Jan
24
2014
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Drifting with the Boondocking Diehards

DAWN BOOTH
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You have seen some of them driving around the city of Fort McMurray in the middle of summer. The sun shining bright past nine at night, they’re out driving with their sled in tow, tied down in the truck’s bed. With shorter days of subarctic climate many months away, new residents are left puzzled to see such a sight.

Some of them are living outside of city limits, in the surrounding communities of the Wood Buffalo region. They spend the summers waiting for the temperature to drop. They have a family of sleds parked on their property, ready to turn them on and conquer the white blanket.

These are the boondocking diehards, the lovers of everything snow. These are the ones who anticipate the precipitation of water and ice, the winter solstice. They dread the last day of winter. For them, there’s no better place to live than Northern Alberta. And snowmobiling… it’s their forte.

The natural landscape of the Great North’s terrain and scenery make for the best conditions of the much loved sport. What makes them so addicted and aroused to it? Perhaps it’s the assortments of spruce, the trembling aspen, the wild, the wide open spaces, the 275 kilometres of well-groomed trails.

“When you break that hill and you shut the machine off, you can feel how heavy the trees are. It’s still,” says Executive Assistant of the McMurray Sno-Drifters Association Donna Fetzko of her regular sledding escapes into the wilderness.

Fetzko knows the snow all too well. A 21-year resident to the Anzac community, owner of an Arctic Cat M1000 with a 53 inch track, and wife to President of the McMurray Sno-Drifters Association Ron Fetzko, she says, “It’s our way of life.”

With a wedding in Vernon, British Columbia (a popular destination for snowmobiling extremists) and sleds for anniversary gifts, there’s no irony to the 20-year married couple wanting to reside to a place where they could have the opportunity to ride once the snow hits the ground.

Through the association, the snow-loving sledders have initiated Couples Evening Rides to give other like-minded partners a romantic evening to experience watching the Northern Lights dance in the sky, while sitting around a warm fire in the Wood Buffalo region’s beautiful backcountry.

“The group dates,” Donna explains, “it’s couples. It’s family. It’s people sharing passion.”

The Fort McMurray truck-haulers of sleds would say the pair is very fortunate, as a winter wonderland is just steps away from the Fetzkos’ front door.

“Fifteen kilometres from my door, there’s nothing but trees,” said Donna. “My daughter drives her sled to school. I used to ride my sled to work. That’s how we get around.”

It’s in Anzac area where one of the gateways to hundreds of kilometres of groomed trails exists and the Fetzkos, along with the McMurray Sno-Drifters Association, take pride and ownership of keeping the trails maintained to give all riders the opportunity to enjoy the picturesque scenery the Wood Buffalo region naturally demonstrates.

The association’s trail system consists of the Anzac Area Trail, the Draper Rail Bed, the Stoney Mountain Trail, the Tower Road trail and, their most recent work together with the Anzac Heritage Trail Committee, the Connector Trail.

With the Connector Trail being one of the longest groomed trail systems in Alberta, Donna says first-time sledders are pleasantly surprised by the atmosphere, “They can’t believe the community has trails like ours...they say, ‘It’s so universal’”.

From the choice of dinner at an Anzac favourite eatery, The Burger Bar, to sitting down on a tree stump by a designated outdoor campfire area, there are plenty of opportunities to design and personalize your sledding experience to your own expertise and riding experience. The Connector Trail system has plenty of added versatility. It’s this trail, which can be used by professional to amateur sledders.

“We have a constant loop that goes through mountainous terrain. You touch everything from meadows to hillside and the most amateur rider doesn’t have to take on the challenge,” said Donna.

The McMurray Sno-Drifters Association offers memberships available with the purchase of trail passes. The passes are recognized locally and in trail systems throughout Alberta. In affiliation with the Alberta Snow Mobile Association (ASA), the membership will connect sledders to ASA organized events and plenty of benefits to the province’s winter tourism industry.

“Snowmobiling makes the seven months of winter something to look forward to,” Donna shares.

Photographs by Darrell Scheers

DAWN BOOTH

Dawn Booth is a local journalist and business owner of the communication service, Media Booth. Residing in Fort McMurray since 2007, Booth has been actively working in the Wood Buffalo region as a media and marketing expert. From her arrival to the city, until November 2010, she worked as the Special Features Editor at the Fort McMurray Today. In April 2011, she co-launched snapd Wood Buffalo and managed the publication for three years, until June 2014. In March 2014, she created Media Booth and is currently working with a wide-variety of clients in the business and nonprofit sectors throughout Alberta. Her passion for volunteering in the community has given her two civic awards from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. She has also received the title for the Fort McMurray Connect's Top 40 Under 40 and is one of Girls Inc. of Northern Alberta's 2014-2015 Women of Inspiration. A happy wife and loving mother to two young boys and a baby girl, Booth can be found easily at www.mediabooth.net.

Website: mediabooth.net/

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