The Canyon Is Calling

Tired of waiting around for winter to arrive? Hit the ground running with an epic adventure to the Abitibi Canyon. Incredible views and deeply satisfying off-trail boondocking opportunities make this 300-km OFSC loop tour the best way to dive into the season.

Every year we get that itch. The itch to get that first ride of the season underway. This year, instead of riding the sled around the yard on six inches of snow I decided to do it right, and venture north to where they measure the snow in feet instead.

With cold weather and snow a guarantee in Northeastern Ontario, I booked a stay at the Abitibi Canyon Base Camp for the beginning of January. What better way to start the year off than sledding the Abitibi Canyon with my two best friends and tonnes of snow?! 

North, where the snow is

Early Friday morning, Katie Erb, “Random” Ryan Tarrant, my Dad and I loaded up our sleds and headed North. The eight-hour drive from Parry Sound to Smooth Rock Falls is about as easy as they come. A straight shot up Highway 11 through beautiful Northern Ontario towns like New Liskeard and Cochrane gave us plenty of opportunities to fuel up the truck and eat our fair share of delicious foods. I stuffed my face with some of the best poutine I’ve ever had at Gilli’s Truck Stop in New Liskeard and again at Smoothy’s in Smooth Rock Falls

Use the Go Tour Ontario Interactive Trip Planner to choose your route

We arrived at Base Camp Abitibi Canyon late Friday night and were greeted by one of the new owners, Michael Lobb and his uncle Monty. With Base Camp being remotely located just over an hour north of Smooth Rock Falls up highway 634, they were excited to see us and to kick off the winter season.

Base Camp Abitibi Canyon was just as beautiful at night as it is during the day!

You see, although they have tonnes of snow already, this is still the early season; for them, the real season begins in February with temperatures at a much more pleasing level. They'll have plenty of riding time into April and even May, if we have a cooler spring. 

The Scene Up There

Leading up to our weekend adventure, the weather stations were calling for beautiful temperatures of -10°C for highs. But of course, for Base Camp, that Arctic cold front meant more like -35°C lows and highs of -17°C. Lucky for our group, we all wear KLiM outerwear and base layers, so the cold was never an issue. In fact, on a number of occasions we had to stop to cool down! I’ve never heard Katie complain about being so hot before!  

Klim gear keeping Katie warm and that new 850 Summit-X is a beauty of a sled! 

On Saturday morning we unloaded our sleds, filled the tanks with gas, and had the chance to admire the brand-new gas tank set-up Base Camp had invested in, with a beautiful backdrop of blue skies. One of the biggest issues, before they took over the camp in September, was the poor condition of the gas pump that had caused a number of sleds to blow last year. Thankful for their investment, we had no fear filling our tanks to the brim with their premium fuel. 

The new gas tanks are a huge improvement! 

Once geared up and filled up we headed out on the trail to start the break-in processes on the 2017 “What A Ride” 800 Polaris Switchback Assault that Ryan had borrowed for the weekend and Katie’s 2017 850 Summit-X Ski-Doo. The trails were perfectly groomed, and off-trail we had two feet of fresh powder that had fallen the day before our arrival.

Katie and I took this opportunity to practice the carving skills we had each learned from Julie-Ann Chapman and She Shreds Mountain Adventures last year. It’s a rare occasion to get this much powder in Southern and Central Ontario, so we weren’t about to let it go to waste! Although early season meant no solid base underneath, we still had plenty of wiggle room between sleds and ground. 

I had a blast practicing my carving skills!

Our first day was filled with face shots and endless hydro line powder holes, but we couldn’t wait to get into play mode in the Canyon. We returned to Base Camp, which I must remind everyone is literally minutes from the Canyon, put our feet up and spent a great evening hanging out, watching snowmobile movies and learning more about life at Base Camp.

The new owners at Base Camp have some fantastic plans for the camp. Their passion and compassion for the riders who use their facilities is obvious. I highly encourage anyone who makes the trip up to Abitibi to stop in and thank them for their hard work because, without the Base Camp fuel, food, and accommodations for the groomer, they would not be making the long 12-hour trip up the trail. 

Random Ryan got his first air of the season! 

Into the Canyon

Sunday was the day we had all been waiting for. We were greeted with another bluebird day and -26°C degrees on the thermometer. Chilly indeed, but that wasn’t stopping us from gearing up and riding five minutes to Abitibi Canyon.

Once in the Canyon, it was obvious that there was enough powder to easily bury the “What a Ride” Polaris and its 144” track deep in the snowdrifts. With hill climbs, drops and plenty of snow, we had a blast getting our sleds sideways and buried in the snow. 

Riding with friends means after the teasing and laughs there’s always someone there to help you dig out your sled. 

The nice thing about early and late season riding in Abitibi Canyon is that you can still get short tracks into the play areas, as long as you're running a good paddle track. My Dad's and my 2015 600XRS’s held their own while traversing the Canyon’s varying terrains. The ability to run short-tracks in the canyon is also made possible thanks to strategically placed side trails around some of the more intense climbs and drops. For those who want to push the limits, they can run the advanced obstacles while the more sane folks take the trails around! 

We can’t wait to return to Base Camp Abitibi Canyon! 

After spending two amazing days of riding, enjoying the gorgeous scenery, and making new friends, we were sad to be packing our bags and loading up the sleds. This trip to Base Camp Abitibi Canyon will forever be remembered as the most epic way to start the snowmobile season, and all four of us are counting down the days till we venture northward up Highway 11 once again.

Until that day arrives, safe travels to everyone who tackles this bucket list destination and be sure to say hi to Michael and his Uncle Monty when you reach Base Camp Abitibi Canyon on OFSC trail 103A. 

About Shelby Mahon

Growing up snowmobiling in Northern Ontario has been a defining aspect of Shelby's life. She is now the owner of Backcountry Motorsports Media and travels across North America photographing and documenting motorsports events and tourism destinations. Check out her Facebook, Instagram and website for more info.

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