How and where to ride ATVs in winter

A little snow is no reason to give up ATVing for the winter


An ATV and rider look out over the horizon

One of the benefits of riding ATVs in the wintertime are taking in the stunning views. — Photo courtesy Vernon ATV Club

Somewhere, in the depths of the B.C. interior, lies a mythical land where ATVs never sleep. All winter long, they ride through ice and snow. They cast aside such lame excuses as, “It’s too cold,” or “But what if I get stuck?” These triumphant ATVs bask under the care of the Vernon ATV Club. How does this group manage to ride all year? Determination . . . and good terrain.

“Our area doesn’t have super-duper high mountains,” said Clint Ingham, Vernon ATV Club president. “We’re the Goldilocks of trails as far as winter is concerned. Also, we just go out and do it. We’re just trying to stay active.”

ATV riders line up to pose for a picture

Snow doesn’t keep Vernon ATV Club members from enjoying themselves all year long. — Photo courtesy Vernon ATV Club

Another advantage the Vernon ATV Club has is that there are two quality riding areas within 15 minutes of the city. King Eddy stretches all the way south to Kelowna and Big White Mountain while Noble Canyon goes north and is full of off-road activities. “It’s a bit smaller area but it has historically been used for off-road recreation so it’s got lots of great old roads and trails,” Ingham said. “Our riding isn’t extreme, but it’s like most riding in B.C.—amazingly picturesque. There are many places that are 20 minutes from the highway that 99 per cent of people in the province don’t even realize are there. These are places that we go to all the time—those hidden gems. That’s certainly a huge enjoyment factor and why we get out there.”

An ATV plows through the snow

Snowmobilers aren’t the only ones excited about fresh powder. — Photo courtesy Vernon ATV Club

An integral part of ATVing in the winter is keeping off paths meant for snowmobiles. “We have never and will never ride on groomed/maintained snowmobile trails,” said Ingham. “The trails we ride in the winter are not maintained, they're just the same roads/trails we ride in the summer. It’s just a free-for-all riding area.”

Having a healthy relationship with authorities in the region is an important aspect of riding ATVs all year. “We have a partnership agreement with the Ministry of Forests (Lands and Natural Resource Operations), and a number of rec sites that we monitor for them,” Ingham said. “It’s been in place for seven years. The Ministry of Forests recognized it as a designated recreational off-road area. They work with us. We go to those sites and make sure that the toilet hasn’t been shot up with holes and the picnic tables haven’t been set on fire and report back to the ministry. They have a contractor that goes out and fixes them when needed.”

One of the main obstacles of riding in the off-season is the weather. Vernon’s climate affords locals many opportunities to get out and play with their toys. Even when the elements don’t co-operate, there are ways to adapt and ride. “The main road is plowed up to a certain point,” Ingham said. “If we don’t have a plowed road, it limits what we can do. Those with bigger tires and more horsepower are better able to spin and get through than a smaller vehicle or one without clearance. Sometimes we get too much snow but there’s usually a few ATVs equipped with tracks in the club. Often, one of those will come out on a ride and they’ll be the designated tow truck to get us through the tough and steeper spots.”

An ATV with treads pulls an ATV that was stuck

ATVs with treads are designated tow trucks. — Photo courtesy Vernon ATV Club

To avoid stalls and hiccups along your journey, Ingham has some words of caution. “You can end up in situations where, in the morning, the snow is hard and you’re able to ride somewhere easily and then in the afternoon when you come back you’re stuck and pushing. Anyone who’s out in the backcountry knows that the snow changes so much and that really affects where you can go.”

Another factor to consider in winter riding is ATV maintenance. “We’ve had a few people blow their belts,” Ingham said. “Be mindful of high and low range when you get into certain snow conditions and you just start chattering. That means you need to take your belt out pretty quick.”

A group of people push an ATV in the snow

Riding ATVs during winter requires a robust amount of teamwork. — Photo courtesy Vernon ATV Club

Riding in the winter presents a challenge but even that is part of the enjoyment. “Pushing, pulling and getting stuck—that’s the interesting part,” Ingham said. “Everybody’s out there helping one another. Sometimes, I think that’s half the fun—helping other people out or seeing who can make it through and who gets stuck and then giving that one guy a hard time. Ha ha.”

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