A Mountain Rider Experiences Ontario’s Backcountry
They always say when you meet someone, your life will forever change in one way or another. So when I first met sponsored freerider Stephanie Santeford at Hay Days in 2014, I never imagined how she would influence my life in so many ways, or how we would experience some pretty epic adventures together.
Epic Snowmobiler Adventure #1
Introduced by Mike Duffy from Avalanche 1, we immediately bonded over our love for the snowmobile industry. Stephanie’s passion for mentoring new riders, combined with my unresolved zest for learning and trying new things, manifested into a great friendship that stands true to this day.
The first adventure was created after some brainstorming about how to mentor new riders, support women in motorsports, and promote avalanche safety and awareness in the Western Big Mountains. In 2015, this trip, called the "Epic Snowmobile Adventure," took us on a 2,000-mile road trip across three states in 13 days.
It was highly publicized in various snowmobile magazines and online platforms, offering various tips and suggestions for new mountain riders. As a trail rider from Ontario, Canada, that trip was my first time learning to ride in the mountains. I sure learned a lot, and experienced some personal challenges, along with a great deal of fun and good times.
After the first trip, Stephanie and I quickly got to work planning the next "Epic Snowmobile Adventure—Part Two." I thought, what better way to continue the adventure than by bringing Stephanie to Ontario to experience a taste of my world? After learning about the the famed Wawa backcountry at the Toronto Snowmobile & ATV Show, I was curious. What’s so secret about this place? I had to find out, and I couldn’t think of a better person to join me on this mission to unravel the secrecy than Stephanie.
So the trip was planned, organized and we were ready to rock… until unseasonably warm temperatures last season caused us to cancel the trip. Disappointed, we maintained positive attitudes and rescheduled for this year, and so here we are.
As the tables turned, Stephanie flew into small-town Sault St. Marie, Ontario, at the end of February with no idea what to expect. Our huge hug at the airport was testament to our friendship, and we picked off exactly where we left off. A quick lunch at the Breakfast Pig in Sault Ste. Marie gave us a chance to catch up over huge cups of coffee and delicious food (like pulled pork waffles), while we planned out our next few days.
The plan was simple: head north to Wawa and ride.
The drive up to Wawa was amazing, and only got us more excited for the adventure ahead. Cruising along Lake Superior, we gazed out the window with awe at the massive ice formations, lush trees heavy with snow, and growing snow piles. Stephanie had never seen ice huts before, as they aren’t common where she lives in Seattle, Washington, so she was thrilled to learn more about life on frozen lakes in Northern Ontario.
If you aren’t familiar with Wawa, it’s located in Algoma Country, just 2.5 hours north of Sault Ste. Marie. The area boasts epic, well-maintained, OFSC trails and backcountry snowmobiling in the winter, and is also a playground in the summer for those who love to hunt, fish, boat, and just enjoy the outdoors. As I looked out the window at the winding road along Lake Superior, I made a silent promise to myself to return this summer on two wheels to ride the Lake Superior Loop.
After a few hours of rocking out to '90s music, and having no cell service (which was refreshingly nice), we excitedly rolled into the large parking lot of the Wawa Motor Inn, our home for the weekend. The Canada Goose on the roof of the building welcomed us with wide open wings, and we knew this place was going to be a good time.
The Ride Begins—Backcountry in Wawa
Jones Powersports was our first stop the next morning to rent snowmobiles. Our choice were the Polaris Pro RMK AXYS 600’s, each with a 155” track. I knew these would be perfect for playing in fresh powder and exploring some backcountry terrain.
Despite a recent melt, we were able to navigate to an area pointed out to us by Russ Jones, infamous face of Wawa. Seriously though, everyone knew this guy; he was a local celebrity of sorts with his cheery disposition, and a knowledge of the area that was very well respected by locals and tourists like ourselves.
Stephanie and I spent some time joking around and reviewing some of Russ’s Wawa backcountry lingo (do you know what "longtracker" means?!) before we suited up in KLIM gear and headed out.
As we were preparing to leave, Russ shared how he loves to send sledders out on missions to accomplish tasks or ride areas that have never been ridden before. Apparently, there were some pretty gnarly areas out there, and so some failed missions have occurred at times. I think that’s the appeal though, and maybe part of the secrecy. Your mission is yours, and only you and your group know about it. Maybe you make it through, maybe you don’t.
The steeper terrain in this area definitely surprised me, as I expected it to be flatter. We rode down to some areas, got stuck a few times, and then made our way to what I like to call a powder playground. The area was beautiful, and the snow accumulation was greater than any other area I had seen this season. Stephanie and I had fun playing around on the RMKs, and the 600 was powerful enough to get us up some larger inclines. Stephanie took some time to teach me a bit, and help me work on some skills I learned out west, like side hilling.
As much fun as riding and exploring was, we had just as much fun sitting down in at the Wawa Motor Inn Restaurant for a warm meal after riding. Later, we relaxed in front of a chalet fire to chat and share stories about the day. There was chatter about upcoming rides, the next adventure, and of course lots of talk about the Wawa Ice Fishing Derby the next weekend. I learned on this trip that folks who live in Wawa get things done. They are passionate, driven, and truly want those who visit their town to have the best possible experience they can have.
So there you have it: Part Two of the adventure is complete with success! Stephanie and I explored, played in the snow, and scouted the area for our next adventure. We met some amazing people, and while the terrain was different from the big mountain madness like Stephanie might be used to, we had an absolute blast and enjoyed the weekend with some wonderful people and riding.