by Andru McCracken

Despite winning SnoRiders West Magazine’s Sledtown Showdown this winter, McBride saw fewer sledders compared to last year; but locals remain optimistic. / CYNTHIA ROUGOOR (FILE PHOTO)

Up in Valemount

While Valemount is seeing “extremely low numbers” of sledders right now, trail pass sales this winter are up slightly from last year.

“The average this season compared to last is almost on par with actually about 200 users more per month this season than last years December and January,” said Curtis Pawliuk, General Manager of the Valemount Area Recreation Development Association (VARDA).

He said the numbers are spread out.

“We do not seem to be seeing the huge days like we have in previous years,” he said.

Excellent snow in Alberta could be a contributor said Pawliuk.

“It’s been a long time since they have been able to hold their poker runs out there,” he said.

Snow conditions here were not great, especially in December.

“We started off with an amazing November, a record year, then we had a completely dry December,” he said.

He said it’s been slow of late.

“This weekend we had 50 people at Allen Creek on a Saturday when it should have been closer to 80 or 100.”

Pawliuk said VARDA doesn’t pretend that conditions are better than they are.

“VARDA’s input, after so many years, is highly respected. Frankly, we don’t bullshit. If it hammers snow, we tell them and we see them come,” said Pawliuk.

“We tell it like it is. We want to keep honesty and integrity in our updates.”

Pawliuk said VARDA is having a third party study the economic impact of snowmobiling this April to help gauge its importance in the community’s winter economy.

Down in McBride

In McBride trail pass sales are down according to Rod Whelpton, who is a board member of the McBride Big Country Snowmobile Club, and a long time advocate for tourism in the area.

“Our numbers aren’t extremely low; a little bit lower than last year,” he said. But Whelpton doesn’t think the downward trend will last.

“Watching the oil industry, the big crash didn’t really hurt much on our end. Last year we had a tough time because of it. This year people are just a little bit nervous. I think we’ll be on an uphill trend again,” he said.

Whelpton was critical of the conservation office; he said officers diminished the number of people who attended their Family Day celebrations.

“We build a nice big toboggan hill up on Lucille, and put on a barbeque by donation,” he said.

Whelpton said that the enforcement is welcome, but officers caused big delays that day, and as a result the turnout was dramatically lower than expected.

“They were holding people in the parking lot for up to 2.5 hours.”

Whelpton said people got impatient and left.

“That was pretty bad for the snowmobile club,” he said. “We took a loss. We need better support from the COs.”

Whelpton said many riders in their area are staying in Valemount.

“You just have way more to offer. People are into it, they say they like the hotels, they like the atmosphere, the food. Valemount has a lot to offer compared to McBride,” he said. “The closure of the Grizzly and the sled shops are part of [the declining numbers], but not all of it.”

As far as next year’s sledding season, Whelpton is positive, as long as there is snow.

“If we get early snow we’ll have more people next year. If we have no snow, I don’t know,” he said.