The Beginning – 1960s

In the early 1960s snowmobiling wasn’t the popular recreational sport it is today. The only snowmobiles at that time were the Snow Cruiser and the Hus-Ski Snow Traveller. Although the Hus-Ski was a very versatile machine used by hunters, farmers, utility companies transporting their crews, and men cutting wood for paper companies and for lumber firms, it was big and cumbersome. It was advertised as safe enough for a child to operate and very easy to maneuver, but it was a heavy machine.

In the winter of 1963/64 a trapper from the Lumby area saw his first Ski-Doo while on a trip to Alberta. He was impressed by its lighter weight and faster speed (25 to 45 m.p.h.) He asked Jack Passmore if he could get one for him. At the time Jack was the manager at Seymour Equipment, the company that sold snowmobiles in Vernon. A company in Creston had an ad in the Vernon paper for the sale of Ski-Doos, but at that time there was no distributor in BC. Jack contacted Bombardier in Valcourt, Quebec, the company that manufactured the machines, about becoming the distributor in BC. The company was planning to send someone to Vancouver to set up a distributorship, but Jack aggressively sought to have it here in Vernon and was successful in becoming the sole distributor in British Columbia. Seymour Equipment became the dealer for Ski Doo but a separate company had to be set up to become the Distributor. In 1965 Alpine Distributors Ltd. was formed with Jack Passmore as General Sales Manager and Eldon Seymour as President. In November of 1967 Alpine Distributors moved to a location where Briteland is now located because they needed to be near the railway. In 1973 they relocated to what became the Alpine Centre on Kal Lake Road.

In the summer of 1965 the first shipment of Ski-Doo snowmobiles arrived in Vernon. Sales were very good with the machines selling for $825. The Ski-Doo was advertised as the only snowmobile that could pass the egg test by gliding over an egg in fresh snow without breaking it. The public soon realized that this machine would be great for fun times in the winter and Ski-Dooing became the greatest recreational sport in North America. Six machines were sold to Tom Barton who set up a rental company. About this time several other makes of snowmobiles were being manufactured and sold in Canada and the United States.

Soon after the arrival of these snowmobiles in Vernon, in February 1966, snowmobile races were organized. Snowmobiling was a new sport and the races were very popular with the public. The first race was held at Kin Race Track and thousands attended to watch this exciting event. Some well-known racers from Vernon were Don Stinn, Jack Tordoff, John Wolfe, Art Fester, Bill Udy, Bruce Georgeson, Chuck Watkinson, and Dave Sparrow of Kelowna. It’s interesting to see the snowmobile “attire” of the day; just regular winter clothing and no helmets! There were 54 entries that year and organizers were convinced this would be an annual event. The following year, February 1967, a two day event took place during winter carnival. On Saturday there were relay races and the B.C. Championship cross country race was held. The following day the spectators were treated to obstacle races, a slalom race, oval race and the Powder Puff Derby, a special race for the ladies. To find a cross country route for the race, according to a newspaper article dated February 1966, six riders went a distance of 60 miles starting from the BX. They travelled to Becker Lake, to the top of Vernon Hill then down to the Coldstream to the east side of Kalamalka Lake. They then went to Beaver Lake, Aberdeen Lake and Nicklen Lake along logging roads and back to Vernon. It is unsure whether this was the route used for the race. Unfortunately mild weather and a lack of adequate snow caused problems some years. The B.C. Championship Races were a very important part of the Snowmobile Association with members helping to organize and help out on race day.

In March 1967 a meeting was held to organize the Vernon Snowmobile Club. About 35 to 40 people attended and elected the first directors. Bruce Georgeson was president, Ray Redstone was vice-president, Arthur Abram was secretary, and Jack Tordoff was treasurer. Other directors were Norman Sasges, Dick Kimball, Jack Passmore, Don Stinn, and Peter Genier of Vernon, and Ray O’Rourke of Lumby. The new club was named the Vernon Snowmobile Association. The aim of this new club was to promote better fellowship, organize trail rides and family winter sports and also to promote bigger and better Snowmobile Championship races next year. The fees that year were $2.00 per person over the age of 16. The president stressed that it was extremely important to observe the law at Silver Star. If snowmobilers wanted to use the Park they had to stay off the ski runs unless there was an emergency.

At the July 31, 1967 meeting a discussion was held regarding the building of a cabin on the burn. The Parks Board had been contacted and had no objections but consent had not yet been given. The club went ahead with plans for the cabin and a building committee was appointed. In August 1967 permission was received from the Parks Board to build a cabin in Silver Star Park. The members agreed to spend $400.00 on the cabin construction. Also, executive members were encouraged to sell charter memberships for $10.00 to help with the finances of the club. A list of the charter members would be put in the chalet.

