December 6-8, 2019 - Kelowna BC, Canada

This year's Big White Winter Rally was a challenging event. With many new radio operators, lots of rally excitement and a repeater failure, it was a very exciting time.

Mike VE7KPZ headed out to the Westridge Warming hut at Big White on Friday night after work and camped out in the 'Lunchbox", the Unimog's affectionately named camper (Garry Garbutt VE7EIY naming credit).

Upon arrival, Mike checked in with net control at the Patrol room. Vince VE6LK and Liel VE7LSH, the net control team, were preparing their stations, paperwork, etc. It was nice to check in with them, exchange some stories and then off we all went to get some sleep.

Before heading to bed, Mike decided to test his equipment working the local repeaters that were designated for the rally radio control effort. Of course, this caught the scan of many a local HAM so bedtime was not early. Many 2m QSOs were had Friday night.

Saturday started with the sweet sound of performance rally car engines. With a large coffee Mike and the other radio volunteers attended the volunteer and radio meetings at the hut. It was great to see John Clarke VE7JXC also offering service at the event. John and Mike had worked together providing radio support for the Okanagan Marathon event earlier in the fall.

With the meetings done, all HAMs scattered and made their ways to their respective radio positions. Many worked as "blockers", some in start/finish control stations and others in various other locations around the rally course.

John and Mike worked together to find the first entry point into the forestry service roads that the rally runs on. They then split up, John heading to his position as a blocker (in a great corner btw) and Mike to the spectator location.

Mike was without his usual partner Jane VE7WWJ this weekend (she had other obligations), so getting to his position early was smart. Upon arrival he worked with the rally marshalls and organizer to help secure the area and direct spectators.

Soon it was time to clear the course and the radio traffic increased. The rally then started and everyone got a great show. The roads were snow covered and very slippery. The cars looked and sounded great as they rallied by. There were a LOT of spectators this year - it was great to see a growing interest in the sport.

Once Saturday's stages were done and the course cleared, it was time for tear down. All signs of the rally were removed from the course so that a cleanup crew would not be needed on the following Monday.

Mike was a little slow packing up the "Lunchbox" but that was a good thing. When everyone else had left, who rolled in but Mike's friend Elliot Vossen with a couple of other marshalls from start control. The driver's vehicle had stalled just behind the Unimog and it would not restart. After a bit of troubleshooting the owner's decision was to be flat towed behind the Unimog out to the main road. They would meditate on what to do next on the way there. It was a long ~3 km at a max speed of 12 km/h on the icy FSR.

Once at the main road, the owner's decision was made to continue flat towing up to the Westridge warming hut, where the car could be parked safely until arrangements could be made for the car's repair. You see, the owner was from Washington state, so it was a bit trickier than being a local. In a blizzard, at a max speed of 28 km/h, the Unimog effortlessly towed the car up to the hut. Elliot and Mike had a nice catch-up chat in the Unimog on the way.

Once at the hut and the car pushed into it's parking spot, everyone scattered to get to their beds. Mike had planned to grab a shower at the resort, but by now it was midnight. To the next spectator location became the new plan. He would camp out there for the night and awake the next day to the sounds of spectators' car engines. Of course, the night also ended with another 2m QSO with VE7VZ on the local repeater - thanks Doug! Also, thanks to Elliot for the ice cold beer left in the Unimog's cupholder - much appreciated after a long day.

Sunday's stages were very busy. The Sunday spectator location is part way down the rally course, so getting spectator cars in and out between stages, and locking the area down for safety took a bit of effort. Mike was happy to be working with Michelle and her team of marshalls. It was impressive how the team was able to politely control the crowds and keep everyone safe.

Sunday afternoon was also fun because the primary repeater became deaf all of a sudden. With only a 20 minute delay, all radio traffic QSYed to the secondary repeater and the event continued. The OCARC tech committee has been made aware of the issue.

At the end of the day, with the course cleanup done, all parties drove up to the Happy Valley day lodge for champagne ceremonies and a giant feast. It was fun again to sit and chat with the rally participants, other HAMs and rally volunteers.

Big thanks to Vince VE6LK and Liel VE7LSH who were cool and calm in a rather busy net control. There were rally cars off, sweep vehicles off, vehicle recoveries, volunteer lunch delivery logistics, spectator ins and out plus a repeater failure to keep them very busy this weekend.

Also big thanks to all of the other volunteers who came out and offered service. This kind of event is a great way to become proficient with your radio and learn to work better under pressure.

Lastly, thanks to the spectators who came out to see the event. It was nice to see more of you this year... and remember, if you ever want to see different parts of the rally, become a HAM and take on a "blocker" position. It's the best way to see the action very close up from different locations.

It was fun,
NORAC vice-president 2017-2020, NORAC technical committee member and BWWR radio volunteer

Ps: if you were unable to attend the event, you can watch the highlight video here on YouTube. The full-length event TV program is expected on TSN mid January and then on YouTube a month or so after that.


Here's a great pic from the POV of a rally net controller (compliments of Vince VE6LK):



Here's a pic of the spectator location on Sunday (compliments of Ian Cowan):

Yes, you can see the "Lunchbox" in the background. ;)


Here's a pic of the spectator location on Saturday (compliments of CARSRallyTV):