Hill hoppin’ in Northern BC

🕔Dec 03, 2008

A winter road trip may not top most vacationers’ lists. But the number of ski hills in northern BC and the dry, deep powder and warm culture many of them boast is reason enough for ski and snowboard junkies, or anyone else, to spend a couple of weeks cruising down the main drag, Highway 16, to check them out.
Here are some tips and information for anyone who’s tempted to take the trip.


Mentally prepare yourself to get a little gross. If you want to cram as much mountain time in as possible in a road trip, your shower and grooming time will be limited.
When it comes to packing, assume you will be in your ski gear, your pajamas and your ‘going-out’ clothes one third of the time each. Most people have one set of inner and outwear for the snow. That’s fine as long as you bring a few pairs of socks. One set of pajamas will also do, though make sure they are warm as you never know where you might be crashing for the night and you lose a lot of heat from your feet.
As for going out, a couple outfits will do as neither fashion nor cleanliness is a priority on road trips.
If anyone grimaces at you, just smile and explain you are from out of town and temporarily living out of your car in order to enjoy the fabulous winter activities their town has to offer.

Travel Mates

If you are married with kids, you may have no choice in this matter. But if not, pick friends or lovers who are adventurous, can go with the flow, and laugh when the going gets tough.
Road trips are usually best remembered for the unexpected adventures and mishaps that happen along the way, although these may not be so funny at the time—and may even be a little scary. So choose people who don’t freak out in stressful situations.
Also make sure your travel mates are willing to split the driving time and fuel costs. Wheel time on road trips must be a shared affair so all can enjoy the scenery and naps in the back.
Vehicle Safety
Winter driving conditions can be sketchy so a suitable vehicle for the trip is key. Ideally, that means a huge and heavy four-by-four truck with studded winter tires. A truck is great also because you can throw a mattress into the back for sleepy-time should you want to save a little money on hotel bills, or if no accommodation is available.
An emergency kit is also important to pack along with your long underwear and toques. A full kit should include a flashlight, blanket, non-perishable food items, water, cell phone, shovel, crushed gravel to lay under your tires should you get stuck in the snow, tow rope, jumper cables, flares or a warning signal of some sort, and a warm change of clothes for each person along. The idea is to imagine the worst-case scenarios and be ready for them.
Just before you leave on the trip, have a mechanic check your vehicle. You’ll kick yourself if you don’t do this and an easily preventable problem strands you in the middle of nowhere.
When you are on the road, slow down if conditions ask for it. Safety is more important than kilometres per hour.
Obvious but worth mentioning: if you and your journey people are too exhausted to drive due to all your energy going into jumps and bumps and powder-diving on the hills, rest on the side of the road in an appointed area and continue only after you feel refreshed.


