While decent powder is only now beginning to pile up on the mountains around Sicamous, the sledding season is already off to a platinum start.
SnoRiders West magazine recently released the results of their 14th Annual Rider’s Choice Awards. And, like last year, this year’s results clearly show Sicamous to be the hottest sledding area in the province.
Sicamous received a platinum award in the categories of favourite overall snowmobiling area, favourite overall snowmobiling area in Western Canada; favourite scenic snowmobiling area, favourite mountain riding area, favourite groomed trail riding, favourite powder riding, most challenging riding area (Eagle Pass), favourite resort or motel (Best Western) and favourite area for family snowmobiling. Sicamous restaurants took the bulk of the awards in the category of favourite restaurant – non-chain, with The Burner earning platinum, gold for Joe Schmuck’s Roadhouse and bronze to Moose Mulligan’s. Sicamous and area also fared well in the favourite snowmobile dealer category, with platinum going to Sicamous’ H2O Motor Sports and silver to Backus Racing in Mara. Four Season Motor Sports and Banner Recreation of Vernon took gold and bronze.
Asked why the local groomed snowmobiling areas, Queest, Owlhead, Eagle Pass and Blue Lake, have consistently received top honours in the awards, Gord Bushell, general manager for the Eagle Valley Grooming Society and Eagle Valley Snowmobile Club, chalked it up to a lack of crowds.
“Last year we were up to 11,000 trail riders, and you compare that with Valemount or Revelstoke and the crowds are very, I mean, they’re busy places and people are looking for mountain sledding that’s not crowded and that’s what we have to offer – And of course, our smooth trails,” says Bushell with a smile.
There’s an irony to Bushell’s response, however, as larger crowds is exactly what the society has been striving for since its inception under the Sicamous chamber in 1999, and its takeover in 2002 by local businesses.
“The club and the society want pretty much the same thing; they want to increase business for the community and create employment for different businesses and for ourselves,” says Bushell.
And, to some extent, the society and club have been successful. Ridership, says Bushell, has been increasing by about 12 per cent each year. And work is underway that will help further boost the numbers.
Ample parking, says, Bushell, is a huge factor in what sledders are looking for. Riders, he says, want convenience, not lineups or situations where they have to park a ways away from the trailhead unloading area. Eagle Pass has already had its parking lot expanded. One impact of this, says Bushell, is that it is the area that has seen the greatest increase in ridership. An expansion of the Owlhead parking lot was completed this summer, and expansions are planned next year from Queest and Blue Lake. The club also has plans to build a chalet at Eagle Pass, similar to those in the other three areas.
Sledding conditions are now superb, as seen in the above photo of the Eagle Valley Snowmobile Club’s chalet at Blue Lake.
The parking expansions will help facilitate another goal of the society – having riders overnight in Sicamous. Bushell says a lot of riders will stay in Revelstoke and ride in Sicamous, not realizing what the community has to offer. One example, he says, is its close proximity to four certified dealers for Ski Doo, Arctic Cat, Polaris and Yamaha. Bushell is particularly pleased that Joe Schmuck’s owners Mark and Wendy Pearson have come onboard with billboards, two 20-foot long signs worth about $7,500, with a broad banner up top that says, “Stay & Play in Sicamous.” The signs also include the club and society’s new website, www.sledsicamous.com, a topographical map of the sledding area, and space for 10 ads (one of which will go to the Pearsons) to help raise funds for the society.
“So that’s really exciting when you have a business in town wanting to donate to the society in that fashion – kind of unique actually,” says Bushell, adding his hope is to see similar signs on the other two hills.
Regarding signage, Bushell says the society is also working on setting up two billboards, one east of Revelstoke and the other west of Golden, that will also promote the stay and play theme.
The push on promotion isn’t the only initiative the club and society are engaged in this year. Bushell notes there is high demand for family trail rides, and recent logging activity has opened an opportunity for a potential groomed trail connecting the Owlhead and Blue Lake.
“There’s been a tough valley to get through for years there… but now, with the logging road through there it could be well groomed and for families,” said Bushell. “It will be more work, but it will be more beneficial for the overall sledding industry.”
Bushell recognizes that not everybody may be supportive of the sledding industry, or that some could be more supportive. He stresses, however, that the society’s intention is to see Sicamous and its businesses flourish over the winter, instead of there being closed signs on doors for six months of the year.