"Carl Kuster not only can lead you back into some of the greatest riding areas in British Columbia, he can instruct you on how to make the most of your riding abilities.
"Patrick Wilson won a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to snowmobile with Carl Kuster by participating in the 12 Days of SnoWest.
"(left) Darrell Trouton, mayor of Sicamous is proud to guide Anne-Sophie Laberge of BRP, Patrick Wilson and Steve Janes of SnoWest Magazine at the popular Owlhead riding area.
"Patrick Wilson dives into some deep British Columbia powder as he enjoys his three-day stay at Carl Kuster Mountain Park.
Looks can be deceiving. This past April, sitting in the truck pulling a four-place trailer packed with snowmobiles near Sicamous, BC, all we could see was green—grass, trees, plants—it was definitely springtime. Who would have thought that just a mere 20 kilometers up a dirt road would lead us back to winter?
Even as our truck crawled its way around the last bend of the road taking us up to the trailhead, the anticipation of being the only snowmobilers on the mountain was soon dashed by the discovery of a makeshift parking area with a couple dozen vehicles wedged into every open gap or wide spot on the road.
Our own appearance was deceiving when we opened the doors of our four-place trailer only to drive out six snowmobiles onto the thin patch of snow at the end of the plowed road.
Even the ride up the trailhead almost felt like tourist season on the Trans Canada Highway. There seemed to be more sledders than the amount of trailer space back in the parking lot. But once we got on top where the country opened up and the groups dispersed, we were greeted by fresh snow, unmarked hills and no other snowmobilers in sight.
For Patrick Wilson, grand prize winner in last season’s 12 Days of SnoWest contest, this was the moment he had been waiting for … and it was everything he had expected.
“The riding just amazes me,” Wilson explained as he described his first snowmobiling experience in British Columbia. “You’re sitting down here [in the valley] and there’s nothing [no snow]. The trees are so dense. But then you get on top and the riding is amazing.”
Wilson described his initial impressions of making the short trek from Carl Kuster’s snowmobiling lodge and facility in Malakwa up to the trailhead taking us into the Owlhead riding area south of Sicamous.
“The higher you climb [in elevation] the bigger the trees and more open the riding,” Wilson explained.
By luck of the draw, Wilson’s name was chosen last January winning him a new 2013 Ski-Doo Summit 800 and a three-day snowmobiling experience at Carl Kuster Mountain Park where he could get instruction from one of the best backcountry snowmobilers in the world.
Winning the snowmobile was one thing—Wilson had already logged hundreds of miles riding his new machine—but to be able to ride with Kuster in the rugged mountains of British Columbia … that was a lifetime dream.
Sicamous sits at about 1,145 feet above sea level. Morton Peak, which looks down on Sicamous, is at 7,347 feet. During the winter the snowmobile trailhead is less than five minutes from downtown Sicamous. This late in the season, the snowline was about 10 miles up the mountain.
But once we got into the snowline, we got into snow. And once we got into snow, the riding was fantastic. It had been raining in the valley during the past couple of days (hence the reason everything was green). But in the higher elevations, everything was coming down white and stacking up. There was about two feet of heavy powder on top of Owlhead, making for fantastic off-trail riding.
First impressions can even be deceiving. Wilson isn’t your average-looking snowmobiler. He’s a big young man … one you would likely see anchoring an offensive line on a college football team rather than carving a sidehill on a snowmobile. Riding a Ski-Doo Summit with 163-inch track, Wilson looked at home as he picked his lines through trees and up slopes. It was very apparent Wilson had done his homework on his new Summit 800 before making the trip to British Columbia.
“Sicamous was real open where you could pick your lines and go where you wanted to go,” Wilson explained. “It starts with a mellow ride and takes you up into what BC offers. You can make it as easy or difficult as you want to. The elevation keeps climbing and presenting new play areas.”
Although the cloud cover engulfed the area, making visibility limited the higher we climbed (we didn’t even try to make it to Mara Mountain Lookout), we still enjoyed the terrain that wraps around Video Bowl, Morton Lake and Skinny Ridge. And for the first day out in British Columbia, the riding was great and set the table for the next two days.
After enjoying a good night’s rest (it’s interesting how much better you sleep after spending a day riding in powder), we looked at the weather report and decided to head back to Sicamous. The weather map showed sun on top so we thought we could go back and hit some of the areas we passed by due to limited visibility.
Apparently, that was the thought of every snowmobiler in Sicamous. If we considered the trailhead packed the first day, Day 2 was a total zoo at the end of the plowed road. (It’s amazing how Canadians can stack six rigs into a spot that is too small for two.) We quickly shifter gears and left the Owlhead area in search of another access point to British Columbia’s high country.
This simple change in plans resulted in two significant differences from Day 1: deeper snow and zero crowd. In fact, only two other snowmobiles were remotely in the same area (we followed their tracks on the access road until we passed them … then we never saw them or their tracks again). This may have been due to the “deeper snow” comment. Even with Kuster breaking the trail in for us, it was difficult not to find ourselves waist-deep in snow trying to wrestle our sleds out of their hole.
“It’s the middle of April and we’re riding in three feet of powder,” Wilson said. “You have to be on your game at all times because of the terrain. You can get stuck going uphill or downhill … I did both today.”
