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In 1949, two skiers are pulled by an early snowmobile during a race on the ice of Gaspé Bay. Credit: J. Napoléon Gérard Junior, Musée de la Gaspésie, Fonds J. Napoléon Gérard junior, P15/A/3b/2/18

Snowmobiling: From Mode of Transportation to Winter Sport

In the first half of the 20th century, it was very difficult to travel during the winter in Gaspésie. Snowmobiles made it much easier for the locals to get around during the cold season. Once the roads were safe enough to travel by car, snowmobiling became a popular winter sport.

Snowmobiles as a mode of transportation

Joseph-Armand Bombardier created the first winter tracked vehicle, an enclosed snowmobile, in 1937. In Gaspésie, in the late 1940s, at a time when snow was tamped down on the roads, people generally travelled by horse-drawn carriage or dogsled in the winter, though a few used these early snowmobiles. In 1959, Bombardier started producing the Ski-Doo, an economical and reliable means of winter travel that greatly increased the mobility of rural populations.

Fun fact: the original brand name for Bombardier snowmobiles was supposed to be “Ski-Dog,” because it was intended to be used by hunters and trappers to replace dogsleds. However, a typographical error in Bombardier’s catalogue changed the name to “Ski-Doo.” Joseph-Armand Bombardier liked the sound of the new name, so he decided to keep it. The iconic yellow colour of the Ski-Doo brand also has a fun origin story. Looking for inexpensive solutions for the design of his snowmobiles, Bombardier went to a government auction… where he purchased some leftover yellow paint from the Ministry of Transportation!

In the first year that snowmobiles were available on the market, Bombardier sold 225 of these vehicles. Very quickly, however, snowmobiling became more than just a means of transportation, especially in Québec. In the 1960s, other manufacturers began to make and sell snowmobiles, and snowmobile clubs were established. By the 1970s, at least 250,000 snowmobiles were sold in North America every year. In 1987, about 700,000 Canadian households owned at least one snowmobile. To get a glimpse of the different models built over time, you can visit an impressive exhibition of vintage snowmobiles owned by brothers Jacques and Bernard Gauthier at the Copper Hotel in Murdochville.

In a region like Gaspésie, where snow is abundant, snowmobiling is particularly popular. It is part of the local way of life and is considered an element of the region’s cultural heritage. The trails, which have multiplied over time in the region’s magical winter landscapes, have become a major draw for winter tourists.

Snowmobilers admire the view of Chaleur Bay from the top of a
mountain in Carleton-sur-Mer. Photo: Roger St-Laurent

Gaspésie: A popular snowmobile destination

In the winter, visitors from all over North America flock to Gaspésie to enjoy snowmobile adventures, attracted by the region’s breathtaking scenery and heavy snowfall. Gaspésie is in fact one of the top 3 favourite destinations for Quebecers, many of whom own a snowmobile. In 2017, nearly 200,000 snowmobiles were registered in Québec, and Quebecers purchased almost 90,000 annual trail permits during the 2017-2018 season.

Snowmobilers now rely on a well-developed trail network in Gaspésie, with 3000 km of marked and groomed trails giving access to spectacular sea and mountain landscapes. There are 17 snowmobile clubs in the region, whose many members and volunteers are involved in maintaining, marking, securing and improving the trails. Backcountry snowmobiling (off-trail riding) is also becoming increasingly popular; however, it is only permitted in certain areas and requires caution.

Several marked rides are found throughout Gaspésie for trips ranging from a few hours to a few days. The Gateway to Gaspésie Loop (190 km) will take you to see, among other things, amazing “snow ghosts” and the observation tower on the Saint-Pierre Mountain, in La Rédemption, as well as the superb 360° view from the top of Radar Mountain.

The Small Tour of Gaspésie (950 km) and the Grand Tour of Gaspésie (1160 km) will both give you the opportunity to take in a view of legendary Percé Rock trapped in ice. You can also admire the majestic Chic-Choc Mountains, which offer abundant powder snow. In Mont-Saint-Pierre, you must stop at the magnificent lookouts on the mountain, at the edge of a cliff, to soak up breathtaking views of the sea, the surrounding villages and the region of Côte-Nord (which is visible on a clear day)!

In Carleton-sur-Mer, be sure to contemplate the panoramic view from the Mount Saint-Joseph lookout. You can see Chaleur Bay—a member of the Most Beautiful Bays in the World Club—and the coast of New Brunswick. The peak of this mountain is accessible via local trails (maintained by the Mont Carleton snowmobile club), which total 300 km across the mountains in Carleton-sur-Mer.

In addition to providing a wide range of trails and ideal snow conditions, Gaspésie also offers snowmobilers numerous restaurants, hotels and hostels all along the trails. There is nothing like a good local brew and tasty dishes featuring Gaspesian flavours to inspire you to dream of the winter adventures awaiting you the next day!

To be in the loop and find out more about snowmobiling in Gaspésie, visit tourisme-gaspesie.com and plan your trip today! #gaspesiewinter

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