Being among the best doesn’t make life any easier.
Such can be said for the folks whose work behind the scenes has helped to make the Eagle Valley and Sicamous a top snowmobiling destination in Western Canada.
In between doing trade shows with Shuswap Tourism, Eagle Valley Snowmobile Club general manager Gord Bushell has been busy preparing for the coming sledding season, with a goal of bringing more sledders to the area to enjoy one or all of the four groomed trail systems – Blue Lake, Eagle Pass, Owlhead and Queest – maintained by the Eagle Valley Grooming Society, as well as numerous businesses/services.
“Last year we had just a little over 12,000, and this year we’re shooting for 13,000 sledders,” says Bushell. “Over the past four years we’ve had a steady 12 to 15 per cent increase in the riders coming to Sicamous, so that’s very good growth.”
To help accommodate that growth, the club and grooming society have recently purchased a new Bombardier 350 groomer, and have completed the shell for a new emergency shelter on Eagle Pass.
The purchase of the groomer was made possible with support and donations from the Best Western and Joe Schmucks, as well as club members. He says the new/used groomer, purchased from Silver Star, will likely be dedicated to Eagle Pass.
“This year we will be able to leave groomers at the bottom of three hills,” says Bushell. “We’ll save money on trucking these groomers around every night.”
The construction of the chalet/emergency shelter represents a long-term goal that’s finally coming to fruition.
“After eight years of waiting for approval (from the province) to build an Eagle Pass cabin and shelter, we were able to get the approvals to start the cabin this spring,” says Bushell, noting a requirement was that the shelter be built in the backcountry in a location accessible only by foot, snowmobile or air. This, says Bushell, created some challenges in getting the materials and labour to the construction site.
“We had to pay for helicopter time,” laughed Bushell. “It’s a lot easier to haul in 40,000 pounds of material.”
Even with air support, constructing the shelter was no easy task. A crew of six was required to bushwhack their way to the approved site earlier this summer, a four-hour hike through shoulder-high brush and black flies, to clear a landing area for the helicopter. He says the end result will be a maintenance-free, metal-clad shelter that will be available for use by sledders in the winter and ambitious hikers in the summer.
The shelter is expected to cost $110,000, and already more than half has been put into the effort. For the remainder, the club and society are hoping to access $50,000 through the Columbia Shuswap Regional District’s Economic Opportunity Fund. The District of Sicamous and CSRD Area E (Rural Sicamous-Malakwa) director Rhona Martin are supporting the application.
Bushell says that even in its current state, the emergency shelter will provide some peace of mind for sledders who use the area.
“Eagle Pass is such a popular area, being so close to Revelstoke, it will be sure to take off and be a number-one hill this year…,” said Bushell. “Everybody wants to go Eagle Pass but it’s intimidating because it’s such a big area, and without a shelter in there, if there’s anything that goes wrong you have no place to stay, and you’re way in the backcountry.”
For the past several years, Sicamous and the Eagle Valley have consistently been recognized and awarded by SnoRiders West magazine readers as being a premier snowmobiling destination. The support of Shuswap businesses, volunteers – past and present – and local governments have been vital to the success of the local snowmobiling industry, says Bushell, who also gives a special nod of appreciation to his predecessor, Bruce Moores.
“Bruce, he worked at it for five years but he was only paid for two before he retired, and I’ve been in for two,” said Bushell. “What we’ve done in the last four years is unheard of in the industry. Most of our peers, like Revelstoke and Valemount, they’re amazed with what we’re doing in Sicamous.”