Wilson isn’t a stranger to deep powder. A Boise, ID, native, Wilson now lives and works in McCall, ID. He spends a great deal of his time during the winter riding the deep powder that makes McCall one of the best snowmobiling destinations in North America. To him, riding the deep snow on Day 2 was a lot like riding at home … only the snow was deeper, the mountains steeper and the riding opportunities endless.
This is majestic country. Each time you climb one ridge, you only find yourself looking up at the base of the next ridge. You can keep climbing and climbing … but the ridges keep coming. You only find yourself getting higher in the clouds, expecting at any moment that you would come to a set of pearly gates with St. Peter standing there checking to see if your name is on his “check-in” list.
And even though you’re not on the list, you start to wonder if you won’t be added as you begin your descent back down.
By the end of the day Wilson had learned several great lessons: No matter how good you think you are … you’re not; no matter how much power your snowmobile has … it’s not enough; no matter how good of shape you’re in … you’re out of shape; and no matter how stuck you are … it takes Kuster about two minutes to get you out.
By the end of the day we had only scratched the surface of the riding area yet we were exhausted. And that evening, while sitting around the dining room table enjoying a great meal at Kuster’s lodge, the question was asked: Where do you want to ride on your final day? And without hesitation, Wilson said, “Let’s go back to where we were today.”
Starting a little earlier on the final day, we headed back into the same area (it’s Kuster’s secret spot so we don’t get too specific on a map about where it’s at … let’s just say somewhere west of Revelstoke, BC), only to find even more snow and no other tracks.
It didn’t take long to get back into the same area we spent Day 2 getting stuck, only this time going in a little farther to find a fresh batch of other places to get stuck. Although on the first couple of days Kuster offered Wilson riding tips to improve his technique, on this day Kuster pushed this Idaho rider even harder to get out of his comfort zone and improve his riding skills.
“He’s really good at watching you and then he can pick up on something you’re doing that maybe you don’t think about and help you make adjustments in how you ride,” he said. “Carl finds what you need to work on and helps you focus on that during your ride. For me, it was bending my knees and hugging the tank in powder turning and sidehilling.”
Wilson said he was impressed with Kuster’s teaching techniques. “He’s super easy going and just a great guy. He takes you out of your element and comfort zone,” Wilson said. “The first day it wasn’t too much because of where we were riding and who we were riding with. But the next two days he definitely pushed my boundaries. Each day it became more and more challenging. We rode hard for three days that barely touched the country we were in.”
Even though Wilson rides throughout the year in some challenging areas around McCall, there is something about British Columbia that just makes back home seem small.
“There were a lot of challenges—climbing and descents. The fresh snow made one more challenging and the other more controllable,” Wilson said. “Even on some of the descents, with the amount of fresh powder you had to give it gas to keep moving, where with less snow it would have seemed more like a free fall.”
Kuster spent a good deal of time teaching Wilson how to stay under control when making a steep decent down through trees.
“You’re back there sitting on your snow flap,” he explained. “That’s pretty common for the kind of riding I’m used to doing. You’re always exploring stuff and going down into areas where you don’t know what the bottom is going to be like.”
During the three days of riding, Wilson said he was much more at home with the final two days … it reminded him more of riding in McCall with friends … but much bigger mountains and impressive terrain.
“I was really impressed with the sleds,” Wilson said. The Ski-Doo he won had a 154-inch track. But after spending three days on a 163, he said the longer track felt better for his size.
As for trying to keep up with Kuster for three days, Wilson explained, “Carl can make momentum no matter where he’s at. He can stop anywhere and then continue on, even when he’s going uphill.”
Part of the “new area intimidation” factor that gave the feeling of uncertainty was erased once Wilson realized that he could trust Kuster to keep him in terrain that would stretch his ability, not break it.
“It was nice to know that Carl knows the area like the back of his hand,” Wilson said. “Even when you’re in a spot where you realize that if you were there by yourself you would be spending the rest of the day, you trust Carl to get you out.”
Kuster saved the most thrilling drainage for the end of the ride on day three—sort of a final test for the group. After marking up as much terrain as possible before we knew we only had enough time to race back out the trail so we could head back down to Kelowna, Kuster asked: “Do you want to head out a different way?” Naturally we all said sure. Then Kuster added: “Great, we’ll take the creek out. I’m pretty sure we can make it … although I haven’t gone out that way before.”
“Going ‘down the creek’ had a little pucker factor to it,” Wilson explained. “It was steep. There was open water, you had to jump side-to-side across the crevasse … one mistake and it was going to cost you.”
Wilson noted that a lot of what he learned from his experience was obtained by just watching Kuster.
“Carl makes riding look easy. He’s never out of control,” Wilson said.
Winning the 12 Days of SnoWest was the biggest thing that Wilson had ever won. But spending three days riding with Carl Kuster was the best thing that he has ever done. Even as he crammed his tired body into the tight seats for his airplane ride home, he couldn’t help thinking about how soon he could make his plans to travel back up to British Columbia and spend another snowmobile vacation in the rugged Canadian mountains.
Looks may be deceiving … but a once-in-a-lifetime experience tells it all.