to Find the Best Winter Recreation in British Columbia
by Jan Lee
If there is one thing that British Columbians know about, it is where
to find the best opportunities for skiing. Resorts like Whistler/Blackcomb,
Peaks, and Apex
have put British Columbia on the ski map and made it one of the top
locations for winter vacations.
Those who are new to BC's slopes, will find that BC also has a number
of small resorts and back road ski areas that offer exceptional winter
activities. Resorts such as Kimberley, in the Kootenays, and Hemlock
near Harrison Lake, offer a wide range of winter sports. Community cross-country
ski areas throughout the province provide trails at a minimal cost to
skiers of every level of experience.
One of BC's "unlimited" resources is the heli-skiing terrain that offers
another challenging alternative for the more adventurous explorer. Just
the same, visitors need to be aware of the inherent risks of back country
travel, and the proper precautions that are necessary for any serious-minded
Our tour begins on Vancouver's North Shore. It is here, most Vancouverites
will tell you, that they first learned to ski - overlooking the panoramic
view of English Bay, a half hour from BC's largest city. Grouse
Seymour and Cypress
Bowl may not have the most dramatic runs, but they command a loyal
following and are minutes from North Vancouver.
Cypress Bowl has the largest number of trails of the three, with 25
groomed runs and 537 m/1,750 feet of vertical climb. Snowboarding is
a popular sport on the North Shore, and each of the mountains has its
own snowboard park. Snowshoe tours are an added feature at Grouse.
Remember your all weather tires or chains when skiing on the North
Shore. Don't let the proximity of these ski areas fool you: Even though
the roads are well maintained, the staff of both Mt. Seymour and Cypress
Bowl see their yearly share of drivers who get stranded without proper
Vancouver Island, BC's most famous summer paradise, can lay claim to
its own ski resort. Those tall peaks you see in the distance while travelling
by ferry to the Island include Mount Washington. Located approximately
31 km (19 miles) west of Courtenay, Mount
Washington has deeper snowfall than any other resort in British
Columbia, with an average depth of 8 metres/26 feet. Good skiing conditions
often last past Easter. While Mount Washington is not the highest peak
in BC (1590 metres/5,216 feet), it is second only to Whistler in popularity
at this time of year.
Accommodations are available on Mount Washington or in Comox
Valley, close by. Several of the hotels in Courtenay
offer shuttle buses to the ski resort.
Close by, Forbidden
Ski Area, is a smaller recreation area with 350 metres/1,150 feet
of vertical rise and 21 runs of varying expertise.
Directly across from Courtenay on the Mainland is Powell
River. 112 km/70 miles south of Powell River, is Tetrahedron Provincial
Park and Mount Steele. There are 4 cabins on site that offer a base
for cross country exploration of the nearby lake area. Consult the Forest
Service office in Sechelt for a map and directions to the park.
Highway 101 south takes you towards Vancouver, and the connecting road
to Whistler/Blackcomb, BC's most popular ski resort. Whistler (2182
m/7,160 ft) and Blackcomb (2284 m/7,494 ft) offer a full array of winter
activities from snowboarding to dogsledding, and snow-cat skiing to
heli-skiing. The resort also offers 3 gondolas, 17 chairlifts, 4 T-bars
and a full complement of services and accommodations. Cross-country
trails can also be accessed at the resort and wind peacefully throughout
the surrounding countryside. Garibaldi Provincial Park, which surrounds
Whistler, is another popular cross-country ski area. The Pemberton area
(32 km/20 miles north of Whistler) is well known for its back country
The Pemberton Icefield is a remnant of the last ice age and extends
from Lillooet River to the headwaters of Squamish River. Come equipped
with a detailed map, or an experienced guide of the area. Pemberton
Helicopters can fly you and your skis directly to the icefield where
you can ski out via Ring Creek.
TLH Heliskiing offers
back country skiing in the Chilcotin Mountains. TLH operates out of
a lodge on the shores of Tyax Lake, 200 km/125 miles north of Vancouver
and offers a variety of personalized skiing and snowboarding packages.
The Lillooet-Williams Lake areas are full of enticing landscapes and
unusual activities for the more adventurous skier. There are a number
of routes you can take to Lillooet, and the more direct from Pemberton
is to continue north on Highway 99. Travellers should remember however:
While the Sea-to Sky Highway
is one of Western BC's most spectacular drives, the last 100 km/63 miles
of the route involves several hairpin turns and steep grades. I am told
that this area receives less snowfall than Highway 1 east, which runs
northeast through the Fraser Canyon. Both routes are well maintained,
but deserve caution during icy or rainy periods.
