Where the Rugged Canadian Shield and Manitoba’s Wheat Field Horizons Meet, Resides a Snowmobile Destination Rich in Variety and Ripe with Hospitality.
Wisps of snow swirled across the dotted center line as our truck and trailer kept its due north heading. With one eye on the road, the other carefully surveyed the ditch line where churned snow, exploded cattails, and windrows of strewn snow and debris crossed each road approach. With the horizon stretching far into the distance, the vastness and beauty of the Midwestern prairie was evident. Coupled with several inches of fresh snow from a much-welcomed Alberta clipper system, we were more than eager to reach our final destination and experience the open running for ourselves.
Until then, we were content to scan the road ahead for the telltale signs of arrow markers and snow dust. As luck would have it, our trip to ride the trails of Manitoba coincided with the running of the legendary International 500 (I-500) cross-country race. Sanctioned by the Minnesota based United States X-Country (USXC), the race had been in the planning stages for years and last winter it made its triumphant return, embarking from Winnipeg, Manitoba, just as it did in 1966, the year the Winnipeg to St. Paul race first ran.
As Zach Herfindahl went on to win the return of this legendary race with a blistering run in the road ditches of northern Minnesota, we arrived at our drop-in-point of Steinbach, Manitoba, a prairie town just south and east of Winnipeg. Watching the racers tear up the road ditch course earlier in the day had us more than ready to hit the wide and flowing trails that follow the roadways of this area.
But Manitoba is more than wide open prairie and groomed ditches…much more. Diversity abounds in this region of Manitoba, where the convergence of two distinct topographical elements come together. To the west lies the seemingly never-ending expanse of prairie, where the days are long and a majestic sunset turns the horizon into a nearly infinite hue of burning colors. To the east and north, the exposed rock outcroppings of the Canadian Shield erupt from the land with hard-edged abruptness. Scattered amongst the undulating terrain are thick pine forests, spruce bogs, and deep, clear water lakes – many of which are connected together via frozen rivers to form a chain-link or off-trail riding opportunities. Huddled between these two very different landscapes is a narrow band of transitional forest, a mixture of hardwood and pine, often clinging to the waterways that make their eventual way north to Lake Winnipeg.
Twisting and weaving their way through all of these varied landscapes are hundreds of miles of snowmobile trails which are part of a provincial network that is nothing short of first-class. Groomed extra wide, spectacularly smooth, and well-marked; these trails have all the ingredients necessary to make tracks, without having to scrutinize your chosen path. From the prairies and high-speed diches of Steinbach to the transitional Sandilands Provincial Forest to the rugged and lake dotted Whiteshell Provincial Park, there’s a surprise around every turn, and a riding experience that is out of this world.
In many ways, this little slice of Manitoba mirrors the diversity of the entire province. Manitoba is perhaps one of the most varied in all of Canada, featuring rivers, mountains, forests and prairies from east to west and unforgiving Arctic tundra to the north and rich farmland to the south. And after experiencing the trails and hospitality this region has to offer during our brief three-day trip, we’re convinced Manitoba ranks amongst the very best snowmobile destinations in the world.
Managing the trails throughout the province is Snowmobilers of Manitoba (SNOMAN), the provincial snowmobile association linking together the many clubs across the region, and for visitors, represents the ideal place to source all the information you’ll need to plan your trip. With trail condition reports, map downloads, license and fee information, and direct links to local clubs, planning a snowmobile trip to Manitoba is just a few clicks away.
More than just varied terrain, the makeup of trails in the region, especially in and around the Whiteshell Provincial Forest offers something for everyone. Those looking to lay down big mileage tracks will easily be satisfied as you loop far north to the communities that dot the southern shores of Lake Winnipeg. From there you can return south through the prairie towns of Brokenhead, Milner Ridge or Beausejour, a community rich in snowmobile racing heritage, having hosted the Canadian Power Toboggan Championships since 1962.
If shorter loops are what you’re after, southeastern Manitoba has you covered here as well. The trails within the Whiteshell Provincial Park, as well as the multiple loops north of Pinawa offer seemingly never-ending options for shorter trips – perfect for families or groups who value a trailside cookout or hearty meal at a local establishment as much as the ride itself.
And when it comes to hospitality, there’s no shortage. From bigger city motels to lakeside lodges, the area has something for everyone. We were especially impressed with the Pinewood Lodge, located in the heart of lake country in the Whiteshell Provincial Park. The full-service resort has everything you need to make this your home-base including fuel, a full restaurant, indoor pool and fitness center, and complimentary continental breakfast. In fact, we liked it so much, we’re returning this winter to further explore the trails of this region.
To say we were pleasantly surprised with Manitoba would be a huge understatement. After having ridden nearly every self-proclaimed world-renowned snowmobile destination in North America, Manitoba may have just put them all to shame.
BEFORE YOU GO
There are two stops you’ll definitely want to make online before you plan your trip to Manitoba this winter. The first is to the SNOMAN website. Here you’ll be able to download maps, check trail conditions, sign-up for updates, and learn what type of pass you’ll need to purchase before you go.
For trip planning beyond the trail as well as researching a wide array of accommodation, direct your browser to the Travel Manitoba website. This was our go to site when it came to sourcing accommodations, and it’s also a great tool to find other Manitoba attractions if you’re planning on making your winter time visit a family trip.
Every snowmobile on your trip to Manitoba will be required to have a Snopass. The pass is the primary funding source for maintenance of the trails, and with trails this good, it’s money well spent. An annual pass is $150.00, or you can opt for a 7-day pass for just $75.50 (and yes those are Canadian dollars). If you want to plan ahead, you can order your Snopass via mail. For non-Manitoba residents, the follow elements are required to purchase a Snopass:
- Proof of registration and insurance
- Proof of minimum $500,000 third-party liability coverage.
- Proof of age (must be 17 or older, those 16 years-of-age can also purchase a pass with letter of authorization from parent or guardian).
Details can be found on the SNOMAN website