From sleds to surfboards

🕔Dec 07, 2010

Snow. Ice. Wind. These three simple words are enough to instill dread in many people. In others, however, the words—and related weather phenomena—induce eager anticipation.

Northern BC winters can be tough. Sore backs and shoulders are a given from hours of shoveling snow, and just the idea of vacating the warmth of a cozy bed on a dark winter morning is enough to make one shiver.

But winters in the North—and their snow, ice and wind—can also bring with them a pile of pleasure bigger than your stash of firewood.

December is the time to switch the gear in your garage or basement. Swap the bike for skis, poles and boots. Pack away the boat and tune up the snowmobile. Bag your cleats and line up your skates and hockey sticks.

Whatever your sport of preference, there’s a whopping number to choose from in Northern BC—some a bit new to the area, and others which have been around for years but may be new to you.

Below are just a few random acts of pleasure to choose from. Take a risk—try one of these, or at least check them out as an observer in anticipation of trying them next season.

Catch the wind
Snow-kiting, kiteboarding, kiteskiing: call it what you may, once you’ve done it you will just call it kiting, according to Clint Hartman of Terrace.

And once you have done it, he adds, you will be addicted.
Kiting is one of the newest sports to hit the region. In the summer, kiters hit the lakes and oceans, riding waves on a board and performing tricks by catching the wind with a massive kite they control with a handle in their hands. In the winter, they hit frozen lakes, mountain slopes, glaciers and just about anywhere else with open space and gusty winds. Winter kiters can choose to ride a board or skis.

Hartman’s been kiting in the winter on his skis for one season now, but already he’s hooked. “The wind is something I never really paid attention to before. There’s a lot of power in it, it’s silent, and it’s just such a neat way to get around,” he says. “It ties into so many other sports.”

“It’s new to Northern BC. We are all just trying to figure out where the sweet spots are and we haven’t even started to scratch the surface. There is a lot of uncharted terrain around here. We are constantly trying to think of new places to check out given different wind conditions.”

In the summer, Hartman and his friends can be found kiting on the Douglas Channel near Kitimat, or on Lakelse Lake. In the winters, they hit Shames Mountain, take trips to glaciers and just about any other trails they can think of.

Kiters elsewhere in the region likely visit the same types of terrain; kiting is possible just about anywhere in the North. The main issues when looking for a sweet spot are access, wind direction and obstacles.

Lots of information, including new and used equipment, is available online for anyone interested in trying it out.

Catch a wave
Surfing and kayak-surfing aren’t new to Haida Gwaii, but riding waves in the area has definitely become more popular in the last several years. A new surf shop in Masset and easy access to information on the net has helped increase awareness of the sport on the islands and beyond.

“It’s really grown,” says local Kevin Borserio, who has been kayak-surfing since the ’70s. Having grown up on Vancouver Island but living on Haida Gwaii since the ’80s, Borserio is familiar with the surf in both places. He believes that if Haida Gwaii had better access to various parts of the islands (like its west coast), surfing here would be better than down south.

Besides great swells and friendly locals, the best thing about surfing in Haida Gwaii is that you can, as this is one of the few places in northern BC where this sport is possible.

For anyone interested in trying it out, the high season is during winter, mainly between October and May. Bring your own gear or rent it at the North Beach Surf Shop in Masset, just a 20-minute drive from North Beach, one of the main surfing spots.

Slay pow
The old faithfuls, skiing and snowboarding, are nothing new to the North. But these sports are unique here compared to the rest of the province in that they are still actually affordable. While day rates for ski resorts further south have been creeping up and up (a one-day lift ticket at Whistler-Blackcomb now costs $93), passes at local hills here in the north are still in the below-$50 range.

Other advantages to riding in the North are that warm and fuzzy community feel, fresh tracks even a couple days after a dump due to low population numbers, and a general kick-butt variety of runs in terms of difficulty and terrain.

Check out some of the following resorts for a day, weekend or week of faceshots. From west to east along Highway 16, choose from Shames Mountain (just west of Terrace); Hudson Bay Mountain (Smithers); Murray Ridge (Fort St. James); Purden, Tabor Mountain and Hart Highlands (Prince George area); Powder King (north of Prince George near Mackenzie); Troll Resort (east of Quesnel); and Marmot Basin (Jasper).

