Head to Smithers' Hudson Bay Mountain for Skiing Soul
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Smithers is a northern BC ski town with soul, home to Hudson Bay Mountain Resort and its deep pockets (of pow).
Smithers, BC - How do you know a mountain town has soul? When you leave a piece of yours with it when you leave. If you know what it’s like skiing northern BC, you know what I mean. Smithers is a heartland for skiers and snowboarders looking to find that intoxicating mix of ski stoke, lifestyle and community, for a week or maybe a lifetime (more on that later).
Okay. For the uninitiated, maybe you’re wondering what I’m talking about. Here’s an idea: skis parked by locals’ front doors. Servers who name their favourite runs without prompting when they hear you’re headed up to Hudson Bay Mountain Resort (Seven Sisters was the reco, btw). Spontaneously exchanging greetings with passersby on the street. Helpful, friendly mechanics who empathize when car troubles prevent you from shredding all day (more on that later).
But most of all, deep powder, mild temps and a “live to ski” mentality. That’s the #SmithersVibe.
In Smithers, Listen to the Smithereens
Like this. Claire Challen, Rossignol-sponsored skier, coach and Smithereen: “There’s always a lot of snow and you don’t have to share it with a ton of people. There’s not many places you can ski powder all day.”
Rob Dowling, Hudson Bay Mountain Resort ski instructor and new Smithereen (via Squamish, via England), was looking for a more affordable haunt than the coast. His search went like this: “I had it narrowed down to three choices, well one really - and I basically threw a dart at a map and landed here.” And he hasn’t left since.
Even our videographer Jake Daly (who grew up a Smithereen) got in on the act, warning me on my first night in town that I should be careful or I’d want to move here. (Too late, btw.)
I’d been hearing about Smithers for years from core skiers from Alberta who’d stumbled upon it one way or another. It was rated a must, a hidden gem. And it still is. Perhaps on the crest of discovery, but a long way from the massive boom of some resort towns. Smithers is a real northern town with a real northern vibe. And I hope it stays that way forever.
How to ski Smithers
Here’s what you need to know to strike white gold in Smithers: watch the conditions report. When the storm cycle hits over the weekend or early in the week, Smithers can get some wicked northern fluffy pow. Hudson Bay Mountain Resort is closed Mondays and Tuesdays, so Wednesdays is a great day to cash in. (I nearly didn’t share that but let’s face it, if you’re dedicated enough to read this far, you deserve it - and I hope you get it!).
But never fear if you can’t straightline to Smithers midweek - with a population of only about 5,300 people, and at four hours’ drive from Prince George, it can take a while for the hill to get skied out between snowfalls.
But more about the skiing
Boottop blower greeted us on our visit and it was not getting chewed up. Drifts and lips, gladed stashes and blown-in bowls set the stage for a few rippers. I followed our local crew - Jake Daly, Marty Clemens, Claire Challen, Rob Dowling and John Tejada - into a few lines, not worried about making turns.
Off the Hudson Bay Mountain Resort parking lot, the fastest way to the top is the Panorama T-bar. It’s an easy enough ride, though a rarity in today’s market. But surface lifts have their benefits, AKA quick hot laps.
We held a session on Parliament that was far less divisive than anything in today’s politics and I wondered if it was perhaps a reference to the Parliament Funkadelic, rather than government. Talk of heading to the North Face, where steeper runs are serviced off the hill’s lone chair, the Skyline Triple Chair, swirled.
The north facing chair side has less wind exposure and holds the snow better, says Challen, which given how well the snow held on the frontside, was saying something. With gentle green groomers and blues on one side and ungroomed diamonds on the other, it allows everyone in the group to ski at their own speed. And if that speed is fast, then the steeper lines to skier's left will be your jam.
"That's our favourite place to ski," Challen says. "It's steep, there's always powder and incredible views of town."
You can even ski all the way back to town! Unfortunately, I didn’t get to try the ski-out or the Seven Sisters because of car issues. Which brings me back to the heartbreak in this story: while Daly, Clemens and crew plowed up the pow, I rerouted back to town to get the car serviced. Leaving a lot of terrain un-plundered by me.
But from the runs I skied, views I saw and the tips I got, I have already left a little piece of my soul in Smithers. Be warned, you might too.
WHEN YOU GO
SkiNorthBC and Save with these great Smithers Ski and Stay packages.
Smithers is about a four-hour drive from Prince George, BC, west on Highway 16.
Air Canada flies to Smithers weekly from Vancouver.