get into the trail, you would think you’re in northern Ontario because of the hills and rock formations. It gives a different look of our province,” he said.
His recommended ride is through the Little Red Valley to see wildlife and an old train trestle. This area transports riders.
“When you get ski-dooing in the valley, you don’t even know you are in Saskatchewan.” Prince Albert riders often see animals grazing in the valleys and running alongside creeks. “I’ve seen some incredible wildlife while I’ve been out. It’s unbelievable,” Dionne said.
The northern snowmobile hub of Prince Albert
Prince Albert is perfectly positioned to grow as a snowmobiling hub for northern Saskatchewan. As the third largest city in the province, Prince Albert is already a feeder for the nearby towns. Plus, the city is also home to plenty of snowmobile dealerships already, and “usually we are the first ones to get snow,” Dionne said.
The first step Mayor Dionne took late in 2015 involved changing bylaws to allow snowmobiles to enter the city. The club, Mayor Dionne and the Saskatchewan Snowmobile Association have worked together to create safe access to food, gas, supplies and lodging for sledders. Many cities do not allow this city-wide network of trails. Now, visitors arriving via snowmobile can stop and stay a while before continuing on their snow trip. Businesses have already seen an increase in traffic over the past couple of years.
As for the rest of the Prince Albert trail system, every year the local club works with the Saskatchewan Snowmobile Association to continue to expand. They’ve improved grooming equipment and techniques, and grown to reach about a 80-kilometre (50-mile) radius around the city. “We want to offer variety. You don’t want to ride the same trail all the time because that’s going to start getting boring.” When riders leave Prince Albert, they have options for both directions and specific routes.
Expanding north and south is the next goal to lead northern Saskatchewan’s trails back to Prince Albert. “Now this year they are looking at connecting to trails that go to Lake Donald, the next closest to the south of us,” Dionne said.
“When these trails hook up, you could spend a day or two on them.”
Connecting the trails to allow for longer trips opens up more opportunities for other winter sports like cross-country skiing and ice fishing. Mayor Dionne ice fishes himself and drives to the ice shacks on his snowmobile.
Mayor Dionne is eager to continue working with the Prince Albert trail riders.
“These guys are energetic and passionate about the sport,” he said. They are out preparing the trails before the first snow falls and ready to groom when the season starts. The entire community is wishing for snow to fly again. “Let it snow!”