December 2, 2007

Canada—No Comparison




It’s human nature for us to compare our experiences with the best places or things—places and/or things most everyone agrees are the benchmarks in their respective areas.

When you find something you especially like or had a great experience, we can often be found saying something like, “Wow, that was just like (insert a popular place/thing.) An example? Okay, you just ate at a restaurant and when you’re finished you say something like, “That was almost as good as (then you insert a very popular—and usually expensive—restaurant name here).

That’s the kind of pedestal the western Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta are on. How many times have you heard a snowmobiler say, “That was a great ride, almost as good as Revelstoke (or some other wildly popular snowmobiling hotspot in western Canada)?

Western Canada is the standard when it comes to comparing snowmobiling hotspots. Revelstoke, Squamish, Crowsnest Pass, Sicamous, Golden—these are all legendary names in snowmobile circles. And for every Revelstoke or Crowsnest Pass or other such popular riding area, there are perhaps a dozen more lesser knowns that are equally as good.

Most riding areas are easily accessed, regardless of what side of the border you’re on.

We’re focusing on two western Canadian provinces—Alberta and British Columbia

since that’s where most western riders head when they want to experience absolutely excellent snow conditions and challenging terrain.

Alberta can best be described as the ideal mix of trail and mountain riding as its sweeping prairies not-so-gradually turn into the majestic Canadian Rocky Mountains.

For the trail-minded rider, the province has a well-maintained and diverse system of trails that cover just about every part of the province. Sledders can try the high elevation trails, such as those near Crowsnest Pass and along the Rockies or hit the trails among rolling hills on the prairie, as far north as High Level. And if you don’t need a groomed path and have a sense of adventure, there is plenty of wide-open country to explore.

When the snow conditions are right, you can find a place to ride from Alberta’s far north down to its border with the United States and from its meeting with Saskatchewan in the east to the ever impressive Rockies to the west.

Most sledders will be interested in the Canadian Rockies, home to internationally famous national parks Jasper and Banff—and some fabulous snowmobiling (just not in the parks).    

Alberta’s portion of the Canadian Rockies offer up some awesome mountain riding. Crowsnest Pass is a popular mountain riding area and has one of the province’s biggest trail systems. Riding begins at about 4,000 feet and goes up from there—to between 7,500 and 8,000 feet. Snows are deepest in the bowls that dot the Canadian Rockies.

Crowsnest Pass is just about 50 miles (as the bird flies) north of the Canada-U.S. border, essentially due north of Kalispell, MT and Glacier National Park. Access from the British Columbia side is through Fernie and Sparwood and through Lethbridge or even Cardston on the Alberta side.

As with many places where you can snowmobile, it’s hard to say if riders head there because of the plentiful snow, variety of terrain or excellent trails. With Crowsnest Pass, it’s a combo of all three, not the least of which is ample snow—to the tune of 200-225 inches a winter. Full services are located in Bellevue, Blairmore and Coleman with the nearest airport in Calgary (150 miles). A smaller airport is located in Cranbrook, BC, about a 100 miles from Crowsnest Pass. For more information, contact the Crowsnest Pass Chamber of Commerce (888) 562-7108.

There are other mountain areas worth exploring, especially between Crowsnest and Banff National Park in Kananaskis Country. Popular riding areas here include McLean Creek, Cataract Creek and Sibbald Flats. For more information on riding in Kananaskis Country, log on to http://tprc.alberta.ca/parks/kananaskis/flashindex.asp. This area is basically due west of Calgary and south of the Trans Canada Highway just before it heads into Banff.

Getting to any of the riding areas is relatively easy, regardless of whether you’re driving or flying.

           

Travel Alberta www.travelalberta.com

Road Conditions www.ama.ab.ca/cgi-ebs/road_report/road_report.jsp

Alberta Snowmobile Association www.altasnowmobile.ab.ca

Groomed Trails 3,100 miles

Number of Registered Snowmobiles 26,513

Highest Point Mount Columbia (12,293 feet)

 

British Columbia is, plain and simple, all about mountains. This province is perhaps the best place in North America for the steep and deep. BC has the terrain, it has the snow and it has lots of places for both to be explored.

There are places in British Columbia that receive anywhere from 26-59 feet of snow. As the storms come off the Pacific Ocean and move from west to east, the snow gets drier and fluffier, resulting in the champagne powder you always hear about in Sicamous or Revelstoke or Golden or Valemount. And with the kinds of dumps the province gets, some diehard sledders can ride just about year-round.

The mountains are rugged and provide some of the best hillclimbing you’ll find anywhere. Of course, there are plenty of places riders of any kind of skill level can enjoy. The variety of riding places is what helps set British Columbia apart. Yes, there are mountains, meadows and bowls. Yes, there are trails, forest roads and ridgelines to ride. But how many places can you ride and see the ocean?

Then there’s the glacier riding. The Pemberton Ice Fields might be the most popular spot to ride glaciers but even those who continually ride there are continually amazed at the beauty and the endless snow.

There are dozens of riding areas in BC, covering nearly every corner of the province and each offering its own uniqueness. There is some information about just a handful of these areas below, but it is by no means a comprehensive list. How much you can explore depends on how much time you’ve got. You very well might be able to ride for years and never see the same place twice. Another great attraction of BC sledding is abundance of riding spots close to the major metropolitan areas. For example, some of the best riding in British Columbia is less than an hour away from Vancouver. The same goes for some of BC’s other bigger cities such as Kelowna and Kamloops—riding is just about right around the corner.

