[Destination] A road trip of epic proportions through British Columbia

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[Destination] A road trip of epic proportions through British Columbia

Photos: Abby Cooper

I’ve never met a place with more to offer than Northern British Columbia, and the urge to share its magic has positioned me as road trip wrangler a few times—last winter was no different. The almost-20 hour drive from my home in Squamish is always a profitable investment (in snow terms) but rallying a crew who has never heard of a single town, mountain range or resort in the perceived middle of nowhere can be a challenge. Whether it was showing off photos of spine lines or deep powder at Shames Mountain, a community-run co-op resort in Terrace BC; or speaking up about the untapped sled-skiing opportunities in Stewart and big alpine at Skeena Cat Skiing—the curiosity of my peers wasn’t hard to brew. 

Even for the seasoned visitor, it hits different to travel into these zones. Yes, it’s the lure of the big, powerful and plentiful mountain experience—but it’s more. The smell of cedar as you enter a longhouse to see a totem pole being carved in ‘Ksan or soaking in the sacred and healing hot pools of the Nisga’a Nation after a deep day of skiing has a special way of making the indigenous culture tangible. The quiet and friendly towns welcome visitors and share information on their local zones without protection—there’s enough good stuff to go around out here. It’s the addictive reality of knowing there’s always a new hidden gem to explore. 

Northern BC is a trap. A trap for exploration, good times and deep snow. So bring the snorkel, wear your Blundstone boots and flannel—it’s the uniform of the north, call your beanie a toque, leave the ego at home and… oh, fill up the truck often, there’s lots of space between gas stations.

Just like every trip up north, it was unlike any trip up north. Here, I’ve left you some of my favorite photographs paired with anecdotes from the trip. Maybe this will be the only inspiration you need to point your compass north this winter.

SKIERS: Blake Marshall, Abel Moga, Ian Morrison & Jess Hotter | LOCATION: Powder King Mountain Resort

Straight from the Northern American Freeride World Tour stop in Golden, BC, Jess Hotter, Abel Moga and Blake Marshall met up with myself and fellow Canadians Ian Morrison, Jeff Thomas (filmer) and Blair Richmond (filmer). Powder King was first on the agenda. One chairlift, one t-bar, one pub, no problems—unless you were iced on the skin track by Ian Morrison. Guilty as charged.

LOCATION: ‘Ksan Historical Village, Hazelton, BC

With eyes on the forecast, our nimble snow-obsessed crew headed west to Terrace, BC, while prioritizing a few cultural stops, including the serenity-inducing cedar tubs at the Aiyansh Hot Springs and the awe-inspiring ‘Ksan Historical Village of Hazelton. 

SKIER: Abel Moga | LOCATION: Shames Mountain

No matter which route you take, the descent back in bounds still holds plenty of powder. With pristine views of the resort below, it’s also an indicator of parking lot beers to come. The daily ritual in the life of a Shames skier is a kind one to those who commit to the place.

SKIERS: Ian Morrison & Abel Moga | LOCATION: Shames Mountain

Shames Mountain—it’s like living the same day over and over again, but it’s the best day ever. Up the blue chair, glide to the orange T-bar and indulge in the in bounds all-you-can-eat face shots buffet. up the blue chair, glide to the orange T-bar, and tour to paradise: spine lines, big alpine bowls, gladed trees and perfect poppers. In bounds or out, the choice is yours, and either way, you won’t be disappointed. 

SKIER: Jaret Bull | LOCATION: Stewart, BC

Stewart, BC, and Hyder, Alaska, the winding homes that dot the long Portland Channel, make for more of a hybrid township than a border crossing. It’s a gold-mining town that ended with a bust, but its established roadways left behind a skier’s version of gold—an untouched sled skier’s paradise. Not to mention a picturesque town with comfortable accommodations, streets wide enough to double park sled trailers and a self-serve 24-hour gas station. Led by local Dylan Marek, Jaret Bull and I were in for a treat—seven days of skiing.

SKIER: Abel Moga | LOCATION: Shames Backcountry

“This place is hilarious!” beamed Abel with snow covering his entire face after just stomping his landing in the deep.

 I chuckled back — “What’s so funny?” He responded with logic I couldn’t argue, “The snow is so perfect, it feels so good, and I can land everything.” That’s the magic of Shames Mountain.

SKIERS: Yuki Tsubota & Jaret Bull | LOCATION: Skeena Cat Skiing, Smithers, BC

Jaret Bull and I linked up with Rory Bushfield and Yuki Tsubota when we left the sleds at the helipad in Smithers, BC. A quick flight took us to the remote alpine base camp of Skeena Cat Skiing for a few days of backcountry bliss. This dream crew each brought their own interpretation of how to dance through the playful terrain making up the tenure.

SKIER: Jaret Bull | LOCATION: Stewart, BC

Sled-able, skiable, untouched. If you make the effort to haul your snowmobile to this remote slice of paradise, you will not be disappointed. A quick brap led us to where this shot was taken. And while there is plenty beyond “here” — I dare you to ski it out first. We tried. It was one of those, zoom-in moments or you’ll miss the action against the big landscapes found via snowmobile outside of Stewart, BC.

SKIERS: Yuki Tsubota & Jaret Bull | LOCATION: Skeena Cat Skiing, Smithers, BC

Stationed in Smithers, BC, for a week, we did work on a few local sled-ski spots with incomprehensible options. When the choice was to continue to explore via snowmobile and see what was around the next corner or ride the line right in front of our faces, we encountered some serious commitment issues. After touring on sleds, it was a welcome feeling to hop in the back of a snowcat at Skeena Cat Skiing where someone else was doing the driving.

SKIER: Jaret Bull LOCATION: Skeena Cat Skiing, Smithers, BC

Winding alpine ridges by cat, slashing powder, hefty descents and dining like ski royalty at night—the good news is that everyone is ski royalty at Skeena. Our stay couldn’t have been more perfect. Cold snow, warm sleeping quarters, guides that cater to what you want to ski and—to top it off—the family-run operation didn’t try to be anything else. We dined with the Zyp family and swapped stories with the crew after hours over cocktails. A backcountry routine we all got used to quickly.  

LOCATION: Northern, BC

Heading home with empty tanks and a truckload of gear, our bodies were tired yet our minds were only somewhat content. It’s a tricky balance to feel completely fulfilled knowing you’re leaving so much potential behind. Already looking ahead to next season, we completed our drive and created an objective list. See you soon Northern BC.

This story originally appeared in FREESKIER Volume 25, Issue 02.
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