It takes a Valley to win

Snowmobilers in the Swan Valley rallied together to make their destination No. 1 in Western Canada

by Kirsten Armleder

Members from both clubs gather in Swan River for a photo with the trophy.
It was a proud moment for both clubs as they gathered to hoist their 2015 SledTown trophy from SnoRiders. Terra Pohl photo

Snowmobilers in the Swan Valley area of west central Manitoba have a lot to celebrate; their area has just been crowned the 2015 SnoRiders SledTown Champion. It was a contest they won’t soon forget—nor will those in Valemount, B.C.

These two destinations were pitted against each other in an online contest that began with 64 popular snowmobiling areas across Western Canada. They finally came head-to-head in the final round.

At first, it seemed as though Valemount might win, but the pride of Manitoba overtook it in the second week of voting. When the SledTown contest finally came to an end at midnight on December 31, it was the Swan Valley that had won by 673 votes.

“This is a great reflection on the strength of the two snowmobile clubs in the Swan Valley area,” said Keith Powell, publisher of SnoRiders magazine. “It also speaks well of the tremendous pride these snowmobilers take in their local riding area.”

A groomer running down a snowmobile trail.
Together, the Swan Valley Snowmobile Association and the North Mountain Riders have three groomers to keep the trails smooth and safe. photo courtesy Vaughn Berhmann

Dave Bobick, president of the Swan Valley Snowmobile Association, couldn’t agree more.

“It was tough going up against Valemount, but we do take lots of pride in our trails,” said Bobick. “We have our guys out there working on our trails all the time. They’re fixing signs and making sure everything’s tweaked perfectly for us. So it was a very proud moment for us.”

The recognition was apparently long overdue.

“We put in hundreds of volunteers hours,” said Brian Sutherland, who is the president of the North Mountain Riders—the club that maintains all the trails north of the town of Swan River. “But the payoff is phenomenal because we have beautiful trails.”

Maintaining more than 800 kilometres of trails is no easy task, but the two clubs work closely with each other to get the job done. Together, they have three groomers, 11 warm-up shelters and about 75 active members.

A group of sledders lined up in front of a shelter.
There are 11 warm-up shelters in the Swan Valley. photo courtesy Vaughn Berhmann

According to Bobick, even the club members who tend to keep to themselves rallied to show their support of the Swan Valley.

“The younger crowd around the Valley really picked up on (the contest),” he said, “and we had some local people around town that put out flyers and posters, saying ‘Please vote for your club.’ I was totally amazed with the support we had.”

Votes were even cast by those living out of the province, but that’s not surprising since the Swan Valley has become a popular riding destination for snowmobilers throughout Manitoba, as well as those living in Saskatchewan.

Vintage sleds lined up.
The Swan Valley Snowmobile Association hosts an annual vintage run that is open to the public. Between 30 and 40 antique snowmobiles are usually featured. photo courtesy Vaughn Behrmann

“People enjoy it because we have a different ride,” said Bobick.

It’s not all flatlands and fields in Swan Valley. There are some of those too, but the riding opportunities mostly feature heavily forested trails and routes that traverse the Porcupine Hills and Duck Mountain Provincial Park—which is home to the highest peak in Manitoba.

There’s also the town. With a population of about 4,000, Swan River is by no stretch a booming metropolis but it acts as a service centre for all of the rural communities that exist throughout the Swan Valley. It also serves as one big staging area for snowmobilers.

A group of sledders lined up on top of an overlook.
What makes the Swan Valley Western Canada's No. 1 Sledtown? These guys, the volunteers. photo courtesy Vaughn Berhmann

“You can come here with your truck and trailer, unload your sled and ride right from your hotel to restaurants or gas stations,” said Sutherland. “The trail system goes right through town.”

But what really makes it a good “SledTown”?

“I believe it’s all in the volunteers,” said Bobick. “We have great volunteers working behind the scenes here that nobody even realizes what they do or the amount of hours they put in.

“And it gives us all more drive to continue to keep our trail system the best,” added Sutherland. 

SledTown winners by province

Here’s a brief look at the three other best sledtowns in Western Canada:

British Columbia >> Valemount

Big mountains, a variety of terrain and deep snow, this combination made Valemount the runner-up in our SledTown ShowDown contest. It’s not the only reason, though. The Valemount and Area Recreation Development Association, which does the work of a local snowmobile club, has done an excellent job of developing access trails and promoting the main riding areas. In the winter, everything in Valemount revolves around snowmobiling. Even people at the local businesses are in tune with what’s going on in the mountains, and they often go out of their way to make sledders feel welcome.

Alberta >> Whitecourt

Whitecourt has named itself the Snowmobile Capital of Alberta—pretty presumptuous if you think of it, but who’s going to dispute it when there’s 465 kilometres of trails and a snowmobile club that’s backed by about 550 members. The Whitecourt Trailblazers is one of the largest snowmobile clubs in Alberta, and it has a good working relationship with the Town of Whitecourt as well as Woodlands County and Travel Alberta. The Trailblazers is also one of the most publicized clubs in the province, having hosted MPs, MLAs, municipal councillors and various TV personalities at its events.

Saskatchewan >> Hudson Bay

Year after year, Hudson Bay is ranked No. 1 by our readers as the favourite overall snowmobiling area in Saskatchewan. It has also taken multiple awards for best groomed trails, best powder riding and best scenery. It comes as no surprise, then that Hudson Bay made it to Round 5 of the SledTown ShowDown contest. The Town of Hudson Bay does its part to promote the local trails, and the Hudson Bay Trail Riders is an active group that hosted the Saskatchewan Snowmobile Association’s Provincial Festival.

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