Experienced ice climbers will enjoy Joffre Lakes (approximately 20
km/13 miles northeast of Pemberton), which sits at the edge of a glacier.
Climbers are warned not to walk on the glacier.
Marble Canyon Park, 35 km/22 miles northeast of Lillooet on Highway
97 sees a large number of ice climbers each year as well. During the
summer, the park provides a scenic camping area under its towering limestone
The area that stretches between 99 Mile House and 108 Mile Ranch could
easily be called BC's cross-country capital. More than 200 km/120 miles
of trails loop through the area, which is home to the Cariboo Cross-Country
Ski Marathon in February. You can find out more information about skiing
in this area by contacting the 100 Mile House Info Centre, or Gunner's
Cycle and X-Country Ski Shop in 108 Mile Ranch. The Cariboo Forest Region
publishes a brochure on cross country ski trails. Be sure to pick up
a copy of the map for this region as well.
Timothy Ski Area, 50 minutes north of 100
Mile House, off Highway 97, offers a family skiing atmosphere, 25
runs and great prices.
(120km/75 miles north of Williams
(both are directly east of Quesnel on Highway 26) are home to cross-country
skiing as and the annual Wells Winter carnival in January. Making the
ski circuit is easy in the Thompson Okanagan, which has more than 5
major ski areas to its credit. Southeast of Williams Lake on Highway
1, is Kamloops
and a small, family- oriented facility called Harper
Mountain. Located on Paul Road just north of Kamloops, it has one
triple-chair and one T-bar. Night skiing is available Wednesday-Friday.
Peaks Resort, located on Todd Mountain off of Highway 5, north of
Kamloops, is known for its relaxed atmosphere - and for its skiing director,
Olympic gold medalist Nancy Green Raine. Its 1000 m/3,000 feet of vertical
gives it some of the longest runs around. A skating rink and an extensive,
well groomed set of cross-country trails are also available. The resort
regularly hosts snowboarding and skiing competitions and supports a
local amateur ski club.
Wells Gray Park, approximately 150 km/94 miles north of Kamloops, is
a favourite for back country skiers. Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing
is based in Blue River and has a growing reputation for top-notch heli-skiing
East of Kamloops on Highway 1 is Salmon Arm. The Larch Hills Cross-Country
Area has 140 km/87 miles of cross country trails and a chalet that is
maintained by the Larch Hills Ski Club. The Salmon Arm Info Centre can
give you directions to the trailhead.
South of Salmon Arm is the Okanagan, the Interior's "playland", with
3 major ski resorts. Silver
Star Mountain is located 22 km/14 miles north of Vernon, off of
Highway 97. Set in 1890's architecture, the resort's 84 trails are spread
over a vertical descent of 760 m/2,491 feet, with 50 per cent of them
designed for intermediate use.
Mountain Resort has a longstanding reputation for excellent downhill
skiing. Located 32 km/20 miles southwest of Penticton off Highway 97,
the resort is quickly becoming a year-round attraction. Beaconsfield
Mountain commands a vertical rise of 605 m/2,000 feet, with 50 trails
divided between 4 levels of expertise. There are a number of activities
for the kids, and a Family Activity Centre that caters to young adults
White is 54 km/34 miles southeast of Kelowna via Highway 33 and
Big White Road. Located at an elevation of 1,661 m/5,450 feet, the village
provides an enchanting if not unusual setting for a winter vacation,
with a vista that is almost worth the trip alone. The "Kids Centre"
is innovative as well, with an Alice- in-Wonderland like atmosphere
that provides enjoyment for young skiers of all ages. There are over
60 ski runs at Big White, most of which are designed for intermediate
skiers. Night skiing is also available.
of Don Weixl/Silver Star Resort
6 km/4 miles from Apex is the Nickel Plate Nordic Centre, in Nickel
Plate Provincial Park. There are 30 km/19 miles of groomed and track-set
trails, with similar snow conditions to those at Apex. Nickel Plate
is accessed by a 30 km/19 mile gravel road off Highway 3a.
Baldy Family Ski Area, 36 km/23 miles east of Oliver at the base
of the Okanagan, has 11 runs and offers multiple winter activities.
