Western Newfoundland’s winter wonders
By Adrian Brijbassi, Vacay.ca Columnist
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CORNER BROOK, NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR — My first time on a backcountry snowmobile trek went the way most firsts do: More than a little awkward, a lot of thrills and a lasting sensation that made me wonder “what’ve I been missing all this time.”
I was on a trip with Rugged Edge, which rents snowmobiles starting at $249 per day and leads tours into the woods adjacent to its property in Western Newfoundland.
“You can go for days back here and not see another soul,” says Derek Young, who runs Rugged Edge with his son, Craig. Young has experienced the solitude of this snowbound world and is enthralled by the deep wilderness that is difficult to find anywhere else. There are more than 5,000 kilometres of accessible trails in Newfoundland and Labrador, making it a premier destination for snowmobilers — or those who just want to give the sport a try.
I was among the latter. Once I was within the woodsy expanse of the Blow Me Down community ski trails and the neighbouring territory, it was the sound — or lack of it — that first captivated me. The silence is stark. When the motors of the snowmobile engines stopped, the only noises that caught my ear were my breath, the whistle of the wind, and the plop of thick snow tumbling from the limbs of the coniferous trees surrounding us.
Winter Fun Wows in Newfoundland
In the backcountry, the isolation is seductive. You can imagine yourself doing what riders like Young have done — going off for days and weeks to explore the province and its many wonders on a motorized sled. The machine is easy to operate, although it does take 20 minutes or so to find the feel for the vehicle, meaning the ride is herky-jerky until you discover the groove for a smooth ride. On my two-hour trip, I was able to manoeuvre the snowmobile well enough but I never did gain enough comfort to let it rip and kick up the speed much beyond 40 kilometres per hour.
Going slow has its benefits, though. The snow cascades, a constant ballet from sky to ground that will mesmerize you as you sled through the terrain, bouncing and bobbing on undulating hills that are groomed daily for skiers and snowmobilers to enjoy. As you ride, you will catch sight of wildlife, possibly moose, and more likely the owls, hawks and eagles that make their home in the trees of this region that is about 120 kilometres (75 miles) from Gros Morne National Park.
It’s part of the winter wonderland of Canada’s easternmost province, which doesn’t receive nearly as much attention for its outdoor offerings at this time of year as Alberta or British Columbia, or even Quebec, but is full of activities and adventures.
The region’s primary ski resort, Marble Mountain, receives 485 centimetres (192 inches, or 16 feet) of average annual snowfall, a bit more than what popular Mont Ste Anne in Charlevoix, Quebec sees. It features downhill and snowboard runs, including lessons, as well as a zipline tour that operates in the winter. The ski season at Marble Mountain opens on December 26, 2013.
In March 2014, Blow Me Down Trails will be the host venue for the National Cross-Country Skiing Championships, a competition that will attract some athletes fresh off of the Sochi Olympics.
Snowshoeing, one of the fastest-growing sports in North America, is available at Blow Me Down and other sites. Linkum Tours, an outstanding operation run by veteran guide Ed English, offers a rigorous mountain hike in snowshoes or skis that provides an expansive view of the region, which has earned a spot on the 2014 Vacay.ca Top 20 Places to Travel in Canada (published January 1).
In a country where many seek to escape the cold, the people of Newfoundland showed me just how much you can do — and enjoy doing — when you get out their and experience nature, no matter the conditions.
More About Western Newfoundland
Weather: Driving can be treacherous as snow falls often and in heavy amounts. Make sure the vehicle you travel in has snow tires.
Airport: Deer Lake Airport serves Western Newfoundland and has daily flights to most major cities in Eastern Canada and the Maritime provinces.
Where to Stay: Marblewood Village Resort offers luxury accommodations with full kitchens and large units featuring fireplaces. Rates start at $99 per night.
Rugged Edge: www.ruggededge.ca
Marble Mountain: www.skimarble.com
Blow Me Down Trails: blowmedown.ca
Linkum Tours: www.linkumtours.com