Standing on a network of snowmobiling trails that if laid end to end would circle the earth, I balance a black helmet in my hands, the cold tickling my nose as I prepare to ride for the first time.
My only memory of snowmobiling is being dragged behind one as a child, the wooden toboggan bumping over a frozen Saskatchewan lake as I struggled to hang on. It didn’t spark a love of snowmobiling but now I find myself in Quebec’s Lanaudière region — a popular winter destination for Europeans — and I want to see what the fuss is about.
“Without snowmobiling this resort wouldn’t be open,” chuckles Bernard Hamel, Vice-President of Sales and Marketing, pointing at the sprawling 150-room Auberge du Lac Taureau nestled between towering trees, and in summer, surrounded by tea-coloured lakes and white-sand beaches.
This log cabin resort is the only Canadian hotel to join the Relais Du Silence network. The Relais brand stands for quality &service; the silence endorsement means they offer more non-motorized than motorized sports.
But since it’s the snowmobiling everyone is coming for, steps have been made to make the snowmobiles more environmentally friendly, choosing machines with lower pollution and noise outputs.
I sign up for a beginner ride guided by Benoit Pelletier who is fluent in English and outdoor sports. He explains how to start the large Ski Doo, accelerate and stop. Then he kills any idea of racing wild over the frozen lake saying we will ride in single file, and he will set a safe – read slow – speed.
Auberge Du Lac Taureau provide boots and helmets and everything in between to keep me warm. I have doubled in size as I try to nimbly swing my leg across the snowmobile. I settle for crawling into the front seat and grab the heated handlebars – there is no suffering here – and turn the key. I wait eagerly as the engine hums beneath me.
Satisfied his group of newbies is ready, Pelletier moves forward. I squeeze the throttle and lurch forward before easing back, only to almost stop. I struggle to set a steady speed as I follow Benoit’s tracks. At times the ruts bounce me off my intended course and I realize this isn’t as easy as driving a car. I lean into a curve and aim the big machine at the center of the trail.
There are 40,000 kilometers of trails accessible from the resort but we will only tour for an hour. Satisfied that his flock of new snowmobilers are in control, Pelletier accelerates down a flat stretch. I pour on the gas and the speed climbs: I feel my adrenaline climbing until lights wiggling in the trees warn of approaching snowmobiles and Pelletier slows down.
All too soon it is time to turn back and swap positions with our passengers. I climb onto the back seat as another snowmobile apprentice takes the controls. “Watch out for the heat on your hands,” I yell as I settle back, offering the only advice a newcomer can share. I admire the deep carpet of snow I had been too busy to see minutes earlier. Venus rises in the evening sky as we return to our starting point.
A fire crackles in the Auberge’s outdoor fire pit, offering a place to decompress after the afternoon excitement. I stop briefly, enjoying the sight of the lodge’s soft lights against the dark forest while steam from hot tubs drifts into the sky. Driving a snowmobile is more work – and more fun – than I thought. I head for the hot tub with a new appreciation for winter sports.
If you go:
Auberge du Lac Taureau has English-speaking guides and staff if your French is rusty. January to mid-March is peak time for snowmobiling so book in advance. Mid-week packages available. www.lactaureau.com
Westjet has added more flights to Montreal with 19 flights each week between Montreal and Calgary. It is a 2.5-hour drive from Montreal to Auberge du Lac Taureau.
Look for Toucan, the young puppy living at Auberge du Lac Taureau as he becomes socialized for a service dog career. When he passes his first birthday, he will go into training with MIRA. www.mira.ca/en/
Carol Patterson inspires everyday explorers to look for wildlife and cool creatures. When she isn’t travelling for work, Carol is travelling for fun. More of her adventures can be found at www.carolpatterson.ca