Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Experiencing the Bonnechere Cup Race

There are some places that, when visited for the first time you know you’ll revisit again and again. This is one of those places. I first visited Eganville and the surrounding area back in 1983 when I was a young guy wanting to take in and experience the Bonnechere Cup Snowmobile races. It was love at first sight for a vintage snowmobile lover like me, and I knew then that the Ontario’s Highlands had something spectacular going for them.
And so the story goes… it’s been 20 years since I first came, and this past weekend I went back again. Sure I’d been back a few times to take in the races, I’ve also come in the summer for a family vacation but I can never get enough of vintage racing so I packed up the truck and headed for yet another visit.

As always, I was pleasantly surprised. I’d forgotten how legendary the Bonnechere Cup track really is. The track is full of history, as every major snowmobile racer has taken on and challenged its frozen oval facility. This year was another great trip full of winter weather and a great group of volunteers putting on a top notch event. The track saw several racers over the three day span and this year inducted its 39th winner into the growing history of the Bonnechere Cup. The event is fun for all ages; as there is even a kiddie’s race for those trusting parents. For families, the weekend is reasonable priced with an adult weekend pass setting you back $30 while children under 11 are $5 daily. There’s even a delicious hot breakfast for those needing to warm up.

The racing this year, like every year, was great and had several classes for racers of all ages and all skill levels. I myself raced here three years ago and it was a dream come true. Walking through the pits, one can see racers from Quebec and New York State as well as the American mid-west. People truly come from all over to experience the race held in the beautiful Ontario’s Highlands.
Want to Ride, You’re in Luck
One of the unique things about this racing event is the options for transportation to get there. Seeing as many of the fans are snowmobilers, they leave their trucks at home and ride their sleds right to the track. The OFSC trail system comes right up to the gate and through the property, making it any easy choice for travel. Even the clubhouse of the local Eganville SnoDrifters is on the property, and serves up that fantastic hot breakfast I mentioned earlier. It’s a real happening spot for all snowmobilers to converse and trade stories.  

Seeing as the races finish up in good time during the weekend, it provides a great opportunity for you to take in a ride yourself. When the racing was done on Saturday, I took a ride in the groomer to check out trail conditions and the following morning I was taken out for a ride on sleds with local club members. The trails have a great mix of fields, bush and rolling hills: making it a perfect trip for a little action, adventure and good company all rolled up into one.
The racing was great, the people were fantastic, the accommodations were superb, and yes, I will back here in 2014 for the 40th running of the Bonnechere Cup. We hope to see you there now that you’ve come to know sledding in the Ontario’s Highlands

Friday, 22 February 2013

Madawaska Loop

Over the last few weeks you’ve heard us talking about the RAP Tour – a ride around Algonquin Park. A ride that covers three Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Club (OFSC) districts and 900 km of snowmobile trails in one gorgeous adventure. It’s a long journey that isn’t for the faint of heart, so if you’re looking for a weekend edition let us introduce to the mini RAP tour; the Madawaska Loop. One that can be done without venturing outside the beautiful Ontario’s Highlands limits.

The Madawaska Loop covers 180 km of trails spanning from Barry’s Bay, Madawaska (go figure), Whitney, down to Lake St. Peter over to Combermere and back up to Barry’s Bay. On your adventure you can expect to zoom by Kamaniskeg Lake and Lake St. Peter, all the while circling around the famous Bark Lake. And did we mention you get to experience The Madawaska River? Quite possibly the most beautiful spot you can reach by snowmobile; where the river runs alongside the trail and opens up to a very scenic set of rapids. If you’re brave enough to venture down one of the pathways leading off of the trail, it makes for a beautiful snack spot or photo opportunity. 

One thing to take notice of when you come to this region is the hard work and dedication that the Opeongo Snowbirds Snowmobile Club has put into their club trails. If you look at the map, club trails 159/155/157/153 are all great routes that are often overlooked by newbies coming into the area. On each of these trails you will find something unique; whether that’s an old mill set up where the Opeongo River runs down, a lookout point or just great forest travelling. It may add some extra time to your day, but these trails are worth it – and hey, we never said you had to do the 180 km in one day, so why not take your time to enjoy!

