Speed. Snow. Mountain scenery. Comaraderie. Sledding has it all.
Photo provided by the BCCSOA
With a powdery wall of snow kicking up in our wake, we cut a fresh swath through a stand of perfectly spaced pine trees on a gently rolling expanse of pure untouched powder.
I could be skiing not 20 minutes from here, but I’m not. I’m perched comfortably on a snowmobile for the first time and the feeling is nothing short of exhilarating. The perma-grin means I don’t wish to be anywhere else but right here, under blue skies and surrounded by snow-capped mountains. And going fast.
Yes, I could easily see myself becoming a sled head.
Speed. Snow. Mountain scenery. Comaraderie. Sledding has it all, not to mention the fact it’s part of Canada’s heritage. But it’s also one of the fastest growing winter sports, with nearly 600,000 machines registered across Canada.
For western Canadians, British Columbia is the sledding epicentre, and a snowmobiling mecca for Albertans. It’s easy to see why with thousands of kilometres of terrain for all abilities and ages, spectacular scenery, and an array of guided or unguided options with various outfitters.
Backcountry. Starlight. Whole day. Half day. Private. Powder X. Those are just a sampling of some of the sledding tour choices offered by various outfitters across the province.
And, you don’t need to buy a pricey machine to get your thrills. All tour operators offer rentals, which includes head-to-toe gear, plus a knowledgeable guide if you want. Or, even pickup service from Canmore and Banff, something Panorama-based Toby Creek Adventures offers.
The umbrella organization for the sport is the B.C. Commercial Snowmobile Operators Association (BCCSOA), which represents 12 privately owned Snowmobile Tour/Rental operators, located in the major mountain ranges of the province. It is also dedicated to making the sport accessible, sustainable, safe and fun. And they’ll be spreading the good word about sledding during Sled BC Month in January.
Safety is the No. 1 concern. “A lot of people are concerned about that,” says Ken Wilder, manager of the Invermere/Panorama region, where Toby Creek Outfitters. Ltd is based. It caters to families with children, but also to experienced sledders who like to mix it up in the powder and fulfill their need for speed.
“You can really do anything and go anywhere,” says Paul Button, president of the BCCSOA. “You can shred everywhere; the distance a snowmobile can travel is incredible. You can really get to new places in a short a period of time.”
Scott Barsby owner of Toby Creek Adventures Ltd. for the past 18 years, has hosted people from around the world – and all walks of life – looking for a sledding experience. “It’s a good way to get out with friends and family and to see the wilderness … It’s awesome with lots of adrenaline.”
His Paradise Basin trips – half or whole days – are the most popular picks. “It’s a big wide-open bowl with all kinds of terrain at 8,000 feet elevation on top of a mountain,” says Barsby. “You don’t get to do that any where in the East Kootenays.”
There are several main areas for sledding in B.C and each has its special appeal.
|There are several main areas for sledding in B.C and each has a special appeal.
Photo provided by the BCCSOA
Invermere/Panorama – A quick two-hour drive from Calgary, the Columbia Valley is accessible and the diverse terrain gives the area cachet. Toby Creek Outfitters Ltd. is based at Panorama Ski Resort and offers a selection of tours from two hours to multi-day. Weekenders have many choices for accommodation – from condos to hotels - as well as unique shopping and dining. A free shuttle service is also offered from Invermere to Toby Creek Adventures and Panorama Ski Resort. You could easily ski in the morning and snowmobile in the afternoon, doing a half-day trip. Other winter activities in the area include ice-skating on Windermere Lake, voted by Guinness World Book of Records the longest skating trail in the world at 30 kilometres. Alongside the trail is an equally long set track for Nordic skiing. While BC Sled Month is happening, Invermere is also holding its Winter in Motion event, beginning Dec. 31 (with New Year’s fireworks on Lake Windermere). Check the website for a full list of events.
Whistler/ Pemberton – This region is considered to have some of the most spectacular snowmobiling terrain in the west.To Whistler/Pemberton are home to a selection of quality sledding tour operators, for the full list check out the BCCSOA website at www.SnowmobileBritishColumbia.com. The region includes five valleys punctuated by peaks: “This area is pretty epic,” says Paul Button, president of BCCSOA. The Pemberton Ice Cap, Whistler Valley, Brandy Wine, Cougar and Rainbow Mountain are just some of the favourites for locals. “As a sledder, the powder is optimal and it’s easier to get to areas and easier to get to untracked snow.” But that doesn’t mean this vast area is only good for the experienced. “We have a whole range of tours…we focus on beginner and intermediate with a real focus on families.”
Button says a lot of time and energy is spent making trails flat for beginner tours. And, children are never left out of the action. “They can ride on little snowmobiles. We make a big flat area that is groomed and they can putt-putt around at 7 to 8 km/h on mini snowmobiles.”
Coast Mountains are nice and big, and they have the ideal mix of slopes, plateaus, open spaces and tree-lined trails that make snowmobiling really fun read more here.
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