Mountains for every skill level in Smithers

Smithers Snowmobile Association

by Jessica Kirby

People on snowmobiles near snowy trees.
A group of sledders take a rest stop on the Microwave in Smithers, B.C. Photo courtesy Smithers Snowmobile Club

Smithers is the sort of place where people don’t just go sledding – they eat, sleep, and breathe the rush of fresh powder, epic views, and steep and deep terrain that keep even the most expert riders coming back for more. But that doesn’t mean novice riders need to stay home. The proximity of two easy to moderate trail systems—The Onion and The Dome—make for long days of family fun on wide, groomed trails and steady rolling trails for at least five months of the year. And for the extreme adventurer, the Microwave and Sinclair Ranges are about the best around for steep and deep terrain, wild bowls, and technical riding at its best. What are you waiting for?

The Dome

Families and novice riders will love a day on The Dome, with wide, groomed trails leading eight kilometres to the Jason Robert Elliot Memorial shelter. Play in a big, open meadow in front of the cabin or continue past the cabin on a circle route that heads out the Canyon Creek Forest Service Road and leads back to the parking lot. For a longer adventure, riders can head right, up and over the hill behind the cabin to end up on the Fulton Forest Service Road, where they can ride right into Grand Isle mining town. The terrain is all the best of mountain riding—scenic views and soft, rolling hills—but without the intense challenges.

Driving directions to staging area: Leave Smithers heading north on Highway 16 and travel three kilometres to Babine Lake Road. Turn left and drive 19.5 kilometres to the huge Dome parking lot, complete with a permanent lock block ramp for loading and unloading sleds.
Elevation: 4,625 feet
Distance from Smithers: 22 kilometres
Grooming season: December to April
Difficulty level: Easy to moderate

The Onion

The Onion is part of Babine Mountains Provincial Park, and sledders can make use of two special permit areas: Four Lakes and Cronin. The ride up to the Onion shelter just outside the park boundary is about 9.5 kilometres and another four kilometres will take you to Berdettes shelter, which is within the park. Families with some experience will enjoy a relaxing, easy ride to the first shelter, and kids can try out powder meadows and rolling hills while Mom and Dad can take on some trickier challenges. Just past Berdettes, get ready for some steeper terrain, treed areas, creeks, glaciers and gullies, where experience in boondocking and navigating intermediate terrain are musts.

Driving directions to staging area: Head north out of Smithers on Highway 16 and take a left onto Babine Lake Road. About 18 kilometres later, take a left at the junction and travel 3.5 kilometres on Old Babine Lake Road. At the parking lot, there is a plowed connector between The Dome and The Onion, so visitors can easily spend half a day at each.
Elevation: Onion Cabin 5,219 feet
Distance from Smithers: 25 kilometres
Grooming season: December to April
Difficulty level: Moderate

Microwave Plateau and Sinclair Range

The Microwave and Sinclair are side by side and not for the faint at heart. An easy seven-kilometre ride from the parking lot takes sledders to the John Emmerson shelter, and from there it just gets better. Easy and boondocking “whoopty-dos” lead out to the Sun Pit, where wild bowls, steep climbs, and hills and valleys can keep you busy for days. Get ready for tight, ungroomed trails through the trees and as much hillclimbing as you can handle. The area is marked using the Avalanche Terrain Evaluation System (ATES), so be sure to check out the conditions before heading out—and use the beacon checkers.

Driving directions to staging area: Head 14 kilometres east of Smithers to the community of Telkwa. Drive 19 kilometres on the Telkwa River Forest Service Road and watch for the parking lot.
Elevation: 5,055 feet
Distance from Smithers: 33 kilometres
Grooming season: December to April (to the John Emmerson shelter only)
Difficulty level: Difficult

Local buzz

Bill Wookey has covered a lot of ground since he first hopped on an old Elan in 1974. These days he seeks out fresh powder and extreme terrain on his 2012 800 Polaris RMK in some of Smithers’ hard-to-find places. He said he and a group of friends most people think are nuts get up bright and early to hit the fresh snow on The Microwave and Sinclair, and as the day moves on, so do they—into deeper, more remote areas.

“Being from the valley and being an early rider, we head to the closest mountains first,” said Wookey. “We head further and further into the Microwave as the trails get busier. Later in the year we head to steeper, narrower trails.”

Wookey said he is always on the hunt for clear skies and deep snow, and is reluctant to divulge his secret places. But if you know what you’re doing and where to look, the possibilities are endless.

Know before you go

Trail passes are needed to ride at The Dome and Microwave. These and annual Smithers Snowmobile Association (SSA) memberships are available at all three snowmobile dealers in Smithers: Evergreen Industrial (BRP), Trails North Powersports (Polaris) and Wayside Service (Arctic Cat). Annual memberships will run you $140 and trail passes are $20 per user per day. The association participates in the Buck Ahead program, which donates a dollar from each trail pass to the Canadian Avalanche Centre. Printed maps are currently unavailable, but Terrain Guides for the Microwave and Sinclair are available for free at the dealers or from SSA. Watch for maps online at SSA’s website before the end of the season.

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