If you leave from Barry’s Bay and take the B Trail all the way to Whitney, you will find yourself on a big wide open highway with limited stops along the way. This is why we recommend you fill up before you leave. Not only does it take away the added stress of potentially being stranded, but it allows you to just sit back and enjoy the ride – the way all snowmobiling trips in the Ontario’s Highlands should be. Continuing on the B trail you will soon find yourself inching closer and closer to the boundaries of Algonquin Park. Once you hit the town of Whitney – where if you fancy a snack and hot drink to warm up you’re in luck – the snowmobile B Trail carries right through the park. Although the parks trail isn’t included in the Madawaska Loop it’s worth the added few miles just for bragging rights alone. For those who didn’t know, this is the only trail through the park that is granted access to snowmobilers. If that isn’t worth the extra drive, go for the scenery. Algonquin Park has been one of the most written and talked about parks (remember the Group of Seven?) since its start in the late 1800’s –making it also one of the oldest provincial parks in Canada. It’s famous for its untouched land, lookout points, and many wildlife sightings: an outdoor enthusiasts dream come true.  

 Once you get down to Lake St. Peter on the B106E which follows the parks limits and the lower and upper Hay Lakes, you’ll realize why every other snowmobiler dreams of coming to ride here. If you don’t feel like taking the whole Madawaska Loop back, it’s a good idea to cut back up club trail 173/175. It’s not as long of a route and it leads right to the door of our favourite staging area– Spectacle Lake Lodge. 

Spectacle Lake Lodge knows outdoor adventure and they do everything possible to make you feel welcomed. You can chose between staying in a motel style room or get together with your family and friends to rent a lake side cabin, complete with your own kitchen, BBQ and snow covered porch. Their big parking lot makes getting in and out with a trailer as easy as pie – but we recommend just letting them serve you their own homemade ones available at their onsite restaurant. If pie isn’t the perfect finish to a three-course meal after hitting the trails, we don’t know what is! When its time to cozy up at night you can join the rest of the sledders at the bar or take your beverage over and plunk yourself down in the comfy leather chairs. Perfectly situated in front of the big screen TV, it makes watching the hockey game that much more enjoyable. In your rooms you will even find a coat rack (great for hanging up the extra gear) and wash cloths dedicated to cleaning your machine – we told you they welcome you with open arms!

If we haven’t encouraged you to head to Madawaska yet, then we either need a new job or you need to read this again. No matter when you go there are always friendly people waiting to greet you and great rides ready to be had. That’s all part of the experience when you come to know snowmobiling in the Ontario’s Highlands.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Celebrate Family Day Weekend in Style

This weekend marks a special occasion for all families; Family Day Weekend. And for snowmobilers, past and present, it marks the beginning of something new;  a free weekends pass to snowmobiling in Ontario. That’s right, if you registered to receive your free family day weekend pass at www.ofsc.on.ca you have a full access pass to all of Ontario’s trails this weekend, so why not make it count.
Snowmobiling with your family wouldn’t be complete unless you took part in an organized ride. But which one do you choose? Lately there are more and more rides popping up in the Ontario’s Highlands, so we are here to offer you two that are taking place this weekend, and then let you decide.

The Pembroke Ride for Dad is a shoe-in. And it’s not too late to join in on the fun. The ride takes place this Saturday, February 16th at 10am. You can pre-register online here or you can show up at the Timeberline Club House, which is right off the A/B trail. Registration is between 8am and 10am for the small fee of $30, but if you raise over a $100 in pledges, your registration fee is waived.

Ride for Dad started as a motorcycle ride in Ottawa to raise awareness and research dollars for prostate cancer. But since its start in 2001, has expanded into the great sport of snowmobiling. In fact, the snowmobile Ride for Dad started as an idea in a Tim Horton’s in Pembroke by one of the rides organizers, co-chair Bernie Boulay. That idea has now turned into two successful rides (soon to be three) with a total of 189 riders participating in Pembroke last year and a total of $60,000+ being raised for prostate cancer. It has encouraged other chapters to spring up around the country and gets people of all ages, both male and female, to take part.  

While out making friends, you can expect to experience trails passing through pristine pipelines and old rail trails, some beautiful forest-hopping club trails and farmland looping. Having the military town of Petawawa nearby, you can also expect to shake hands with some men and women who fought for our country overseas and, if you’re lucky enough, ride with them.

If you need a place to rest your head at night, Pembroke’s accommodations have you covered.

Located just off the club trail 121, this is central hot spot for all snowmobilers participating in the ride or passing through to link up with the Voyageur Route (see post below). It has several styles of rooms to suit family groups, single riders or those traveling with friends. The hotel itself features secure parking, on-site restaurant, indoor pool, and complimentary breakfast and is right across the road from a gas station. Staying here you are a 20 minute sled ride into town.

