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In winter 2015, writer and photographer Martin Lortz headed to Muskoka, Ontario to find out more about one of winter’s most social outdoor adventures: the snowmobile poker run.
It’s 6am on a bitterly cold February morning and I am northbound on Highway 400 from Toronto. My destination is Gravenhurst, an historic town on Lake Muskoka in the great Canadian wilderness. I am about to partake in my first ever Poker Run with the Snowcrest Riders Snowmobile Club.
What is a snowmobile Poker Run? It’s a group event where participants head to multiple stops along a designated trail to collect poker chips. An excuse to ride with other sled fans, poker runs are a great opportunity to have some fun over the course of a day or afternoon, as opposed to riding hundreds of kilometres on end.
The ride north is a piece of cake; an hour and a half and I arrive at the Residence Inn by Marriott located at the Muskoka Wharf (also home of the famous Muskoka Steamships, which are moored in the ice at this time of year). The parking lot is a buzz with sleds and activity. It’s Family Day weekend in Ontario, and it’s great to see how family-friendly this classic winter activity is.
I can’t believe it’s -28 degrees celsius outside and my hands are sweating. Must be a case of poker table nerves – or in this case a poker face hiding the nerves of a Poker Run first-timer. I pick up my rental sled at Muskoka Wharf Marine, located right in front of the hotel. Next I deal with the event formalities, pay the entry fee, grab my first chip and find a group of friendly locals to ride with. We settle on a 100km route heading south. Time to hit the trails!
Poker Runs – often offered by snowmobile clubs across Canada – are not races, but more like social rides with a purpose. For this group, our first stop is Silver Pines, a nice spot with good lunch potential, but it’s early in the day so we grab our poker chips and move on. The cold temperatures and a dedicated groomer for this event mean the trails go from great to really great as we distance ourselves from the hustle and bustle of town.
Stop number two is at Summerland Store, where we collect another poker chip and sample their famous toasted western sandwich and home made butter tarts.
Next stop, Carey’s Pub (fantastic wings) and then Boston Pizza back at the wharf to round out our poker chip collection. Arriving back at the Residence Inn, it’s fun to watch the sleds once again line up in the parking lot – a common sight at this establishment in winter.
The final hurrah is at the Frosty Pint Pub & Eatery in Gravenhurst later on. Chips are down, cards are dealt, winners are rewarded. With a table full of swag and judging by the continuous cheers, winners are a plenty.
There you have it – my first Poker Run in the books. So how was it? Awesome! I came here with no experience, rented a snowmobile and rode with strangers. I’m leaving with unforgettable memories and a bunch of new friends. If you have the chance to participate in a club Poker Run, I highly recommend the experience – even on one of the coldest days of the year.
Interested in participating in a social ride with a local club? The Argyle Riders Poker Run is being held on February 6, 2016, The Tall Pines Snowmobile Club Poker Rally runs on February 13, 2016, and The South Seguin Snowmobile Club and Snowcrest Riders Poker Run has been set for February 13, 2016. I’m no gambler but betting on another good time is a no brainer; fire up the engines and let the chips ride.
For information on snowmobile riding in the great Canadian wilderness, click here. For info on where to rent a sled, click here.
Guest Blogger: Martin Lortz
Martin is a freelance photographer and writer specializing in the outdoor lifestyle. Whether he is covering power sports or family-oriented pursuits, his passion for capturing the beauty of nature and the people who partake in it is evident in his work. His photos and articles have appeared in magazines such as Ski Canada, Explore, Bike, Mountain Life, Snow Goer, Kayak Angler, and Family Camping.