St. Paul, Alberta, is a haven for deep snow trail riders

Ride for miles along the Iron Horse Trail

by Jessica Kirby

David Noel at the opening of the TrailNet with Valerie Pringle.
David Noel at the opening of the TrailNet with Valerie Pringle. Photo courtesy of May Noel

Robert Pruneau, a member of the St. Paul Trailblazers Snowmobile Club, was born and raised in St. Paul and has been sledding since 1985, when he hit the trails on his Ski-Doo Citation 4500. He logged about 8,000 miles on that sled and now owns four Polaris rides: a 1996 500 EFI SKS, a 2001 500 XC, a 2007 700 FUSION and a 2010 RUSH.

“My favourite is the RUSH,” said Pruneau. “What I like most about it is the suspension. It gives the sled an unmatched ride over rough terrain or beat-up trails.”

Iron Horse and ASA trails

His favourite local rides are on the Iron Horse Trail and the Alberta Snowmobile Association trail from St. Paul south to the North Saskatchewan River. Once or twice a season he and friends will travel north of Highway 55 to the Lakeland Park.

“Last season was exceptionally long-lasting,” he said. “Six months from first snowfall in October that stayed until mid-April.”

The best ride of last season was along the North Saskatchewan River in the hilly terrain, said Pruneau. “There was deep, untouched powder in many fields, and large drifts had formed in many fields. We spent a large part of our ride tearing them up.”

Epic whoopsie at Lakeland Park

The group Pruneau rides with still remembers the day he had an encounter with a small pier in Lakeland Park.

“I was driving an older Ski-Doo Formula sled and had changed the track a few nights before,” he said. “The track kept ratcheting, so I was adjusting it while the group took a break.”

Pruneau went to test the adjustments in deep snow in the cattails along a small lake, and was looking down trying to hear if the track was still ratcheting.

“When I looked up I saw a small pier sticking about a foot out of the snow,” he said, “and I was only ten feet away when I saw it. All I had time to do was stand on the rear of the sled and squeeze the throttle, hoping the skis would lift high enough to go over the pier, not under.”

When he struck the pier, the sled shot about five feet straight up, then landed safely on the other side with Pruneau holding on.

“I landed flat-out on the seat, resumed a sitting position and continued as if nothing happened,” he said. “When I returned to the group they were laughing.”

A new season awaits

Pruneau and his friends are trying to time their first ride of the season just right to head out to the Whitecourt area and plan to hit the local trails as much as possible this year.

“Sledding allows me to go places that are not accessible any other time of the year,” he said. “Only in winter can I travel from land to lakes and rivers and not have to change means of transportation. Many places are also off limits at any other time of the year. Also, the best part is no dust or bugs!”

He hopes to see plenty of sledders out riding this season and encourages everyone to support the local club by buying a trail pass.

Meet the Rider

Name: David Noel

Age: 52

Raised in: St. Lina, Alberta

Lives: Near St. Paul, Alberta

Riding for: Over 40 years

First sled: We started out riding with such things as a Sno Pony and a Snow Prince and then went through all the Ski Whiz models till 1972, when we got a brand new Polaris 295 Charger. My own first sled was a 1972 Yamaha 292 GP.

Best sled ever: The 1972 Yamaha 292 GP. We would put its engine in go-carts in the summer and back in the sled for the next winter. We were able to do this for three full years, until my best friend Remi and I decided to jump a little hill and that was the end of the 292.

Current sled: A 2006 Ski-Doo Summit 600 SDI.

What do you like about it? I still love almost everything about this sled. It is very peppy, attaining respectable top ends, but its best quality is fuel economy.

What would you change about it? The only thing I would now change about it is the ride quality, which is about the same as it was new—it’s just that as I get older I seem to need a softer and softer ride.

What is your favourite riding area? Just east of St. Paul in what is known as Moose Hills. It has hundreds of miles of bush trails, lakes and meadows with generally good snow cover.

Memorable ride from last year: I went to Moose Hills with good friends Lloyd, Rob and Owen. Rob lives in the Moose Hills and knows every little corner of the area, taking us to places equal to foothills riding. We were stuck several times and had a tense moment when Rob took us to a spectacular lookout point. Lloyd and I were unable to cross the barely sled-wide hilltop that extended some 300 feet across, but our guides came to our rescue and saved the day. I will be heading right back to these great hills as soon as they are snow covered.

What does sledding mean to you? Rob, Lloyd and I meet up regularly at work and the conversation always will include segments of sledding, no matter the month of the year. For me, living in northeastern Alberta means sledding is a way of life.

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