One of Canada’s nest attributes is the fact that it has four distinct seasons, a reality particularly important in the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast, where we aim to please visitors no matter when they visit. Still, in winter the air is spectacularly fresh, the sunsets magical, and no other region in B.C. offers the same rolling hills, backcountry lakes, forests, resorts and ranches, brilliant sunshine, deep-powder snow – or choice of cold weather activities.
Heli-skiing, sleigh rides, snowshoeing and ice fishing are all in abundance here. Nordic and downhill skiing, snowmobiling, pond hockey, tobogganing, dogsledding and curling simply make winter the time to get outside and have fun in our wild backyard, where the snow is dry and deep, skies clear and blue, and the winter activities seemingly endless.
Ice climbing? It’s park-and-climb at Marble Canyon Provincial Park in the Pavilion Mountain Range near Lillooet, where the roadside icefalls are some of the most thrilling and accessible in western Canada. Snowmobiling? Sled- hounds flock here from across North America for the wide-open spaces, abundant hill-climbs and extensive trail networks, some of them linking historic towns that are scattered about the region like gold nuggets.
Imagine yourself ensconced aboard a fur-covered sled, powered by a team of huskies as it glides through the forest and over frozen lakes. The Cariboo Chilcotin Coast and Fraser Canyon is unique in offering amateur mushers the chance to experience sled dog travel – arguably the most exhilarating way to experience the backcountry. Add to this list winter camping, kicking back in a snow-banked hot tub and swapping stories around a crackling re at a cozy lodge, and it’s easy to understand why this region claims to have it all.
At one time, when the snow was deep, the only way to get around the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast was via sled dog. Today, this unique way of travel has been revived not just at the competitive level but as a truly memorable interactive experience for visitors, and both amateur and experienced mushers can now answer the call of the wild with a range of guided tours, one-on-one mushing workshops and multi-day dogsledding adventures. Specialty options have also emerged, with some outfitters boasting Inuit-only sled dogs and others swearing by the legendary Alaskan malamute.
The Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run, held every January, and is popular for those with their own dog team, sees participants are issued special hand- cancelled envelopes of mail in Quesnel that they swear an oath to deliver to the town of Wells, 100km/62mi away along a route that traces the historic Cariboo Wagon Road. The emphasis is on fun and fellowship, but first prize still counts for bragging rights at the local pub.
Love skiing? Take your pick, from a wealth of groomed Nordic trails and backcountry skiing options, to family- focused downhill, show shoeing and the most awesome deep-powder heli-skiing in the world. Don’t forget the ice skates, either. Fun skating parties are a way of life here when lakes freeze and pond hockey games begin, visitors are always welcome.
Nordic skiers and backcountry aficionados find peace and tranquility here as well. As Rob Bernhardt, president of B.C.’s Nordic Ski Society puts it, “Everything about this region, from the stable weather and ideal snow conditions to the vibrant culture and stunning natural environment, makes it ideal for its Nordic activities.” It helps, too, that meticulously groomed trails are maintained by resorts, clubs and communities in pretty much any direction a skier might choose to point those ski poles. Novice Nordic skiers can easily cover the 8km/5mi route between Wells and Barkerville, for example, plus other trails that loop through the area. Mount Agnes, near Barkerville, features 23km/14mi of trails leading through heavily forested countryside. Hallis Lake outside Quesnel is renowned for its vistas and viewpoints, while an hour south near Williams Lake, the lure is the 28km/17.5mi of groomed trails at Bull Mountain – some of them dog friendly and evening-lit.
Near 100 Mile House in the south Cariboo, the pole-and- push crowd get particularly stoked about the area’s enormous 150km/93mi trail inventory, including sections for night skiing. The gold-rush-themed Cariboo Marathon, staged by the 100 Mile Nordic Club, comes replete with 50km/31mi, 30km/18.5mi, 20km/12.5mi and 10km/6mi events. The Clinton Snow Jockey Club maintains 60km/37mi of marked trails also suitable for hiking and biking in summer, while the Mt. Timothy Ski Area, a family-friendly downhill destination east of Lac la Hache, has groomed Nordic trails.
It’s the region’s many mountains and soft, dry powder that draw heli-skiers from all over the world. These alpine daredevils inhabit a world of absolute stillness, a place of virgin beauty and dramatic settings where nothing exists but thousands of vertical feet of the nest skiing on earth. The sport of heli-skiing was, in fact, invented in the Cariboo Mountains by mountaineering legend Hans Gmoser, known as the “Father of Heli-skiing,” and the Cariboo, central Coast and the southern Chilcotin Mountains beckon still: these world-renowned heli-skiing destinations boast 3,000m/9,850ft peaks that receive as much as 15m/49ft of snow annually.
Local Cariboo outfitters keep everyone fit with multiday hut- to-hut tours of the Bowron Lake canoe circuit, where the lakes’ frozen surfaces are broken only by the speckled tracks of foxes, hares and ever-wary timber wolves. In the Chilcotin, Tatla Lake features 40km/25mi of groomed trails plus January’s Tatla Lake Ski Challenge and Fun Day (the latter comes with an outdoor barbecue and enough good cheer to warm even the coldest winter day). Nearby Nimpo Lake’s wilderness lodges serve as a perfect base camp for ski touring in the wilds of Itcha Ilgachuz Provincial Park. And for those who believe slow and easy wins the day, low-cost snowshoeing guarantees backcountry winter- trail access to anyone capable of putting one foot in front of the other, wherever there’s a patch of snow.
For many winter buffs, snow exists simply for snowmobiling. The result: sledders trek by trail across untracked wilderness. Throughout the region, including up and down mountainous terrain notorious for adrenaline-rush hill-climbing (along with adherence to responsible sledding guidelines, of course). Excitement is also growing with the development of the Gold Rush Snowmobile Trail, a thrill-packed work in progress that, when completed, will o er 350km/217mi of stunningly picturesque and well-signed touring from Clinton to Barkerville. Check first with local clubs and Visitor Centres for trail updates and amenities en route, before heading out. Meanwhile, Gold Bridge and Bralorne in the Bridge River Valley have long been popular snowmobile havens, with the Mineshaft Pub sledder central for many events. Favourite rides in this area include the Lone Goat Trail and Slim Creek, where the distance travelled is limited only by the amount of fuel carried.
For some, ice fishing is cold comfort. However, hauling a fat rainbow trout out of a hole in a frozen lake warms an avid fisher’s blood. Need a little pointing in the right direction? Area outfitters may offer all-inclusive ice-fishing adventures with cozy accommodations, portable shelters, and whopper tales at no extra charge.