The mountain ranges in Smithers, B.C., are so much more than amazing scenery. The region offers everything from family fun to extreme riding in unbelievable snow that goes for more than 400 kilometres. Riders can find vast meadows to open up in, steep hill climbs and simple, scenic trails—all within 30 minutes of town.
Ron Fowler, president of the Smithers Snowmobile Association, says the club maintains seven cabins in the Bulkley Timber Supply Area. The club grooms approximately 100 kilometres of the 400-kilometre trail system, which appeals to all levels of riders.
“Three of our areas offer trails for beginner to experienced riders—Dome, Onion and Harold Price,” said Fowler. “The Sinclair and Microwave are for experienced to extreme riders.”
Six other areas without cabins are for extreme riders only. Some have circle routes that exceed 190 kilometres.
“These last ones are usually spring riding and you can’t pack enough gas,” said Fowler.
The draw for families is the opportunity to try out mountain riding on relatively easy terrain. The Dome, for instance, offers rolling hills and wide open meadows and the trails are well-marked and easy to follow.
The cabin on Dome is in the process of a name change to Elliot Cabin in honor of a family who lost a son to an avalanche in 2010, says Fowler. It is about a half hour from town and from the Dome you can go up and over to McKendrick.
“This is close to town and a groomed trail and a nice way to spend an afternoon,” says Fowler.
The Onion Trail, on Onion Mountain, is 30 kilometres from the downtown parking lot and offers riding for all skill levels. The riding area on the Onion is a retained portion of Babine Mountain Provincial Park, which spreads out over 32,000 hectares of non-motorized space.
About 10 kilometres in is the first of two cabins on the Onion, fully stocked with firewood and outhouses—great places to ride out from or to just stop in and warm up. A second cabin called the Burdette Cabin was built in what is now the park by avid snowmobilers 40 years ago.
“Once you are at the cabins you are in the alpine wide open,” said Fowler. “There are sparse trees and creeks and a suite of experiences for everyone from beginner to extreme.”
Sledders are also eligible for eight trips a year of up to eight people into the Cronin and Four Lakes areas of the park by means of a special permit. These are extreme riding areas and whoever pulls the permit has to have avalanche training and mountain goat awareness courses.
The Microwave which, predictably, has a microwave tower at the top of the trail, is also a half hour out of town. It is about 14 kilometres on the highway and 20 kilometres on a forest service road and from parking lot to tower its about 12 kilometres.
“Last year we constructed a new cabin and it is three or four kilometers past the tower,” said Fowler. “We’ve named that the John D. Emmerson Memorial Cabin after a past president of the club who passed away in an ATV accident. There is also an old Microwave cabin another 10 kilometres from the new cabin.”
Access to the Microwave is also possible from the Hudson’s Bay ski hill behind Smithers. The ungroomed Pine Creek Trail leads off from the ski hill parking lot four or five kilometers through the bush and opens up into some big bowls for experienced riders.
Adventure-seekers can head out 30 kilometres on the Telkwa River Road to the Sinclair Range, which is “steep and deep,” said Fowler. “You’re out of timber. The mountains peak out about 2,600 metres or so and our treeline is at 1,300 metres, so you don’t have to go very far to get out of the trees.”
West of Smithers about 35 kilometres on Highway 16 is the Harold Price area, where riders will find family-friendly, easy terrain and a warming cabin. The area also has non-motorized areas designated to accommodate local ski clubs—there are signs in the meadows indicating the areas to avoid on sled. The ski clubs also have a cabin in the area that is used exclusively by them.
The club parks two BR400 groomers with Mogul-masters, one at the Onion and Dome and the other at the Microwave. A member of the snowmobile club donates low bed service to move the machines when necessary. One is sometimes taken to Harold Price and the trails are groomed as members are available.
Before Harold Price, riders can go in at 18 kilometres to Seaton and Blunt for some experienced to extreme riding.
“I used to do a circle route years ago,” said Fowler. “I’ve gone places and broken new ground … where you’re absolutely vertical in a bowl and you feel so insignificant. It’s nothing to do a 1,000-foot poke to try to get up into a saddle where there’s just barely enough room to park five sleds. You stop and look around, and 30 seconds later you put your helmet back on and off you go and you’re just a little dot a mile away.”
Memberships or day passes are required and are available at all the local snowmobile dealers and will soon be available online with a smartphone-friendly download at www.openskiesins.ca
See more amazing photos of snowmobiling in Smithers at our flickr link.