Sledding safely in Kimberley

Kimberley Snowmobile Adventures offers epic snowmobiling tours with a focus on safety

by Lisa Crane

Man snowmobiling
Jeff Cook, of Kimberley Snowmobiling Adventures, carves it up safely. Graham Genge, P3 Photography photo

Kimberley Snowmobile Adventures (KSA) is based in Kimberley, British Columbia. Owners Jeff Cook and Leah McDonald evidently have a passion for Kimberley and their business. Sustainability of the tourism industry in the area is a priority.

They are committed to operating with minimal environmental impact while exposing their guests to a rewarding backcountry experience. Obviously, this means getting there and back safely.

Cook and McDonald talked to SnoRiders about what it means to guide safely in the area and how to maximize a safe Kootenay backcountry experience.

“Safety concerns in the East Kootenay area are much the same as any other backcountry snowmobiling areas in British Columbia,” said Cook.

Cook said high-speed travel is possibly the largest risk and appropriate measures should be taken to avoid collision. Proper trail etiquette should be followed, such as staying to the right-hand side of the trail, slowing for blind corners and hills, and using proper hand signals. He recommended using extra caution while travelling when active logging is taking place.

“It may sound like common knowledge to save the beer drinking for the bar after the ride and to wear a helmet, but I am still surprised and disappointed with how frequently I pick up beer cans from our staging area and along the trail,” said Cook. “It is, unfortunately, common to pass large groups of mature snowmobilers with no helmets on.”

Cook said he feels that it is up to the mature members of the snowmobiling communities to set a proper example for the younger generations.

To combat getting stuck or stranded, Cook said snowmobilers should always carry a saw, a length of rope and a shovel to help with potential evacuation of a snowmobile. Having enough food, water and shelter to spend the night is highly recommended.

“Check the weather forecast and head out of alpine areas if you see a storm or fog moving in,” said Cook. "Lack of communication in mountainous regions is a real safety concern, especially in our area of the East Kootenay, where the volume of backcountry snowmobilers is less than that of areas further north."

He said it is possible to be the only group in a riding area; therefore, considering how you would reach outside help in the case of an emergency is important. Remote GPS communication, such as a Spot device, is a very helpful tool.

Avalanche risk

Cook said entering into avalanche terrain intentionally or accidentally can have huge safety implications. 

“Avoidance of avalanches is your number 1 defence,” said Cook. “The key to safety is in education.”

Knowing how to recognize avalanche terrain and conditions, and how to gather and interpret this information to take appropriate action, is key to limiting risk, Cook said.

He said snowmobilers must carry avalanche transceivers, shovels and probes. 

“These items, however, are not like putting on a helmet," said Cook. They do not help protect you from harm and they do not function on their own. Purchasing fancy gear just isn't enough."

He said that all of the riders in the group must have the equipment, know how to use it, understand its limitations and operate as a team.

“Avalanche training courses are a great way to learn how to use your equipment and how to perform a rescue as a group,” said Cook.

The lowdown on KSA

Kimberley Snowmobile Adventures can offer avalanche skills training courses, and is working towards offering Level 2 courses. Cook will complete his Canadian Avalanche Association (CAA) Operations Level 2 avalanche course this season. He also offers Sled Smarter Not Harder courses and facilitates instruction (for men and women separately) on snowmobile safety, mountain riding, troubleshooting, maintenance and repair, getting unstuck and riding in avalanche terrain.

Kimberley Snowmobile Adventures provides half-day, full-day and sunset rides, as well as multi-day packages.

“We operate on groomed forest service roads and strictly in no avalanche terrain,” said Cook. “Avoiding avalanche terrain eliminates the hazard and allows us to operate tours that do not require the use of avalanche equipment and guest avalanche training.”

When you go for your ultimate backcountry experience with these guys, you are guaranteed an epic and safe ride. All apparel, DOT-approved helmets and goggles are included in tour prices, and participants are briefed on proper snowmobile operation and trail etiquette.

Guides have both snowmobile and ski industry guiding experience and hold an 80-hour first-aid ticket as well as a CAA Avalanche Level 1 Operations ticket.

Key safety tips:
These are the key points Cook emphasized when it comes to sledding safely.

  • Wear a helmet, please.
  • Don't drink and ride.
  • If you have not taken formal avalanche training, consider taking a course from a qualified instructor before you ride in avalanche terrain (the key is in avoidance of risky terrain).
  • Gather information before you go and have a group meeting to make an appropriate plan for the ride (check the avalanche bulletin).
  • Hire a guide. Guides are highly trained and experienced people who greatly improve safety and overall riding experience.
  • Consider what type of gear you need to carry on yourself and as a group before you leave home.
  • Know how to use your equipment.

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