Conquering the Abitibi Canyon Loop Tour in Cochrane

By Virgil Knapp October 23, 2015

Like many of you reading this, I’ve spent a good chunk of my life riding snowmobiles. Starting at age 11, the neighbouring farmer’s field provided me with all the thrills I could ask for. Predictably, like most things in life, our tastes and expectations change as we age.  Once I got involved in power sports media and started shooting for various magazines, this snowmobile snobbery ratcheted up even more. I’ve seen some truly epic riding locales across North America over the years, but none of them impressed me more then than the frozen tundra of the Abitibi Canyon Loop Tour in Cochrane, Ontario.

Last March I made the 8-hour trek due north from Toronto on a special assignment. A 30-something Toronto couple named Adam and Candi had been selected in a promotional contest held by Ontario Tourism where contestants posted photos using the hashtag #RideNeOntario as the draw. My assignment? To document their journey through the 320-km loop known as the Abitibi Canyon Loop Tour in a single day. Sure, this might not sound like a lot to the hard-core trail junkies, but Candi was relatively new to snowmobiling whereas her husband Adam had much more experience. I was cautiously optimistic that we’d complete the ride with a “newbie” before sunset. I was also pretty excited for selfish reasons because I’d never ridden in this region but had heard that it was bucket list worthy.

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We started off our ride heading north from Smooth Rock Falls along trail A103-Abitibi Canyon Loop Tour. Between Adam, Candi, myself, and our two guides, we were a small snowmobile army in search of adventure. This first section of trail presented our troops with a wide array of conditions. Things started off fast and open, with fluffy powder on top of a packed and groomed trail base. This made for lots of fun doing high-speed sweeping turns set against a brilliant blue-sky backdrop. With each passing sled a layer of dry snow dust coated my camera, but I kept on shooting knowing the results would be worth it. Even the least experienced rider, Candi, was throwing it sideways kicking up snow for her “hero” shot.

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After about 30 minutes of speed riding on the wider trails, things suddenly narrowed and we were treated to tighter switchbacks corners surrounded by forest. The slower speeds were a welcome relief to my near frostbitten nose from all the full throttle riding. (I made the mistake of wearing a motocrosss helmet with a thin balaclava riding in -20°C day temps. Let that be a lesson to you—full and proper snowmobile gear is always recommended on long day or night rides.)

Do you want to be a winner this year? Enter our contest to win a two-day snowmobiling getaway for you and a guest in OFSC District 15 – Northern Corridor du Nord! Click here!

I’d never ridden this far north in Ontario and the difference in scenery was striking. The vegetation and trees all seemed to be smaller, due to the longer winter season and harsher growing conditions I’d guess. It made for some surreal photos when our group was ripping down a straightaway, appearing like a highway for snowmobiles with sound barriers made of dense boreal black spruce. Again we had bluebird skies with sunshine from sunup to sundown. This really surprised me because every time I go away for a shoot in winter, it seemingly snows or the sky is a grey overcast smear, which is not conducive to visually stunning tourism photos. Thankfully, our entire excursion was bright and sunny; perhaps this is just how they do it in Cochrane.

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Another standout of the Region was the massive hydro generating station built along the Abitibi River. Dating back to the 1930s, this fully functioning marvel of old world engineering is a must-see. It made a great backdrop to juxtapose the contest winners against a massive man-made structure that was essentially in the middle of nowhere. Another cool feature of the dam is the ability to ride across the top of it as it is part of the trail system taking you further along A103.  If the dam wasn’t cool enough, just adjacent to it was a series of massive bowls filled with fresh powder. Our tour guide Jeff took Adam for an off trail excursion that looked more like something I’d seen shooting in the Rockies of Colorado than anything Ontario has to offer. To my surprise Adam kept right up with our experienced guide. They blasted up and down the massive snow dunes and might have even caught a bit of airtime!

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With daylight fading and our sleds running low on fuel, we headed for the trucks with a renewed sense of accomplishment after completing all 320 kms of the Abitibi Canyon Loop Tour before sunset. On the long drive back to Toronto I had some time to reflect on the adventure we’d all experienced and what I took away from this trip more than anything else was the variety. We seemingly covered every type of riding conditions over the course of one day. This, combined with the epic scenery and pristine trail conditions, make for a one-of-a-kind experience. I’d defy any diehard snowmobiler to find a better trail loop in Northern Ontario that offers so much in one location. This is the perfect place to go on that buddy’s trip you’ve been talking about with friends, or, as our contest winners proved, it’s couples-friendly for newer riders as well. Sure, it’s a long haul north, but trust me, it’s worth the drive to Cochrane.

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