Big fun at Winter Mega Run

Trevor Grant / Winnipeg Free PressOrganizers estimate more than 600 vehicles were at the Manitoba Winter Mega Run.

Trevor Grant / Winnipeg Free Press

Organizers estimate more than 600 vehicles were at the Manitoba Winter Mega Run.

Throughout the winter most Manitoba drivers do their best to avoid getting stuck in the snow, but last Saturday an army of off-road vehicle enthusiasts spent a sunny afternoon buried to the axles in the fluffy white stuff.

The massive gathering, dubbed Manitoba Winter Mega Run, took place near Seddons Corner, (just east of Beausejour), on a vast area of Crown land which has long been a favourite destination for local off-road aficionados.

According to Steve Rempel, the main organizer of the event, this year marked the ninth such gathering in the area — which officially became known as the Winter Mega Run in 2010.

“In 2012 I took over organizing and sponsoring the event,” says Rempel, who was quick to point out the help he receives from his friend Devan Dwyer from YetiFab OffRoad, the crew at Di-Tech Restorations and the event’s main sponsor, Extreme Coatings in Oak Bluff.

Rempel, who is 34 and from Winnipeg, has honed his organizational skills with the company he owns and operates, Prairie Exotics, a business specializing in animal rescue and education that does presentations with a variety of animal species at schools and special events.

“We wanted to take it from a fun run with friends into something much bigger. With events like King of the Hammers and Trucks Gone Wild exploding in the last couple years, and Manitobans’ passion for off-roading, we knew an event like this would be well-received.”

Well-received indeed. Although an official count wasn’t made, Rempel estimates more than 600 vehicles, and as many as 2,000 spectators, joined in the festivities.

From early morning until late afternoon a massive variety of vehicles, ranging from lifted pickup trucks, SUVs, ATVs, snowmobiles, motorcycles with studded tires and even a few modified cars, toured the area’s many trails and battled to reach the top of several snow-covered summits, steep enough to almost qualify as mountains here in Manitoba.

To the uninitiated the simple question is why?

“Manitoba has off-road related events from spring to summer, but there’s nothing in winter unless you ride a snowmobile,” Rempel says. “After months stuck inside, this gives people motivation to finish those winter projects and get outside and have some fun. We also use it as a platform for local small businesses, specifically off-road related, to advertise directly to the off-road community. Plus it’s a great time to hang out with friends and check out some awesome off-road vehicles.”

Thunderdome from the post-apocalyptic film series Mad Max — only colder — is the best description I can offer for what was witnessed. While the majority of the vehicles were driven to the event, many others were towed on trailers and are definitely not ready for the road. Those vehicles run an off-road vehicle, or ORV plate, issued by Manitoba Public Insurance to basically any vehicle destined for off-road only use. The builds range from marvels of modern engineering to cobbled together rusty and dilapidated vehicles, which were quite likely shredded for scrap in the days following the event.

For a seasoned gearhead like me, the entire day was absolute bliss.

Judging by the constant clicking of cellphone cameras when Ashton Sanduliak tooled around in his awesome 1975 Toyota Land Cruiser, it seems my top pick was also one of the crowd favourites. Sanduliak, 31 and from my hometown of Oakbank, is a journeyman electrician with AC Electrical Systems and has spent the better part of the past year restoring his Land Cruiser. It’s now ready to tackle pretty much anything Mother Nature has to offer.

“It has been restored from the ground up and I swapped in a 350 Chevrolet engine,” Sanduliak says.

“I’ve always been a Toyota guy; they are really strong, so when this one came up for sale I grabbed it and have been working on it ever since.”

Sanduliak was joined by a few of his off-road buddies, who heard about the event a few years ago. “We come back every year,” he says. “It’s a blast, the funnest day of the winter.”

Winnipegger Chris Toffen, 36, a custom home audio and video installation expert with Advance Electronics, chose a less traditional vehicle for his off-road rig. His 1996 Geo Tracker rolls on tracks that make it look like a mini tank as it creeps through the snow.

“It’s a fun little toy,” Toffen says. “Plus it was cheaper than a side-by-side and has great heat for the winter.”

Toffen, who owns a custom 2002 Pontiac Trans-Am, is also a regular in the summer car cruising community and enjoys both hobbies immensely.

“The hot rod scene is lots of fun too, but it’s expensive to build a show car and this can be done on more of a budget. The vibe is similar, though — everyone gets along great at these off-road events and shares their ideas, just like at car shows,” he says. “It really is an incredible scene.”

For Rempel, that camaraderie is precisely why he dedicates so much effort into organizing Manitoba Winter Mega Run. “Seeing friends I see only once a year, seeing my favorite rigs and the new ones, watching guys beat their rigs and the smiles on the faces of those watching are just a few of the highlights.”

Although the majority of off-road enthusiasts clean up after themselves, Rempel and his crew endeavour to leave the area in better shape than it was in prior to the event. Taurcan Construction brought in a large dump trailer for everyone to deposit garbage.

“We appreciate the opportunity to use the area and enjoy this event,” says Rempel. “We want to make sure we leave it better than when we got there so we can continue to enjoy the area in the future.”

Trevor Grant / Winnipeg Free PressOff-roaders race to the top of one of the many hills found near Seddons Corner.

Trevor Grant / Winnipeg Free Press

Off-roaders race to the top of one of the many hills found near Seddons Corner.

Trevor Grant / Winnipeg Free PressAshton Sanduliak with his 1975 Toyota Land Cruiser.

Trevor Grant / Winnipeg Free Press

Ashton Sanduliak with his 1975 Toyota Land Cruiser.

Trevor Grant / Winnipeg Free PressOrganizer Steve Rempel with his 1993 Toyota pickup.

Trevor Grant / Winnipeg Free Press

Organizer Steve Rempel with his 1993 Toyota pickup.

Trevor Grant / Winnipeg Free PressChris Toffen with his 1996 Geo Tracker.

Trevor Grant / Winnipeg Free Press

Chris Toffen with his 1996 Geo Tracker.