SUNDRE — After being cancelled last year as a result of COVID-19 public health measures, the Sundre Slingfest swooped back into town over the weekend.
Although organizers Shawna and Mark Brackley, who own and operate Wagons West RV Park, initially weren’t certain whether they’d be able to proceed this year due to uncertainty leading up to the event, several expressions of interest from fellow enthusiasts inspired them to plan the rally.
“This was last minute,” said Shawna in the days leading up to the event, which she described as “super casual.”
As lining up concrete plans in the months leading up to the event was essentially impossible due to prior uncertainty regarding restrictions, several sponsors remained reluctant to make any commitments to participate. But a couple of local businesses in the end stepped up to pitch in, she said.
The inaugural rally was held in 2017, and has with the exception of last year run annually since.
“What we’re trying to do is keep it alive and on people’s minds,” said Shawna about their decision to make arrangements despite that uncertainty as well as ongoing hurdles including international travel restrictions.
While past rallies brought up riders from as far away as the southeastern U.S., this year’s event catered to a more local crowd, she said.
“This year, it’s mostly going to be Albertans,” she said.
The furthest riders hailed from neighbouring Saskatchewan, but the majority were from Alberta, she said.
“Some had never been to Sundre before. It was a whole new crowd,” she said, adding there were nevertheless a few who returned after enjoying themselves in past years.
Aside from getting a chance to enjoy a pleasant cruise in their prized rides, the poker rally also introduces participants to some of the local sights, including Water Valley, Bergen, Didsbury, Bowden, the Dickson Dam and many places between.
“We usually go all the way out to the Bearberry Saloon when we do our poker rally — it’s beautiful out there,” said Mark, adding that wasn’t possible this year due ongoing bridge repair work.
“I can’t wait until next year — that’ll all be finished,” he said.
But just being able to once again hit the open road and lead the convoy of fellow Slingshot aficionados after being forced to cancel last year was welcome, he said, adding it was great to see so many new faces.
And at least the Bergen Road resurfacing project along Twp. Rd. 320 was completed.
“It’s all brand new pavement, so I made sure to throw that in there,” said Mark.
Even without any paid advertising leading up to the rally, which was basically promoted by word of mouth and through social media, Shawna said they were pleasantly surprised by the number of people who signed up.
“We have 20 slingshots registered — that was not expected,” she said, later adding on Monday morning during a follow-up interview that while they all showed up, some were unable to stay for the whole weekend.
But whether they came for the day or for the weekend, the riders all brought with them some dollars to spend in town.
“There was a big boost to the community,” said Shawna, adding all but a couple of participants stayed in local accommodations, while they all spent at local gas stations and restaurants as well.
The Brackleys already have their sights set on next year, when they plan to return to the international stage and welcome visitors from the U.S. who have already expressed a keen commitment to participate.
“We already have our Banff day scheduled for next year,” said Shawna, adding the couple is excited about the possibility of putting on a three-day rally.
And the organizers sat down with the participants who stayed around a little longer for a post-event debrief session to discuss what they most enjoyed about the rally.
“There was nothing that they didn’t like!” said Mark, adding the challenge will be determining what preferred elements to focus on.
“We want to change it up a bit so it’s different,” he said, adding too much repetition risks losing the interest of riders who might otherwise want to return.