Located just off the club trail 120, the Comfort Inn is right off the Ottawa Valley River in downtown Pembroke. It has several room styles to suite all travelers and plenty of secure parking. There are plenty nearby restaurants and shopping facilities for those needing to grab a few things. Being right downtown, you will want to give yourself a little extra time in the morning to make your way over to the starting point of the ride, approximately 30 minutes.

Looking for a different type of ride?
You’re in luck. This weekend the Maple Leaf Snow Skimmers are hosting their annual Poker Run in Lake St. Peter.
You can register for the ride for $10 between 8am and 12pm at the Lake St Peter Community Centre on 5 Boulter Lake Rd. All riders are expected to return to the Community Centre by 3pm where their will be a hot lunch waiting for them.

On this type of ride, nearing the beautiful Algonquin Park, you can expect to enjoy the results of all the hard work and dedication that volunteers put into their club trails. Many of these trails loop through forests and travel on the shores of lakes, just make sure you are mindful and stay on the marked trails, as some of them are privately owned and it is a privilege to be riding on them, not a right.

Accommodations nearby the Poker Run in Lake St. Peter are slim, but if you don’t mind the half hour ride from Barry’s Bay or Madawaska, there is one great spot that comes to mind. 

Spectacle Lake Lodge
A favourite for many snowmobilers in the area, this central location is great for those looking to turn their poker run experience into a week long trip or family day weekend adventure. Close to the boundaries of Algonquin Park, it is a great route to go if you plan on hooking up with the RAP tour. The lodge features plenty of trailer parking, on-site gas and restaurant and several room styles, ranging from motel to your own personal and fully equipped cabins.

Organized rides are not only a great way to help out a cause, but they provide a great riding experience. There is nothing more satisfying than being apart of something life changing, like saying you helped raise 10+million in prostate cancer awareness or helping out a small club located in Ontario’s Highlands. That’s just a small part of the reward when you come to know snowmobiling in the Ontario’s Highlands.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Round Bonnechere Loop

Last week we gave you a taste of the famous Voyageur Route that you can only experience while riding in the Ontario’s Highlands. However,we left you hanging in Petawawa. So for those of you wanting to experience an equally great ride carrying on from the location you ended at, listen up. Starting just at the base of Pembroke – part of the pipeline A trails we told you about last week – is the Round Bonnechere Loop. The best part about this loop is the fact that you don’t need to back track your steps if you completed a good portion of the Voyageur Route and its only 230km, which makes for a great day trip.

Enjoy the RAP without the Length
The Round Bonnechere Loop follows the bottom section of famous Algonquin Provincial Park, making it the perfect trail that allows you to take your time and enjoy the ride. Following the B trail just outside of Pembroke, with its pipeline width and winding trails, you’ll easily navigate to the small towns listed on the RAP tour. Besides the great scenery of the park and the deep forest snow that is protected from any major melt downs, this is the only OFSC snowmobile trail that is allowed to cut through Algonquin Park. It’s like crossing the RAP tour off your bucket list without the price tag.

Part of the reason this loop is rightfully named, is the fact that you ride along the side (and can cut across if you wish to make the loop shorter) of Round Lake. In the summer months this is a great spot for fishing and ATV enthusiasts, but in the winter its smooth trails are just what snowmobilers hope to stumble upon. The second reason behind its name is the region of Bonnechere itself, and within its limits, the Bonnechere River Provincial Park. The name itself comes from the French words of Bonne chere, meaning good food, which is not only true to hunters, but to foodies who enjoy a good meal. If you are a vintage snowmobile lover, you’ll recognize the name as part of the famous Bonnechere Cup, a vintage sled race held in Eganville each February. Going to miss the race? Don’t worry. Eganville is another welcoming stop along the loop. If you get the chance to go into the town itself on a Tuesday, we recommend stopping at the Dixie Lee on Main Street for a bowl of their famous Chicken Dumpling Stew. Even on a cold day it will take the chill off your bones, not to mention fill your rumbling stomach!

On your way from lunch if you’re feeling a little tired, why not stop in and spend a luxurious night at the Sands on Golden Lake. Kept a secret by locals (and for good reason) this beautifully renovated resort has just what the doctor ordered. Their fully equipped spa is sure to please the ladies, while their lounge and bar, is sure to keep the men from realizing you’re away being pampered. The hospitality is second to none and you won’t find a more snowmobile friendly environment. The owners of the resort not only help raise funds for the local snowmobile club by having people place bets on when the vintage sled out front  will fall through the ice, but they also donate money out of their own pocket to improve the trails. We almost don’t even want to tell you about how amazing their food is, but we will say this; this is one place you don’t want to drive by, especially as they’re conveniently located right on the B101A.

