Ride the Coquihalla this winter

With legendary snow conditions, the Coquihalla is considered a prize among sledding destinations

exterior of a warm-up shed
Henning Cabin is the perfect place to warm up. Gerald Gelderman photo

When the ocean wind currents sweep up off the Pacific, they bring clouds of moisture blasting through the Fraser Valley and onto the Cascade Mountains to the east. 

These coastal rains quickly transform into deep powdery snow on the rising elevations of the Coquihalla—thus creating the area’s famous snow conditions, which sledders from miles around eagerly seek out each and every winter.

Most visiting riders travel the Coquihalla Highway from Hope via Highway 5 north towards Kamloops. The Coquihalla Highway climbs through the Great Bear snow shed, crests the summit of Coquihalla Pass (elevation 1,240 metres/4,068 feet), then crosses the top of the Thompson Plateau. Near the summit sits the Britton Creek rest area and parking lot (with washrooms). From here, there is easy access to the trailhead of the local snowmobile club.

“We have an active and growing club called the Coquihalla Summit Snowmobile Club,” said Gerald Gelderman, club president. “Just a few years ago we had less than 100 members and now we are almost over 300. From our paved parking lot riders can access all our trails and riding areas. The other thing about the (Coquihalla) is that we get lots and lots of snow; however, the area is seldom fogged in with bad weather.”

Coquihalla is waiting for you

There are three distinct riding areas in the Coquihalla that match perfectly with any rider’s ability level.

There is the Pipeline Trail, of which more than 10 kilometres are groomed regularly. The Pipeline opens up two other popular terrain options—the Henning Mountain area and the 10-K (Coquihalla Mountain) riding area. Both are well-known for their boondocking potential and steeper terrain.

“With the Pipeline and our two main riding areas, we have something for all types of sledders, and they are clearly marked on our trail map and trail signs—easy, intermediate and advanced,” said Gelderman. “The club has posted large yellow banners at several access points in the more complex riding areas. The banners warn of possible avalanche danger, aggressive terrain and (conditions for) advanced riders only.”

Gelderman explained that they want everyone to take safety seriously and ride responsibly in their area. The club regularly hosts avalanche training and safe riding courses in an effort to educate and prepare riders for the wide variety of terrain and snow conditions they will encounter in the Coquihalla region.

A team effort

There are a lot of snowmobilers from the Fraser Valley—Chilliwack and Abbotsford—who travel to the Coquihalla just about every weekend to ride. A fair number of these riders are also members of the club. The club obtained a management agreement for the area two years ago and now charges a trail fee of $20 per day to help maintain and groom the trails.

Membership costs $125, with a  discount available for families. The club recently purchased a newer and larger groomer with a tiller to better maintain its network of more than 60 kilometres of signed trails.

The trails also interconnect with two neighbouring snowmobile clubs—the Merritt Snowmobile Club and the Timberline Cruisers of Tulameen—allowing for some very interesting destination trips like sledding to the town of Tulameen for lunch at a local restaurant.

“The thing I really like about riding in the Coquihalla is the variety of terrain,” said Gelderman, who proudly rides a new Arctic Cat M8 mountain sled.  “I can ride with my daughter and wife on our groomed alpine trail system, then the next day I can boondock through the trees and the following day I can ride the aggressive stuff in the high bowls and steeper terrain.”

Comfortable accommodations for visiting riders can be obtained at the nearby Coquihalla Lakes Lodge or at hotels and motels just a half-hour’s drive away in either Hope or Merritt.

It’s been a busy summer for the Coquihalla club as they have been working hard to expand their groomed trail into the 10-K area and erecting a new groomer shed near the parking lot at the Britton Creek rest area. 

This is also the location of one of the club’s three cabins, which members and visitors are welcome to enjoy. So if you are visiting the Coquihalla area, watch for the club’s many activities including safety training, barbecues, poker runs and other rider events listed on the website, or on the club’s Facebook page.

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