The Revelstoke Snowmobile Club has completed a “very ambitious” four-year, $400,000 infrastructure construction phase with the renovation of the Frisby Ridge cabin this year, and the Boulder cabin before that.
“It’s fantastic,” said club president Greg Byman of the 750-square foot cabin that sports a new 16-foot deck. “The club is a really proactive club as far as taking things on and getting things done.”
The Frisby cabin was in pretty rough shape. It now has a new generator and solar panels and a refurbished main room.
The cabins were built by club members through in-kind donations and with significant funding from the Tourism Infrastructure Fund. That fund channels part of the resort municipality hotel tax, and is voted on by accommodation industry stakeholders.
“They obviously see very good value in what we’re doing,” Byman said of the contribution.
Visiting riders have similar impressions. “This looks like a ski chalet,” is a reaction Byman has heard of the 1,500-square-foot Boulder cabin.
Snowmobile Club numbers
The Times Review spoke with club members for a season preview and to look at local sled trends in the club.
The club had a total of 760 paid members last year; about 200 of them were local. They’ve signed up about 325 members so far this season, ahead of their mark of 275 at this time last year. Annual membership is $130. Membership accounts for a small percentage of trail users, estimated to be in the many thousands.
They’re seeing an uptick in two categories of members.
Riders from Alberta continue to increase, and now they’re seeing more visitors from Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
The other category is younger local riders in their 20s to mid-30s, including lots of sled skiers and sled snowboarders who use the machines to go riding. These new users are primarily locals.
The two user groups access different terrains. Traditional sled riders are looking for wide open spaces, often venturing out long distances. Sled skiers spend more time in the trees, working in pairs to ferry each other up and down slopes.
Watching a sledding video at the bar probably doesn’t give you a realistic picture of what’s going on in the mountains around Revelstoke. Extreme riders dropping off big cornices or climbing up near-vertical slopes are a small percentage of the ridership; the vast majority are out to travel around in search of good snow.
Club members feel they’re making inroads with the business community who recognize the contributions sledding makes to the community. Frontline businesses like motels, hotels, gas stations and restaurants have always recognized the benefit.
A lifted pickup with a sled deck and Alberta plates outside a restaurant is a sure sign snowmobilers have arrived, but more businesses are realizing riders travel with their families, and are finding ways to cater to a spouse and kids who have travelled here for the weekend.
The club travels to snow and ATV trade shows in Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Lower Mainland and are seeing lots of interest, including enquiries about relocating to Revelstoke. People ask about the schools, real estate and job prospects in addition to tourism and sled-related questions.
“It’s a real revolving wheel of economics,” said Byman, noting that many businesses are better realizing the potential in the market as it develops.
PHOTO: Patti Larson of the Community Connections Food Bank accepts a $2,000 donation from the Revelstoke Snowmobile Club’s Greg Byman. Photo by Alex Cooper/Revelstoke Times Review
A warm welcome
The club gets consistent feedback that, aside from the world-class snowmobiling terrain, one of the key things that brings visitors back is a warm reception in town. Many businesses – especially accommodations and restaurants – go out of their way to welcome sledders. A few businesses offer limousine shuttles. Some hotels have parking lot security cameras connected directly to TVs in their rooms. It could be as little as putting up a sign welcoming sledders, or putting snowmobiling videos into the mix on a restaurant’s TVs.
Revelstoke’s key competitors are Golden, Fernie, Kimberley, Valemount and Blue River. Club members heard Revelstoke has a much warmer reception than some of its competitors, which is key to improving repeat business.
Byman said that like other longstanding clubs in town, a small group of volunteers make up the core of the club.
In the past, when snowmobiles were far less powerful, trail rides and other charity jamborees were more the norm. He notes it used to take a whole team of riders two days to reach the Boulder cabin in bad conditions. They’d crash through the snow until the sled got stuck, then pull it out and do it again. Getting together with many club members for larger rallies was part of the culture.
These days, sleds are much more powerful; riders take off in small groups to explore instead of getting together to rally.
Combined with new socialization patterns centred around online communities, the club’s presence in the community has waned somewhat, although they’re still getting things done.
On the other hand, the club has benefitted extensively from their online presence, using social media and online forums to communicate with their far flung membership. They’re able to communicate things like area closures with club members through Facebook.
The completion of the cabins project will help improve socialization on the hills by making the warming huts a more desirable meet up point. “It’s a very social sport,” Byman said, adding the camaraderie has allowed him to make friends from across western Canada.
One event they’re possibly bringing back this year is the charity Snowarama event to support the Lions Club of Canada. That’s not been confirmed yet.
If you’re interested in getting involved, the club meets on the first Monday of the month at 7:30 p.m. Their clubhouse is located at the end of Powerhouse Road, or find them online at www.revelstokesnowmobileclub.com