Keep your eyes on high alert for deer...and plenty of them. During our ride through the area we spotted more than 10 deer, many of which weren’t high-tailing it out of sight at the sound of sleds. If you act quickly enough you might even be able to snap a few shots of them through the forest. There are some other more stationary objects that you’ll appreciate as well, in the form of a few newly-built bridges which you will spot on your trip from Eganville and over to the junction of the A trail.
Regardless of what you see, the Round Bonnechere Loop is guaranteed to give you a taste of everything. From wild life, untouched forests and abundance of snow...you never know what you’ll find when you come to know snowmobiling in the Ontario’s Highlands.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Voyageur Route

Running along the Eastern part of Ontario’s Highlands is the ultimate snowmobile journey known to few as the Voyageur Route. In short, the ride starts as far east as Arnprior and follows the Ottawa Valley River all the way past Petawawa. Following the historic ventures of the voyageurs, this trip is no easy venture. With a grand total of 350kms in length, it takes a good 1-2 days to complete and sets you in a good position to carry on and explore many other highlighted routes of Snow Country.  
During our ride we staged from the Best Western and made our way through the clearly marked town of Renfrew. Not a map reader, not a problem! A bonus about the Voyageur Route is its simple path and clearly marked trails (you almost always follow the A Trail unless you take a turn off for lunch or an overnight stay). 

If you can’t handle the entire trip down a historians dream, at the very least we recommend completing the Lookout Loop. According to locals, this is an understated route that makes the snowmobile ride really worth the trip. Instead of following the A Trail all the way along, take a turn up the 114 near Cobden and follow it up the arm and around to Westmeath (Trail 116). This detour features plenty of old farm houses, churches and one-horse towns, but the view of the Ottawa River below and the Quebec Laurentian Mountain Range in the horizon will make it worth your time. Clear blue skies on this day will only enhance your view. Just be cautious of your gas level and rumbling bellies during this added arm; fuel stops and restaurants are far and few between. We do know that La Passe CafĂ© located in La Passe welcomes snowmobilers with open arms and a gas station/store in Westmeath has a friendly pooch waiting to greet you upon your arrival.

It is on your way through Cobden and over through to Pembroke where you will find yourself in the middle of the Renfrew County Forest. This clean trail situated between the tall trees encompass the forest and make for some great pictures as the snow covered limbs form a ride-able passage overhead. The historian will love this trip for two reasons. One, the sights of some very unique and old farm fields, many of which are still standing and two, the mixture of land you ride through. Farmer’s fields are obvious, but the pipelines, tight twisting forests and scenic vistas are the perfect combination to bring the excitement back into snowmobiling.

The history along the Voyageur Route continues as you take notice of the trail following the old abandoned rail lines. You will notice how small villages that were once booming during the early 1900’s are now clumped together surrounding acres and acres of land that if it isn’t still, once revolved around the logging industry. In the future the local clubs and the overall district (OFSC District 6) hope to secure the old rail line and use it as a direct route into Quebec and the continuation of ‘highway’ trails going through local towns in Snow Country.

For your accommodation needs, you will find several snowmobile-friendly hotels in Pembroke and Petawawa; we stayed at the newly built Quality Inn & Suites in Petawawa which has easy access to stores, restaurants, gas and snowmobile dealers – in the off chance you need to make a visit.
It is just past Petawawa however where the daredevils in the sport will get their fix. Say goodbye to the farm fields and big cities and say hello to the wide open pipelines that, if you dare, give you some air and tame that itching throttle thumb. Just remember that the speed limit on OFSC trails is 50km/h. The Voyageur Route carries all the way into Deep River and beyond, turning into what many people know as the RAP tour.

Ontarians are all too familiar with the now common definition of “winter”. However, during our drive from Southern Ontario the snow banks grew larger and the sights of trailers heading north increased. That’s a good indication that you’re in for something good! While the luxury of riding from your house is slowly fading, traveling a mere 2-3 hours in search of the snow that the Ontario’s Highlands delivers will only reassure your love for the sport. Overall this is a great ride to take with your family that allows you to learn a little something along the way. It’s a win-win if you are looking for a family day weekend activity or hope to squeeze in a trip during March Break, in which case we recommend staying at the amazing LogoLand – you’ll know why when you arrive. Whichever you choose, we invite you explore what this voyage has to offer as you Come to Know Snowmobiling in the Ontario’s Highlands.