Sled Zones Part IV: Whistler, BC

April 15th, 2012 by

AS SEEN IN THE 2012 FREESKIER BACKCOUNTRY EDITION

MORE IN THIS SERIES:

• SLED ZONES PART I: COOKE CITY, MT

• SLED ZONES PART II: UTAH

• SLED ZONES PART III: COLORADO

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PHOTO: BLAKE JORGENSON — RIDER: DAN TREADWAY

The snowmobile. They don’t call it the poor man’s helicopter for nothing. In the endless search for untracked snow, no machine offers more accessibility for your money. The machines of today are bigger, wider and faster than ever, with the ability to get skiers almost anywhere the snow sticks. But sleds also offer a fast track to trouble. Aside from the inherent risks of backcountry travel, sleds lure riders into the middle of nowhere and routinely break down or get buried. And a sled is no Prius. The braap-braap of two-strokes isn’t a universally loved sound. In many circles, the fact you have skis in tow doesn’t separate you from the beer guzzling, high marking slednecks who established a culture long before sled skiing. But the rise in snowmobile accessed skiing proves that once you’ve experienced the two-stroke chairlift, odds are you’ll be sold. From Aspen to Whistler, here is a sampling of the West’s best sled zones.

 

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WORDS: LAURA OGDEN

British Columbia is the beating heart of backcountry sled skiing. Thanks to prolific logging projects throughout BC and the Coast Range, specifically around Pemberton and Whistler, the province offers Alaska-style terrain with minimal approaches.

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PHOTO: BRYN HUGHES — RIDER: DAN TREADWAY

Miller Road heads northwest out of Pemberton about 10 kilometers up the Pemberton Meadows road. To avoid parking on private property, park at the true end of the road. If you’re new to sled-skiing or it’s too dark for the alpine, you can rack up tree-skiing laps in the double digits without ever sledding off the logging road or main trail. Simply sled up to the end of the logging road and continue on the main trail until you feel like dropping in. Bear right and the road switchbacks will scoop you up (carry radios to communicate with your sledding chauffeur). There are many pillow zones with short, but puckery lines. Barely above treeline, the ridge proper has steep chutes that empty into big benches where you can easily pick up your partner to shuttle. A day at the Miller is straightforward, but it’s best to go with someone who knows the scene as sucker-gullies do exist, as well as private property surrounding the approach.

The Rutherford/Pemberton Icecap offers straight-forward tree skiing. Just beyond, the alpine offers big terrain with direct sled routes and fall-line skiing. Watch for weather—it comes in quickly and can sock in so thick up Rutherford that you don’t see holes in the snow until you’re in them. North Rutherford Creek Road is across from the Rutherford Creek Powerstation, 24 kilometers north of Whistler on the Sea-to-Sky Hwy/BC 99. Parking is wherever the snow starts, sometimes simply along or at the bottom of this road. The road is kept groomed for a well-spent $20 per user. About 25 kilometers up the road, you will come to a cabin. Here the tree skiing is straightforward.

The Hurley is a section of road that ultimately connects Pemberton and Goldbridge, a small ex-mining town 60 miles to the north. Accessible from Pemberton Meadows Road, simply sled up to the top of the pass and start ogling. There are steep lines on either side, with mini-golf to mega-golf options. Massive mountains like Face Mountain and Mount Sampson lurk beyond, and can be enjoyed with some extra effort if you have the gumption.

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PHOTO: BRYN HUGHES — RIDER: DAN TREADWAY

THE CREW

Harrison. Treadway. McIntosh. Hughes. Leblanc. Chilton. Treadway. Peterson. Treadway. Pehota. There’s also Johnston. Ankeny. Lax. Zayac. Basterrechea. Really, the entire town of Pemberton is a sled crew, as people migrate yearly to join the mayhem. The backcountry of Pemberton is a bowl of Skittles, with different-flavored combinations of rippers in mini-groups up every possible valley and drainage.

EQUIPMENT

If your intention is to go out and get ski laps using a snowmobile, tandeming in pairs, a long track of 162 or 153 inches is often preferred, and a good 800 or 1000cc four-stroke will do. It allows you to float through BC powder and climb up hills carrying two people with less effort and time spent putting in a track. If you’re a hippie and want to tandem with a four-stroke sled, you’ll want it turbo’d. Luckily, the wonderful people at Arctic Cat now sell four-stroke 1100cc Turbos out of the box. Arctic Cat sleds are commonly seen in the Whistler-Pemberton area, as well as Ski Doo and their XP models. With either, you will fit in with the locals when you stop by Route 99 Motorsports in Pemberton (route99motorsports.com; 866-244-5017) for Arctic Cat parts and service, or Valley Chainsaw and Recreation (Al Bush’s place at 604-894-6442) for Ski Doo support.

RENTALS: Coast Mountain Snowmobiles (coastmountainsnowmobiles.com; 604-815-1974). They rent an 800 Summit X for $300/day or $1200/ week, and deliver sleds for free for two or more.

INFORMATION

Pemberton and Whistler locals often trust what their friends have to say about current conditions in a zone over any website forecast. Go to the Mount Currie Coffee Company in Pemberton and eavesdrop to get the most comprehensive analysis of the snow conditions, weather patterns, and most importantly, snowpack. Avalanche conditions vary widely in the Whistler-Pemberton area, influenced by coastal moisture and often cooler systems from the north creating a warmer, wetter snowpack trend around Whistler (Brandywine), and cooler weather and drier snow north of Pemberton (the Rutherford/Pemberton Icecap). If you’re anti-social, check out the Whistler Blackcomb website (whistlerblackcomb.com). It has links to the local avalanche advisory site, and to the Canadian Avalanche centre (avalanche.ca).

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MORE IN THIS SERIES:

• SLED ZONES PART I: COOKE CITY, MT

• SLED ZONES PART II: UTAH

• SLED ZONES PART III: COLORADO

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About the author:
Henrik Lampert loves hot dogs, backflips, the Boston Bruins and Norway. Twenty-seven years old and a Massachusetts native, he's the Editor of Freeskier Magazine and Freeskier.com—a proud staffer since 2010.