The enormous and gorgeous region of Northern BC has seven ski hills for you to check out – eight if you count Marmot Basin, which is on the border of Alberta. If you want to visit all of them, you will have to drive, at the very, very minimum, 1000 kilometers. And that’s just one-way.
Taking into account that you may not have all the time in the world, consider renting a car, dropping it off at your last destination, and flying home to allow more time on the slopes.
Fun, Friendly Mountains
Starting from the west, your first snow stop is Shames Mountain. Terrace is the closest town to the hill so you would probably bunk there for the night.
Shames is best known for its deep (though sometimes wet) powder, and easy access to the backcountry. As Shames Mountain’s customer service manager, Matthew Kenny—who worked in Whistler for eight years prior to moving to Terrace—puts it, “For such a small mountain, it’s got that big-mountain feel. You can get big lines, all in close proximity to the lift.”
As for the snow, he says, “You can hit powder stashes four days after it snows.”
“We’re not greedy about the snow,” he adds; “we’ll show people the spots. We won’t hide them.”
Shames has an old two-person lift, a T-bar, a rental shop, and a day lodge with a restaurant and pub. Ski and snowboard lessons are also available.
Everything is up and running, but most of the mountain’s equipment and building are dated. “It needs a really big facelift,” Kenny says.
The mountain’s shareholders are expected to sell Shames soon; a few deals have already fallen through. With new owners, locals and visitors alike hope the facilities will get the agreement it needs.
Continue east and you find Hudson Bay Mountain. This hill is in the middle of a major expansion. Upgrades include new equipment, lodge renovations, increased runs, brushing which allows the mountain to open with less snowfall, and residential development on the hill.
“We are planning on having 143 lots available,” states General Manager Nancy Treiber. “Each one is ski in, ski out—truly.”
In the late summer of 2008, the province approved Hudson Bay Mountain’s plan to cut a trail from the mountain to the town, which, with a new lift, will increase the mountain’s vertical feet to 3,700.
“People who have been living here for 30 to 40 years have been wanting this trail to go ahead forever,” Treiber said. “It’s going to be exponentially greater.”
As for the feel of the mountain, she said, “It’s a wholesome environment—safe, incredibly safe. It has a holistic, healthy side to it.”
Moving on, continue along Highway 16 to Fort St. James’s Murray Ridge Ski Area. Just 15 minutes from town, the hill offers two T-bars, a day lodge with cafeteria, a ski school, and downhill as well as cross-country skiing.
The mountain’s main goal, as stated on its website, is “to provide affordable family skiing to our local population.” But that doesn’t mean visitors, especially those with kids, won’t fit right in.
Now hop back in your vehicle and head to Prince George where you will find three ski hills in the area: Purden Ski Village, Tabor Mountain Ski Resort and Hart Highlands.
Purden Ski Village is 60 kilometres east of Prince George. Depending on where you slept the night before, you can either strap into your skis or board on this hill on your way into Prince George, or make a day-trip once you’ve settled into an accommodation in the city.
Purden offers 20 per cent beginner runs, 55 per cent intermediate, and 25 per cent advanced. The mountain has two chairlifts and one T-bar, a day lodge, a restaurant and rental shop. Lessons are also available.
Calling itself central BC’s largest ski hill, Purden has 25 official runs and 1,100 vertical feet.
Prince George’s other two ski hills, Hart Highlands and Tabor Mountain, are nearer to town.
According to Tourism Prince George’s Marketing Coordinator Annie Doran, Tabor Mountain is right on the highway, only a 15-minute drive east of Prince George. The mountain offers night skiing and 800 vertical feet. This is where people head in the evenings, Doran says. “It’s a mix of everybody.”
As for Hart Highlands, Doran explains, “It’s smaller, it’s well-located, and it’s within the city limits so it’s a little more accessible for families. Driving from downtown takes only half an hour.” Being the smallest of all of the mountains in the area, “It’s good for kids,” Doran adds,
If you are comfortable in Prince George, you can day trip to Powder King, about 200 kms north. Either drive yourself or, if you want a break from the wheel, take the Powder King shuttle.
Two other options are to stay in Mackenzie, which is only 70 kms from the mountain, or stay at Powder King itself in its newly renovated hostel.
While you may be tempted to skip Powder King because it’s off the main highway, this is where people head if they are serious about skiing and snowboarding, Doran says. Powder King—also known simply as PK—is well known for its deliciously deep powder: the hill’s average annual snowfall is 41 feet.
Even Kenny of Shames Mountain says, “PK gets crazy amounts of snow!”
“It has consistently dry powder and good bowl skiing,” Doran explains. “It’s the biggest of all the mountains around Prince George.”
PK has one triple chairlift and two surface lifts. Its 24 runs are divided into 33 per cent novice, 37 per cent intermediate and 30 per cent advanced. It’s good for backcountry skiing and sledding, says Shames’s Kenny.
By now it’s been a long journey. You are tired. Your clothes stink. You and your car buddies are likely getting on each other’s nerves. And unfortunately, to get the last mountain, you’ll have to backtrack to Prince George, and then drive east. But you’ve made it this far so you might as well stick it out to the end.
Marmot Basin is only 20 minutes from Jasper, Alberta, but it’s so close to the BC border and located in a national park that it’s worth the visit. Marmot is part of the Canadian Rockies, which means it’s tall. But snow this far east is much drier than the snow on the West Coast. While the snow is light and fluffy, which is good, it doesn’t blanket the hill as completely and so you are more likely to hit rocks.
Marmot is a small hill, nowhere near the size of the nearby Lake Louise resort—but it still boasts 3,000 vertical feet and 84 marked trails, which is significantly larger than some of the other mountains you will have conquered on this trip.
When you have completed your visit to all these fun and friendly ski hills, you will be a veteran of northern skiing. See you on the slopes!