Co-creating access to a vast playground

Central Alberta’s Golden Triangle can mean a fun afternoon, a sledding mini-holiday and everything in between

by Marie Milner

Three snowmobiles and two riders on a snowy trail among trees
Scott McLeod (L), Mike Ransom and Rod North (not pictured) took a break while clearing the Whitecourt leg of the Golden Triangle. Rod North photo

If you have some time available between late November and the end of March and you’re in the vicinity of Whitecourt, Fox Creek or Swan Hills, Alberta, plan to ride at least a portion of the 350-kilometre Golden Triangle snowmobile circuit. 

Fox Creek contributes

Rod North, president of the Northland Sno-Goers snowmobile club in Fox Creek, is eager for more snow, having acquired a brand new Ski-Doo Summit 800 just an hour before we spoke. North said that lots of sledders like to make a mini-holiday of riding the Golden Triangle, doing the whole circuit over two or three days, staying overnight in one of the three sled-friendly towns.

“You can ride right into town on the designated trails,” North said. “Fuel up, grab a burger, stay in a hotel, and then hit the trail again whenever you’re ready.”

All of the trails are beautiful and you can get great pictures from almost anywhere along the way. Grooming of the trails is shared by the Northland Sno-Goers, the Whitecourt Trailblazers and the Swan Hills Snow-Goers.

“There are a half dozen of us that do most of the grooming,” North said, “but we always need help with the trail cleaning. That’s another reason to get our kids excited about this sport—we need some young muscle to lend a hand with the maintenance!

“We love going out to the (warm-up) cabins—usually in groups of eight to 12—for a hotdog roast with the kids. As long as it’s above minus 20 degrees, we’ll go out."

North said he updates the Golden Triangle website every week so people can check the conditions there. He said his phone number is also on the website, and sledders can call him or Don Kelm in Swan Hills for information. North said he will even take people out riding if they'd like.

Swan Hills supports the system

Don Kelm of the Swan Hills Snow-Goers rides a 2012 Polaris 800 Pro RMK 163. Kelm appreciates his town’s support of sledding.

“We have a bylaw that allows you to ride from your place of residence—which could be the motel you’re staying at—right to the trail system,” he said. “We’re oilfield related here, though, so the motels can get very busy. It’s good to call ahead if you need a room.”

The ridge that runs just north of Swan Hills typically results in lots of snow between Swan Hills and Fox Creek, and that’s Kelm’s favourite stretch of the Triangle. The Snow-Goers groom the main trail so that it’s a reference point for sledders new to the area, so they don’t worry about getting lost.

“You can always find fresh snow to ride on,” Kelm said, “and then follow your tracks back to the main trail. A big forest fire on this leg a while ago left the area more open. The area south of Swan Hills, on the way to Whitecourt, is a little more scenic, with lots of trees because it hasn’t been logged out.”

Whitecourt is proud

Ken Linford, president of the Whitecourt Trailblazers, is a big fan of the volunteer workforce that maintains the trail system.

“We wouldn’t be a successful club without the volunteers and businesses that help out,” Linford said. “We put in 500 to 600 hours of time cleaning trails every year, plus putting up signs, plus grooming. Thousands of hours and dollars are needed, and people here always step up. They take ownership of what we have, and they are proud of it.”

They have reason to be proud. Ten years ago there were 100 people at the club’s annual fundraising poker rally; two years ago the number was 1,200.

“Things grow as you have a better system,” said Linford. “More people are sledding and more families come out. It’s the whole region—the whole province, actually—that come to ride here, and that’s because of the work and generosity of our communities.”

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