Big Spirit Magazine: winter/spring 2013

This piece first appeared in BIG SPIRIT Magazine: winter/spring 2013, commissioned by Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

Written by: Carol Christian
As riders make their way through tranquil vistas of winter-covered pines, sunlight dances through the branches, glistening off the snow like diamonds in the frigid air. Some of the taller trees bow over the trail, their boughs making for a snowy arch, more reminiscent of a Christmas card than having an exhilarating snowmobile ride.

Taking in this panorama, it’s easy to see why this region has garnered such appreciation for its abundance of scenic groomed trails – about 275 kilometres to be exact – and all thanks to hundreds of volunteer hours of the McMurray Sno-Drifters Association.

Those efforts have paid off for the club after taking four provincial awards in this year’s 14th annual SnoRiders Rider’s Choice Awards – put on by SnoRiders West online magazine. The club earned gold for favourite groomed trail riding, silver for favourite overall snowmobiling area and most challenging riding area, and bronze for favourite area for family snowmobiling. “People have ridden the trails, have voted for us and we’ve won these four awards by the riders,” explains David Janes, Sno-Drifters president. “For me and the executive of last year, it was a great feeling. We put a lot of time and effort into getting the trails to the point where they are today.”

“It’s pretty awesome because we did put in a lot of work,” echoes Réal Chartrand, the past president lauded as having played a key role in the club’s success. “It’s nice to be recognized for a project that was done for the benefit of the whole community and the surrounding area.” The grooming helps keep the trails smooth and free of potential hazards like fallen trees, but it’s more work than that; it’s installing and maintaining proper signage and keeping the fire pits and outhouses stocked. While smaller signs marking the trails warn of steep hills, S-curves or sharp turns, others yield commonsense messaging like Make Tracks, Not Trash or Ride Safe, Ride Sober.

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Then there are the larger single-letter signs at specific spots along the trails. These GPS-mapped signs can be a rider’s lifeline – whether during a mechanical breakdown or a medical emergency. Both men are quick to thank everyone involved in the club’s success: volunteers and executive, the Anzac Trail Committee, the provincial government, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and numerous sponsors. “Everybody has put a vast amount of work into getting where we are today and we’re still working on it,” points out Janes. “We’re trying to build this club every day.”

Réal encourages riders to support the club by buying their trail passes. That’s what helps pay for all the trail maintenance. “It was a big job and we got her done,” says Chartrand. “Now we have nice safe trails the community can enjoy.”

The Sno-Drifters Association does have its favourites though. “We won for the whole trail system, but Stoney Mountain is our gem,” notes Janes. Chartrand unabashedly calls it one of the best trails in Alberta, advising riders to bring a camera because with such beautiful scenery, “your eyes are going to pop out of your head."

Janes describes the 45-kilometre loop as a moderate kind of trail: fairly flat, but with some ups and downs, and winding. Riders travel through wooded areas, emerge into open muskeg areas and then break back into the trees. Stoney Mountain Trail is approximately 15 kilometres south of town on Highway 63 off Stoney Mountain Road. An old campground at Maqua Lake serves as the staging area. It’s also accessible off Highway 881 south of Anzac. However, riders cross two steep ravines to get to the trail, which may deter less experienced riders. “I enjoy riding the trails. I enjoy going out, just spending a day on the trail and even sometimes leaving the trail and finding that bit of powder in a spot I haven’t been before,” offers Janes.

“On the other hand, if you have a group of people with you, you can go out and meet around the fire pit and everybody gets a chance to sit there and ask ‘Did you see this? Did you see that tree full of snow? Did you see the wolf cross the trail up there?’ You can get a real nice day out with everybody and relax.”

Chartrand is convinced that many living in this northern landscape don’t understand the natural beauty and opportunities that lie just beyond the highways. “They have no idea what’s out there because they don’t take the time to go see what’s out there.” He bemoans the fact that when they have time off, “they go everyplace else but Fort McMurray and it’s a shame.”

One solution he offers is having the municipality offer more seasonal tours of what “we’ve got in our backyards” through different organizations like the Sno-Drifters or Big C Snowmobile Safety Training and Tours.

For more information on the Sno-Drifters and to buy trail passes, visit

For information on snowmobile rentals and snowmobile safety courses, contact Big C Snowmobile Safety Training and Tours at 780-799-6633 or email,