British Columbia’s terrain is magnificent and the scenery just can’t be described. You really do have to see it to believe it. Once you do, you’ll compare everything else to it.

 

Tourism British Columbia www.hellobc.com

Road Conditions www.drivebc.ca

British Columbia Snowmobile Federation www.bcsf.org

Groomed Trails 7,456 miles

Number of Registered Snowmobiles 75,000

Highest Point Fairweather Mountain (15,298 ft)

 

Valemount

Elevation 2,500-8,200

Snowfall 167-200 inches

Groomed Trails 33 miles

Full-Service Town Valemount

Nearest Airport Prince George (185 miles); Kamloops (202 miles)

Information Village of Valemount 250-566-4435

 

Gold Bridge/Bralorne

Elevation 3,399-8,999

Snowfall Up to 393-551 inches

Groomed Trails

Full-Service Town Gold Bridge, Bralorne

Nearest Airport Vancouver (145 miles)

Information Bridge River Valley Chamber of Commerce 250-238-2534

 

Golden

Elevation 1,499-8,999

Snowfall 100-275 inches

Groomed Trails 62 miles

Full-Service Town Golden

Nearest Airport  Cranbrook (153 miles)

Information Kicking Horse Country Chamber of Commerce 800-622-GOLD

 

Revelstoke

Elevation 3,000-7,000

Snowfall 300-500 inches

Groomed Trails 44 miles

Full-Service Town Revelstoke

Nearest Airport Kelowna (130 miles)

Information Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce 800-487-1493

 

Sicamous

Elevation 1,148-6,562

Snowfall 78-196 inches

Groomed Trails 60 miles

Full-Service Town Sicamous

Nearest Airport Kelowna (80 miles)

Information Sicamous Chamber of Commerce 250-836-3313

 

Pemberton Ice Fields

Elevation 2,000-8,000

Snowfall 359 inches

Groomed Trails 16 miles

Full-Service Town Full services are available in Pemberton, Whistler and Squamish

Nearest Airport Vancouver (98 miles)

Information Pemberton & District Chamber of Commerce 604-894-6477

 

Salmon Arm

Elevation 1.729-6,561

Snowfall 72-106 inches

Groomed Trails 43.5 miles

Full-Service Town Salmon Arm

Nearest Airport Kelowna, Kamloops (both about 70 miles)

Information Salmon Arm Chamber of Commerce 250-832-6247

 

Whistler

Elevation 2,500-8,198

Snowfall 161-360 inches

Groomed Trails

Full-Service Town Whistler, Squamish

Nearest Airport Vancouver (78 miles)

Information Whistler Chamber of Commerce 604-932-5922

 

Radium Hot Springs/Invermere

Elevation 3,080

Snowfall 100-150 inches

Groomed Trails

Full-Service Town Radium Hot Springs, Invermere

Nearest Airport Cranbrook (83 miles)

Information Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce 250-342-2844

 

Merritt

Elevation 2000

Snowfall 100-150 inches

Groomed Trails

Full-Service Town Merritt

Nearest Airport Kamloops (52 miles)

Information Merritt Chamber of Commerce 250-378-5634

 

Kelowna

Elevation 6,000

Snowfall 200-275 inches

Groomed Trails 186 miles

Full-Service Town Kelowna

Nearest Airport Kelowna

Information Tourism Kelowna 800-663-4345

 

Squamish/Brohm Ridge

Elevation 898-6,797

Snowfall 143-400 inches

Groomed Trails

Full-Service Town Squamish

Nearest Airport Vancouver (42 miles)

Information Squamish Chamber of Commerce 866-333-2010

 

Coquihalla Connector

Elevation 5,000-6,000

Snowfall 100-200 inches

Groomed Trails

Full-Service Town Merritt, Kelowna

Nearest Airport Kelowna

Information Tourism Kelowna 800-663-4345

 

Coquihalla Pass

Elevation 3,500-6,797

Snowfall 590-826 inches

Groomed Trails

Full-Service Town Princeton

Nearest Airport Kelowna, Kamloops (both about 105 miles)

Information Princeton Chamber of Commerce 250-295-3103

 

Kokanee Range/West Kootenays

Elevation 3,838-7000

Snowfall 150 inches

Groomed Trails

Full-Service Town New Denver

Nearest Airport Castlegar (61 miles)

Information Kootenay Rockies Region 250-427-4838

 

Elk Valley/Sparwood

Elevation 3,497-6,500

Snowfall 97-344 inches

Groomed Trails  

Full-Service Town Sparwood

Nearest Airport Cranbrook (65 miles)

Information Sparwood Chamber of Commerce 877-485-8185

 

Cranbrook/Kimberley

Elevation 4,035-6,561

Snowfall 55-160 inches

Groomed Trails

Full-Service Town Cranbrook, Kimberley

Nearest Airport Cranbrook

Information Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce 800-222-6174, Kimberley Chamber of Commerce 866-913-3666

 

Castlegar

Elevation 1,561

Snowfall 83-150 inches

Groomed Trails

Full-Service Town Castlegar

Nearest Airport Castlegar

Information Castlegar Chamber of Commerce 250-365-3613

 

Fernie

Elevation 3,497-7,000

Snowfall 140-275 inches

Groomed Trails

Full-Service Town Fernie

Nearest Airport Cranbrook (60 miles)

Information Fernie Chamber of Commerce 877-4-FERNIE







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