Women on sleds cross Canada 

A women’s only cross-country snowmobile relay will wrap up today in Squamish, with a post-ride to Black Tusk on Saturday.

Everyone is invited to come along in celebration of the end of a 48-day journey from the Atlantic to the Pacific coasts, through the Maritimes, across the Prairies and by the Rockies.

Thirty women took part in the Way Out Women Relay, an event sponsored by Polaris Industries, which began in Newfoundland in January.

A small group of women rode together through each province. At the end of each provincial journey they handed over the sleds to another group.

Whistler’s own Heather Gamache was part of the B.C. crew, travelling from Grand Prairie, Alberta on Sunday and ending up in Squamish on Friday.

She joined in the relay because she loves snowmobiling and this gave her a chance to check out a part of Canada on her snowmobile. That the relay was designed to raise money for a worthy cause was also a huge motivation to sign up.

The WOW relay was designed in part to raise money and awareness for breast cancer. Organizers estimate that over $50,000 has been raised for breast cancer to date and there’s still more money to be tallied.

At the same time, the relay promotes snowmobiling among women, a growing trend in Canada.

"We though what better way to promote riding than to have a cross-Canada relay where women from every province can be involved," said Gisele Remillard, ride co-ordinator with Polaris Industries, in an earlier interview with Pique Newsmagazine .

To address that trend, professional guide Trish Jamieson has designed clinics and tours at Cougar Mountain to get more women comfortable on sleds.

In mixed groups with men and women, she noticed the women would often hang out at the back of the group, worried about slowing the men down.

Jamieson said lagging at the back of the group isn’t the best way to learn how to handle a snowmobile. And so she created Ripunzel Snowmobiles, a women’s only snowmobiling adventure.

"The environment is incredibly encouraging when women are surrounded by each other," said Jamieson.

"Their intimidation factor goes down."

Before getting on the sleds Jamieson takes clients through the basics with information about snowmobiling etiquette and how to handle the powerful machine on the trails.

Without much more preparation, the women are firing up the engines and getting their trip underway.

Cougar Mountain has 15,000 acres of terrain. Jamieson’s tours can be customized for each client taking in the sites of the Soo Valley, Rainbow Mountain, Mount Currie, and much more.

For tours where clients would prefer to stick to the trails and check out the scenery, Jamieson eases her them into the snowmobile, getting them comfortable at a slow pace on fairly straight trails.

Cougar Lake is the first stop. The massive frozen expanse provides enough room for anyone to get the feel of their sled pretty quickly. Here riders have free reign. They can go as quickly or as slowly as they want but they must travel in a counter clockwise direction.

This is the time when clients can start to trust their machine, lean into their turns, and prepare themselves for the adventure ahead.

Some of the more advanced clinics go into higher and steeper terrain where Jamieson shows you how to take the sled through powder.

These clinics also involve a short lesson on how to dig out your sled by yourself if you ever get it stuck in the snow.

It might seem impossible to move the 400-pound monster lying deep in the powder but the petite Jamieson makes it look easy, getting the machine free is less than five minutes.

She simply packed in the snow around the machine and gradually pulled it around so that it was facing downhill. The next trick is to get back on the snowmobile on the side closest to the hill. Then riders are able to ride it out of a stuck position.

The Ripunzel trips can wind through majestic green forests in the valley to wide-open snow-covered hills.

Beginners who have never been on a sled before will have the confidence of old pros by the end of the tour. And for those who want some help polishing up their skills or need a push to get to the next level, the groups are generally small enough for Jamieson to give some one-on-one attention. For more information or to book at tour with Ripunzel, call 604-902-DIVA.

For those with their own snowmobiles, the women in the WOW relay would like anyone to come to the post-ride Saturday. Join them at the Super 8 in Squamish at 9 a.m. The ride will go up to Brohm Ridge and for $10 there’s lunch at the Black Tusk Snowmobile Club.

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