To begin to understand Mark Daniels, you must first discard the stereotypes of a snowmobile owner. Yes, the president of the Klondike Snowmobile Association (KSA) owns snowmobiles – and ATVs and dirtbikes and quads and boats – but these are mostly used to get to far-off wilderness areas so that he can hike and camp and hunt.
“I will ride somewhere to hike somewhere and then enjoy the quiet,” Daniels said.
“It is a convenient way to see more country and get to more places. A three-day hike is not my thing. If I can ride there, hike it and be back by night, then I can be onto something else.”
And, quite often, he is accompanied by his wife, son and/or daughter. This is family time.
“Zane (his 14-year-old son) was born in February and we went out that spring,” Daniels said.
“He would not sleep unless he was on the ATV. His mother would be up all night with him, but he would only sleep if I was on the ATV and would hold him. I just pulled up close to the campfire and leaned back.”
Now, he said, his son is progressing up through machines just like he did.
Daniels’ first experience on a motorized vehicle was at a friend’s house: “It was a little Honda mini-bike – a Honda 30 – when I was five or six.
“I wasn’t nervous; it looked interesting and exciting and it made noise and it moved.
“My parents bought me a series of dirt bikes that got bigger and faster. I have always been outdoorsy and have always been athletic; motorsports is a good combination of being active and being outdoors.”
“Yeah,” Daniels replied. “Just riding is physically challenging.
“Motocross riders are some of the best athletes in the world. It baffles some doctors that they can maintain such a high heart rate for so long without their hearts actually exploding.
“Even at a reasonable pace, it is a good workout for muscles and cardiovascular.”
Born and raised in the Yukon, Daniels left for school. When he got back, his wife, Nita Daniels, was offered a teaching job in Ross River.
“The first thing I did was buy a couple of snowmobiles.”
Returning to Whitehorse in 1999, three years later, he heard there was a snowmobile association.
“It wasn’t long before I got sucked into being a director and then vice-president immediately after.”
The president, at that time, was Peter Greenlaw.
“Peter was a really big-vision guy,” he said. “He got the KSA involved in the TransCanada Trail.”
When Greenlaw became ill, the two of them would go out on ATVs to clear brush because it was the only way he would be able to get out into the wilderness. That had an impact on Daniels: “People with mobility issues can’t hike into the backcountry.”
After Greenlaw’s passing, Daniels became president.
He now spends a thousand hours a year on KSA business. A survey once pegged his contribution – when you calculate in the use of his office, vehicles, shop and his time – at $100,000 a year.
There are a lot of meetings and “tons of paperwork” as he administers the maintenance of 600 kilometres of trails.
And, although they have a groomer who is out eight to 10 hours a day in the winter, Daniels is out inspecting and clearing debris from the trails, himself.
Usually, however, he is out with a family member. His daughter, Natalie, once asked if they could just go for a ride without stopping. So, he just took mental notes of trouble spots he would need to return to.
This is something Daniels wishes Yukoners would understand a little more: “We are multi-use trail stewards, we do all things around multi-use by maintaining and advocating.”
“We know that 80 per cent of the use is non-motorized and we are happy to provide this service to everyone.”
But they are frustrated when they do all of that work and then someone suggests that the trails cannot be multi-use at all.
For instance, Daniels said he may get a call from a member of the public, or a city official, and be asked to remove a fallen tree from a trail that ATVs are not allowed on.
“We do it for the public good. We don’t discriminate and, besides, our members hike and walk their dogs on these trails, too.
“We have such potential here to have a great multi-trail system that everybody can enjoy.
“What we need is more people on the trails, not less; more people working on the trails, not less.”
So, even if someone doesn’t use a motorized vehicle, they are welcome to join the 922 members, and 38 corporate members, of the Klondike Snowmobile Association. More information can be found at www.KSA.yk.ca.