REGINA - Snow falls across Saskatchewan and, with a roar, snowmobiles spring to life, ready to charge down more than 10,000 kilometres of groomed trails.
And the best part? All of the trails are connected, said Saskatchewan Snowmobile Association president Chris Brewer.
"So it doesn't matter where you hop on a trail. One of the great things we have here is the opportunity to tour, endless touring," said Brewer, who has been riding sleds since he was a child.
"Oftentimes you can plan your route so that you don't have to come back the same way you went."
Brewer said back in the early 1970s, the province noticed that snowmobiling was on the rise and started grooming trails in three provincial parks. Snowmobilers were pretty happy, but they also wanted more trails outside of the parks.
Several local snowmobile clubs eventually got together and, with the snowmobile association, pitched a plan to the province for funding. The money was used to buy some trail equipment and signs.
"Well, things really started to grow then," said Brewer.
"It wasn't until shortly after a lot of the communities and other clubs across the province saw huge benefit to their communities economically."
Today, snowmobile registration fees collected by Saskatchewan Government Insurance go to the association to fund its work maintaining trails and promoting safe snowmobiling. The association has 66 clubs grooming trails across the province.
There are about 55,000 snowmobiles in Saskatchewan — the highest per capita of any province, said Brewer.
Brewer said the snowmobile system in Saskatchewan is the envy of many and a big draw.
"We see lots of visitors and we get lots of comments on our Facebook page and we get lots of emails from Manitobans that come here and say to us, 'Your trails are fantastic. Your trail signage is the best we've ever been on,'" he said.
Trails closer to the cities are often in highway ditches, but wind through communities, rolling fields and forests farther out. Some of the trails go over frozen waterways, including lakes and rivers.
Brewer joked that picking a favourite trail or location might get him in trouble.
"I really truly enjoy just being able to get on the trails. I like to go on tour. I like to spend four or five days just travelling community to community," he said.
"Snowmobiling will take you to locations that you could never, ever reach any other time of the year. Given the opportunity on a snowmobile, in my lifetime, I've seen things that lots of people will not see in their life and that's things like timber wolves in the wild."
"In an average day, if you get up and you're out the door early, you'll often run into lots of moose, lots of deer."
Brewer said he'll never forget the day when he was out snowmobiling and came upon a rise with an amazing view. He hightailed it back to his cabin to get his wife, Jeannie, and urged her to suit up.
"Of course she's asking me what it was, what it was, and I kept her in suspense," he said.
They jumped on their snowmobiles, stopped on the same rise and looked out to see a herd of 40 elk.
"It was very unique to be able to see that," he recalled. "People just don't get that opportunity to come across that."
Brewer said safety should be top of mind before heading out on a snowmobile, including not to travel alone and not to drink and ride. He said ski gear should not be worn because it's not wind resistant like snowmobiling gear. Anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1989, must have a snowmobile safety certificate, which can be completed online.
Just because you don't own a snowmobile doesn't mean you can't go. The machines can be rented at many locations and it's worth the trip, he said.
"There's no feeling like it," said Brewer.
If You Go ...
The Saskatchewan Snowmobile Association has trail maps and conditions, as well as information on rentals and tour guides, on its website: http://www.sasksnowmobiling.sk.ca.
The 2013 Provincial Snowmobile Festival will be held in Nipawin from Feb. 22 to 24.
Tourism Saskatchewan has snowmobiling packages and tips for planning a snowmobile adventure on its website: http://www.sasktourism.com/things-to-do/saskatchewan-winter/snowmobiling.
This week, we go from a praying mantis in Spain to Holy Island, United Kingdom