By Jeremy Payne

From an Ontario native, when the snow starts to fly in the early season, the only destination on the minds of everyone in southern Ontario and our close neighbours to the south, is Cochrane. We’re all well aware this is the place to go for early season riding, with an incredible abundance of trails that vary, from tight technical, to 12 foot wide snowmobile freeways. Anyone from any discipline of snowmobiler can satisfy their itch with a trip to this piece of sledding heaven. Situated at the top of the world in the eyes of us Ontario snow chasers, you can’t get much further north by tow rig and trailer, and still enjoy the luxuries that are available in this gem of a town.

When the call came in to head north for another trip, my bags were packed and I was out the door, not sure who was going to be joining in on yet another epic adventure to the place we all know and love. The drive up is never without some kind of challenge or excitement. The weather is always questionable when driving north on highway 11. Conditions change as you leave so called civilization, and temperatures begin to drop and the snowbanks start to pile up the farther north you get. As the hours fly by and the km’s roll on, the excitement builds the closer you get to your final destination. With a couple fuel stops to top up the tanks on the rigs and sleds, we made it to Timmins to pick up some precious cargo. With only a little over an hour to the place we’ll call home for the night, the temps dropped south of -30 and the snow was piled 7-8 ft high along the roadside, what more could we ask for?

Levi’s opening day radio interview with Tim Rout at 98.1 Moose FM, letting everyone within range know what’s about to unfold in the days to come.

The morning came and we treated ourselves to a much needed breakfast in the lobby of the Best Western. We were joined at breakfast by some top notch local guides to plan the upcoming busy schedule. Kenny Johnston, who is the president of the Polar Bear Riders and local Uber celeb Jeff Crawford, the man responsible for JRs BBQ Ranch in town. Together, these guys with the help of a few other local legends, will get us IN and OUT of the places we’ll want to visit. The minor detour to Timmins late last night was to pick up Polaris Ambassador to the sport, Levi LaVallee and his lovely wife Kristen. All of us as a group set out to experience everything Cochrane has to offer.

Mandatory stop at Bourque Auto sales and Polaris to gather some supplies, also to pick up a few more rides for the crew.

As the snow squeaked beneath our feet, it was obvious that the conditions were in our favor as we headed out on our journey with nothing but wide open trails ahead of us. We had to make a few stops in town to do some meet and greets with the X Games gold medalist as well and also pick up a few extra machines from Gerry Bourque at Bourque’s Auto Sales, who is the Polaris dealer in Cochrane. We soon found ourselves leaving town and making our way out into the wilderness. With loads of fresh snow and one hell of a base to work with, these guys had the trails in near perfect conditions. After a few hours of riding and filming both video and stills, we made our way down a privately groomed trail, through a couple dog legs and hair pins, to end up at a destination in the middle of Gods country for the grand opening of Floods Landing.

Floods Landing is a full service establishment that covers every snowmobilers wants and needs. With overnight accommodations and plenty of food options in the restaurant, the lodge is situated right on the shore of the Frederick House River, which is right in the heart of the backcountry if that’s what tickles your fancy. Mike and Wendy really go out of their way to make every guests stay, a memorable one. After lunch we suited up and headed back towards town on these epic trails, stopping along the way for the odd photo op or TV shot and eventually making it back to town in time to watch the sun go down. Every local, will highly recommend not travelling at night due to the high numbers of moose and deer out roamingDuely Noted.

Some great food and warm drinks, not to mention top notch hospitality from Mike and Wendy at Floods Landing.

As the sun comes up for the start of our second day, we had a morning meeting to set up the events for the day to keep everyone on schedule. We had a quick visit to the Polar Bear Exhibit as well as the Cochrane Classic/Vintage Snowmobile Museum. After that we were able to get out to enjoy the local trails in and around town. It almost felt like we had the entire trail system to ourselves, there wasn’t a single person in sight. We fueled up and checked our local maps to plan a couple small local loops, conditions here were far from average with the entrances and exits from every corner, smooth as silk and every mogul or bump from the previous day was a distant memory.

Wide eyes for Levi and Kristen at the Polar Bear Exhibit. Not often are you able to get this up close and personal with these giants!

I would call it near perfect! I understand that the midweek traffic is considerably lighter on the trails but with their were still lots of trucks and trailers shoehorned everywhere around town. Making these conditions even better. I must say, the local volunteers sure have a handle on what keeps the people coming back to this area to ride. The entire gang stopped for a feed at the Station Restaurant. This allowed us to network with our guides to plan the evening festivities. It was decided to enjoy the trails for a few more hours, then regroup at Jeff’s establishment for some post ride chow and beverage of choice. At this time were invited out to enjoy a passionate meeting between the Junior A hockey teams, the Cochrane Crunch vs the Hearst Lumberjacks at the Tim Hortons Event Centre.

By far the most exciting Junior A hockey that I’ve ever experienced! The passion the local boosters and fans bring to the rink is insane!

This clash between local rivals has an electric atmosphere that proves to be much more exciting than the just any junior hockey game I’ve experienced in the southern parts of Ontario. We all received top drawer treatment with Levi, who also made himself readily available to sign some autographs. The night finished off without a hitch and the icing on the cake for a near perfect second day. Special thanks goes out to Gerry and Tammy for setting up the amazing night. If you’re in town for one of these home games, do yourself a favor and get over there and take in the hockey experience.

Not what you would expect to find in the remote community north of town. Next level comfort with incredible views from the surrounding lookouts make this a “must visit” destination if you’re in town enjoying the trails.

Did the night stop there?… not a chance! There was a Surprise Party at the local legion with one heck of a turnout to celebrate Kaitlynn’s 30th birthday. Not one of us figured we would be this involved in the local night life but there we were right in the middle of it. Great times were had by all.

Gerry and Tammy accompanied by the gang at Bourque Auto Sales and Polaris. These guys kept us going for the entire trip with everything we could ever need.

When we woke up the next day and said goodbye to our guests from the south (Levi and Kristen LaValle), the trails were again calling my name. How do you decide where to go with so many options and kms of trails to be seen? It all comes down to how much daylight is left. Our choice was either a quick trip up to the canyon completing the loop we started with the LaVallees or quick up and back down under the hydro lines. No matter which one we picked, the crew in Fraserdale will have you fueled and fed. There are also some shorter out and back trips to Moonbeam, Timmins or Smooth Rock that provide some awesome scenery and have a combination of tight and technical trails, with wide open sweeping 4 snowmobiles wide type of trails too. These trails are well signed and we can’t forget to mention that there are other great club loops all of which are within reach from town.

No matter how many people you see in town at the beginning and the end of the day, it’s unbelievable how spread out everyone is. With the number of beds to sleep in and around town compared to the kilometeres available to ride, it seems almost impossible to overload the trail system, making it a more enjoyable ride for all, in every skill level.

A lucky class of students able to drop in to see the bears and meet with a legend of the sport.

I’m not sure if I forgot to mention this or not but here I go again, the quality of work these guys put into maintaining this trail system with the water crossings, the ramps, the bridges, the warm-up shelters and the un-believable signage make the trip to Cochrane worth it! Thank you Polar Bear Riders! And another big thanks goes out to the entire gang that the organized a stellar Super Bowl Party at the pavilion that had some unbelievable smoked meats and enough Sarsaparilla to wet our whistles.

With an added autograph session. I’m pretty sure local racer Dave Joanis got a kick out of this.