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Western Canada

The Buffet of Snowmobiling

Published in the December 2009 Issue Published online: Dec 09, 2009 Feature
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CanadaWe've all had a taste of what good snowmobiling is like. And once we've tasted it, we keep going back for more.

One of the best places in western North America to keep going back for more is western Canada. It is the buffet of snowmobiling-there's more of everything you love about snowmobiling and mountain riding.

It doesn't matter what your favorite is when it comes to snowmobiling, western Canada is bound to have it in abundance. Everything except maybe a really long trail ride and even then we're sure you can piece something together if you work at it hard enough.

Those craving the steep and deep know just what western Canada offer and that's why it's become a five star riding area-or rather, collection of riding areas.

Western Canada includes British Columbia, Alberta, Yukon and parts of the Northwest Territories. It's a huge swath of land and volumes could be written about just the snowmobiling opportunities in each place. We will focus on the mountainous regions of southern BC and Alberta, knowing full well that these aren't the only places (and some will argue, nor the best) to sled. Our purpose in focusing on these mountainous areas is that they're pretty much just a day's drive from the United States.

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

 

Alberta

Yes, we know much of Alberta is wide open prairie and forested rolling hills. We also know that Alberta's western border with British Columbia is marked by one of the most dramatic and inspiring mountain ranges in North America-the Canadian Rockies. The Canadian Rockies are impressive indeed as they rise from the valley floor of Alberta's more tranquil landscape. Alberta's portion of the Canadian Rockies offers some astounding mountain riding with Crowsnest Pass by far the most popular mountain riding area in the southern part of the province.

Ironically, Crownest Pass also is home to the province's largest and most extensive snowmobile trail system, which is saying something since much of the rest of Alberta is nothing but trails.

Riding in Crowsnest Pass 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 on both sides of the Alberta/British Columbia border. Crowsnest Pass is about 50 miles (as, well, the crow flies) north of the Canada/U.S. border, basically 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.

Between 200-225 inches of snow fall on the Crowsnest Pass area during the winter months. Full services are located in Bellevue, Blairmore and Coleman with the nearest airport in Calgary (150 miles) or Lethbridge (89 miles). A smaller airport is located in Cranbrook, BC, about a 100-mile drive 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 Pass and Banff National Park in Kananaskis Country. Popular riding areas include McLean Creek (200 km of trails), Cataract Creek (100 km of trails) and Sibbald Flats (50 km of trails). For more information on riding in Kananaskis Country, log on to http://tpr.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.

Alberta Guide

Travel Alberta-www.travelalberta.com
Alberta Snowmobile Association-www.altasnowmobile.ab.ca
Groomed Trails-3,100 miles
Highest Point-Mount Columbia (12,293 feet)

 

British Columbia

This province has rightfully earned the reputation as being the place to snowmobile in the West-and it doesn't matter what side of the Canadian/U.S. border you're on. BC's snowmobiling reputation comes courtesy of amazing terrain and snow that is breathtakingly (literally) deep.

If the snowmobiling wasn't so good in British Columbia, you'd probably spend most of your time staring at the landscape. The scenery is absolutely stunning. And when you gain some elevation and look all around you, it just puts an exclamation point on just how spectacular it is.

There are places in British Columbia that receive anywhere from 26-59 feet (yes, 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, Revelstoke, Golden or Valemount. With that kind of copious precipitation, it's not uncommon to hear some diehard sledders riding 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. There are mountains, meadows and bowls as well as trails, forest roads and ridgelines to ride. Here's another little bonus to riding in BC: 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 frequently 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.

Some of the trail systems in these areas are short compared to other snowmobiling areas you read about. That's because some of those trails simply lead to the backcountry and then you're free to roam and explore. Those are our kind of trails.

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 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.

You've probably heard that the Winter Olympics are in Vancouver, BC, this winter so sledders would be wise to time their riding trips accordingly. There will be thousands of people flocking to BC this winter to partake in that great event so if you're planning to snowmobile in certain parts of the province this winter, plan way ahead and avoid any spots even remotely close to Olympic venues.

B.C. Guide

Tourism British Columbia-www.hellobc.com
British Columbia Snowmobile Federation-www.bcsf.org
Groomed Trails-7,456 miles
Highest Point-Fairweather Mountain (15,298 ft)

 

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