At the end of August 1967 construction was started on a 46 by 24 foot chalet. Don Stinn was the building committee chairman. Twenty eight volunteers worked to complete the two story shelter as soon as possible, as at the 6000 foot level snow could fall any time after September 15. This chalet was unique in that it was constructed completely by volunteer labor and by selling charter memberships. Materials were donated by Vernon and area merchants. It was originally estimated that the chalet would be valued at $5000.00 but because the size increased the value was estimated to be $8000.00. A spiral staircase was built from the first to the second floor, a citizen band radio antenna was installed, and a septic tank and water system also installed. This chalet was the first of its kind in Western Canada. The Quebec and Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs requested details on how this chalet was being built and financed. At this time the Snowmobile Association was sure that this area of Silver Star would have huge growth in the coming years. How right they were!

At the end of 1967 there were 67 paid-up members. The bank balance was $404.84.

In February 1968 B.C.’s Education and Labor Minister L. R. Peterson and North Okanagan MLA Pat Jordan officially opened the snowmobile chalet. The Minister, along with a party of 30, went on a snowmobile safari to the chalet to officiate at the opening.

Responsible snowmobiling was an important part of this early club. At one meeting Sandy Boyd gave a talk from a farmer’s point of view. He told the members that private property should be respected, especially gates and fences. Members were advised to stay away from the Repeater Station, the Forestry Look-out, the ski runs and cables and to use caution on the section of Silver Star Road between the Repeater Road turn-off and the newly designated parking area. Also, a report was made by Constable Howard Bruce of the R.C.M.P. regarding licensing, permits and rules and regulations pertaining to the operation of snow vehicles on public roads.

A tentative constitution and by-laws were drawn up in October/November 1967. It was recommended that safety rules and regulations be incorporated in the club’s constitution.

Membership fees were also increased to $5.00 single and $7.50 family for the 67-68 season. Upon payment of membership fees one crest would be given to a single member and two crests to families. In December 1967 there were 67 paid up members. There was also a request from Search and Rescue for cooperation of the club in the event of any emergency. A committee was formed to assist Search and Rescue as needed.

Work continued on the chalet throughout the winter of 1967, such as oiling the floors, building a counter, insulating, getting a table and chairs, wiring lights, hooking up the water and installing a new heater.

In January 1968 the club joined the B.C. Snow Vehicle Association. Vernon Snowmobile Association had 75 paid up members and $433.95 in the bank.

The new executive for the 1968/69 year discussed several projects for the upcoming year. These included obtaining a large map of Silver Star Park area, having a definite boundary between the snowmobile and ski areas, setting up development plans, and a program to co-ordinate safaris, racing and chalet activities.

In March 1968 an open house was held at the chalet with approximately 100 people and 75 machines in attendance.

At a meeting in August 1968 the club wanted a newsletter published during the winter season. This would help in communicating with out of town members. Bob Passmore was the first editor. The first newsletter was sent out in September 1968 but still didn’t have a name. Some names suggested were Snow Topics, Snow Flake, The Blizzard, and Snow Blow’n. The name chosen was Star Riders. Club activities would also be advertised in the newspaper and on the radio.

Plans were made to have a float in the 1969 Winter Carnival Parade.

The end of 1968 saw approximately 98 paid up members and $527.25 in the bank (as of January 13/69). 

The Vernon Snowmobile Association was always ready and willing to help in any emergency. In January 1969 a snowstorm in the Fraser Valley caused dairy farmers in the Matsqui-Sumas-Abbotsford area to be snowbound, unable to deliver their milk to the dairies. Eleven members from Vernon took their machines by trucks as far as they could and then travelled to the farms to pick up the milk and take it on sleds to waiting transport trucks to have it delivered to the dairies. This selfless act resulted in the members receiving the Armand Bombardier Award. It was presented to them at city hall by Bombardier Ltd. President Laurent Beaudoin of Valcourt, Quebec. Assisting him was Mayor William Halina. This was the first time the award had been presented in Western Canada.

During these early years the members worked tirelessly in the off season to make new trails, work on improving the chalet, cutting wood, making signs and generally doing everything possible to make Silver Star the best snowmobiling area in Canada.

Meetings were held with Silver Star Park Board to ensure all rules and regulations were being followed and to promote harmony among all users of the mountain.

Dances, family days and safaris were held to promote fellowship among the members and also to meet members from other clubs.