Slay more and deeper pow
Heliskiing also isn’t quite unique or new to the area, but it’s so gosh-darn good it must be mentioned.

Several heliskiing operations are based in Northern BC. Northern Escapes Heliskiing flies out the Yellow Lodge, west of Terrace. Last Frontier Heliskiing is based out of Bell 2 Lodge along the Stewart Cassiar Highway between Meziadin Junction and Bob Quinn Lake. Klondike Heliskiing works out of Atlin, close to the Yukon border. Skeena Heliskiing is at the Bear Claw Lodge in the Kispiox Valley. And Crescent Spur Heli-Skiing is near Prince George.

All of these operations aren’t quite as affordable as $50 a day but they offer thousands of vertical feet per hour and experiences you’ll never forget.

Slay more and deeper pow on a sled
Snowmobiling in the North is spectacular for many reasons. Trailheads are close to home, terrain is endless and varied, and the season is long – from November until the end of spring in many places.

Almost all northern communities boast good riding. Two popular but very different places are Stewart and Houston. While sledders in Stewart find themselves on their own in mountain country as big as it gets, Houston’s trails are maintained regularly and a sledding map of the area is available.

For those with a competitive spirit, or others who only want to witness the speed and power of these machines, several competitions take place around the region. For example, Burns Lake Snowmobile Association has recently expanded its February drag races to a two-day event. Lana Miller, the club’s treasurer, says the club now has bleachers, a race shack, warming tent and concession at the races as well.

“We’ve had up to 100 individuals compete,” Miller says, adding that participants are now coming from as far away as Alaska.

Mush and glide
Dogsledding is a lifestyle. Mushers with small kennels keep about 20 dogs, while bigger kennels have anywhere from 40 to 60. All of the animals need high-quality food and year-round exercise and training.

Craig Houghton, president of the Fort St. James Sled Dog Association, has been involved with the sport since he was a child. “Mushers are funny people,” he says. “It’s like an addiction for us. As soon as the temperature drops, we are running dogs.”

“It’s one of the most exciting ways to travel through the winter. Of course, you have to love dogs,” he adds.

Fort St. James is home to the most dog mushers per capita in BC. It’s also home to the Caledonia Classic, the largest dog-sledding race in the province. So for anyone interested in the sport, this is a good place to start. For those interested in going out for a day, a weekend or longer, a few companies in the region, such as Power Dogs in Prince George, provide tours.

If you just want to watch mushers and their dogs at work, the Caledonia Classic in late February has been set up for spectators, Houghton says. Most of the event takes place on wide-open Stuart Lake, so is easy to watch. Also, the event includes various sprint races with differing numbers of dogs as well as the main three-day stage race.

“Saturday is the day to go,” Houghton says.

Some other Northern BC dog-sled races to attend include the Gold Rush Trail Dog Sled Mail Run in Quesnel in January; the Canadian Open Dog Sled Races in Fort Nelson, in either January or February; and the Wolverine Challenge Sled Dog Race in Tumbler Ridge in March.

Glide over an abyss
Forget ice-skating under neon lights. When it’s been cold enough for long enough, water bodies just happen to be the perfect outdoor ice rinks. As long as someone—or preferably a few someones—are willing to put in the time to shovel snow to the side, you’ll be amazed at just how smooth frozen lakes and rivers can be.

Whether you want to enjoy a casual skate or a game of hockey, you’ll never experience anything quite like gliding over clear ice with black water beneath you. It’s actually a little freaky until you get used to it.

Glide nordic style
One of the best parts about being a member of your local cross-country ski club in the North is the overnight cabins they maintain. Many are equipped with beds, a stove, wood, and all the pots, pans and utensils required for a night or two of camping—and usually at a cost of only a few dollars per person.

To name just a few: The Onion Lake Ski Trails, between Kitimat and Terrace, offers the Moose Hut. Vanderhoof’s Waterlily Ski Trails has wooden shelters at both Waterlily and Homestead Lakes. And Houston’s Morice Mountain Nordic Ski trails has a cabin on Morice Mountain that sleeps eight.

Strap on your skis and a backpack full of overnight gear, and head out for an adventure. Bring your headlamp and go for a night ski while you are out there. If you time it right, full-moon nights are the best.