Sandra Cutler, a resident of Tumbler Ridge, was born in northern Saskatchewan, where her father used to hunt and everyone had sleds. Cutler said her father taught her and her sister to ride the old Elan in the field behind the neighbour’s house.
“His motto was, ‘If you can start it, you can take it,’ ” said Cutler. “As a 12- or 14-year-old, you were pulling and pulling and pulling.”
Cutler remembers those times fondly.
“We would do an eight track or an oval and I would pull my sister behind on the toboggan,” she laughed. “They never had to worry about us because they could see us out the window.”
Making it about family
When Cutler and her husband moved to Tumbler Ridge in 1983, one of the first things they did was purchase a Yamaha SS440 so they could ride with their young son.
“We would just head from town to Bearhole Lake—so not far,” said Cutler. “When (our son) got old enough to learn, we would let him out on the open lake and taught him control before speed. Safety is my number 1 (concern), especially since sleds are so powerful now.”
The assurance of a soft landing is one reason—besides being a “winter person”—that Cutler loves the sport.
“I can’t get hurt like on an ATV or motorbike,” she said. “You just fall off into some powder and have a good laugh.”
Cutler snowmobiles with her husband and friends, and though she rides her own sled, she said she watches her husband for cues about what is coming next in terms of terrain and conditions.
When asked to recall a memorable ride, Cutler said that just recently, she and her family headed up to Wolverine Cabin and found 2½ feet of fresh powder.
“No one had broken trail yet,” she said. “It was so surreal. The countryside was so nice. I am more into trails, but it is also nice to get into tight areas too. It’s always a challenge.”
The prime spots to ride
Tumbler Ridge, a community of 3,300 people, is in an area that offers no shortage of places to go sledding. Riders can start their adventure at the Babcock Mountain Trail, which begins at a good parking lot off the Boundary Highway. The trail winds up to an old cutline and continues on to the alpine terrain of Babcock Mountain, where sledders can enjoy remarkable views of the old mine site and the town.
Windy Ridge is a rugged alpine area where the more adventurous will find daring climbs, bowls and alpine peaks. Toboggan Hill and the Super Bowl are must-rides for the expert sledder, and intermediate riders can follow along for great views. One way down is called the Chute—Cutler said it is exactly as it sounds.
Beginners or those out for a family excursion will find short trails and a small, solid lake at Moose Lake, where picnic facilities and excellent ice fishing make for a day-long adventure. Another easy ride for beginners is the Thunder Mountain Trail; here, a winding mountain trail takes snowmobilers up along the ridgeline to a forestry lookout tower.
A panoramic view all the way to Alberta is breathtaking, and access to Bearhole Lake Road means the trip is easily extended. An experienced guide is recommended for the endless unmarked trails at Bearhole Lake.
This woman’s perspective
“I love the sport, because over the years it has been about family time,” said Cutler, “going to lakes and ice fishing, and the kids take their snowboards or whatever.”
Being out on her sled also allows Cutler some time for personal reflection.
“Haven’t you ever just jumped in the car and gone for a drive?” she said. “Being on a sled by myself in the fresh snow—even though I am with other people—is downtime.”
Cutler said beginners should avoid extremes and not be afraid to stay within their comfort zone until they are more confident.
“Try the smaller trails and be comfortable in everything you are doing,” she said.
Cutler has one female friend who rides and said she wishes more women would give it a try.
“For a lot, it might be the cold,” she said, “so it isn’t bad to start in the spring and fall when the snow is fresh and the weather is milder.”
For Cutler, it is more than worth it.
“There is nothing like getting back into those meadows and seeing the Rocky Mountains,” she said.