Accommodation includes 95 rental cabins and a condominium on site.
Northeast of the Okanagan and Salmon
Arm, the Revelstoke
area has a long history of winter sports. The back country trails in
Mount Revelstoke National Park have been attracting skiing aficionados
since the 1920's. Mount MacPherson, 6 km/4 miles south of Revelstoke
on Highway 23 offer trails in a picture book setting. Mount Mackenzie
Ski Area (6 km/4 miles) offers conventional skiing as well as heli-
and sno-cat skiing.
The best of
of Canadian Mountain Holidays
Revelstoke is well known for its heli-ski operations. Canadian Mountain
Holidays provides a wide variety of tour packages, with 11 lodges throughout
BC. Selkirk Mountain Experience is another back country tour that operates
out of Revelstoke.
Mountain Village is located off Highway 95, approximately 36 km/23
miles southeast of Radium Hot Springs. It commands a vertical of 4,000
feet and a skiable terrain of more than 2,000 acres/800 hectares. Panorama
utilizes snow machines for 40% of its runs and skiing is available until
mid-April. There is a child care service on site.
Ski Resort (207 km/129 miles south of Golden on Highway 95), and
Fernie Alpine Resort (approximately 123 km/77 miles east of Kimberley)
were recently purchased by Resorts of the Canadian Rockies and offer
a challenging skiing in a friendly atmosphere. With 47 runs, and 2,300
vertical feet, Kimberley offers a variety of programs, including snowboarding
lessons, a new park that is available for night snowboarding and a new
gladed terrain. Fernie advertises glade skiing as well, and can put
you in touch with sno-cat ski operators in the area.
Ski Area 19km/12 miles south of Nelson on Highway 6 offers good
terrain for the experienced skier. Because of its high base elevation
of 1,640 m/5400 feet, it gets lots of snow. Proper precaution should
be taken and avalanche equipment should be worn if you are skiing outside
of the boundary markers, especially after storms.
of the Phoenix Alpine Ski Society
Phoenix Mountain is a small ski area operated by a dedicated group
of skiers. Located in the Phoenix Interpretive Forest 30 km. west of
Grand Forks, it has nine runs and north facing slopes that offer excellent
skiing conditions. There is a day lodge, cafeteria and lounge on site,
as well as ski rental and ski school facilities.
Skiers who are interested in frequenting more than one ski area in
a season will be happy to know that there is a reciprocal program which
allows season pass holders at Phoenix or Mount Baldy to ski at several
larger resorts for a reduced price. Check with the ski area manager
at either Phoenix or Mount Baldy for more information.
Resort, above Harrison Lake bills itself as a family resort, with
250/100 hectares acres of skiable terrain. Located 100 km/60 miles east
of Vancouver it has 34 trails. To reach Hemlock, take Highway 1 to Agassiz,
then Highway 9 to the Lougheed Highway (Highway 7). Follow Morris Valley
Road, and turn right. Accommodations are available on the mountain or
Getting to Northern BC's ski areas is as much a part of the fun as
skiing the slopes. You can drive to Smithers and Terrace via Highways
97 and 16, but you can also fly. I would be remiss not to mention that
you can also take a ferry from Port Hardy on Vancouver Island, but if
your aim is to get in the most skiing time possible, the flights are
direct and the trip is considerably shorter (and warmer).
Ski Smithers, which has been a favourite of skiers since the 1920's,
has 525m/1,750 ft of vertical and 18 runs spread over 280 acres/112
hectares of skiable terrain. Located on Hudson
Bay Mountain, 22 km/14 miles west of Smithers, it offers the added
benefit of being in the Bulkley Valley, a favourite for Nordic skiing.
Mountain, 34 km/21 miles west of Terrace, has a vertical of 520
m/1,705 ft, a double chairlift, T-bar and handle-tow services. It also
offers multi-level ski lessons and snowboard lessons.
Northern BC has several heli-skiing and back country tour operators
that can help you forge your own tracks. For cross- country skiers,
the Babine Mountains Provincial Recreation Area maintains a trail along
an old mining road in Silver King Basin. A cabin is located 14 km/8
miles from the trailhead. For more information about back country activities
in the area, consult the Info Centre in Smithers.
Have a great season!
© Copyright Jan Lee
Jan Lee firstname.lastname@example.org
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articles by Jan Lee in the BC Adventure Network