Snowmobiling East Kootenay

Snowmobiling began its rise to fame in in the second half of the 20th century and hasn’t slowed down since. “Recreational snowmobiling”, whose riders are called snowmobilers or sledders, is known by many names, but it doesn’t really matter what you call it, the sport has never been so popular.

Here in the mountains of East Kootenay there are dozens, maybe hundreds, of places where riders can experience majestic wilderness vistas on a snowmobile. There are trails that are especially groomed for sleds, some great for beginners, others more challenging for thrill seekers. There are remote areas where snowmobiles can carve new tracks into virgin snow. Whatever your passion, once you’re hooked there’s no going back.

Snowmobiling in the high country
Photo by White N Wild Snowmobile Tours, Golden

Here are some great places to explore in East Kootenay:

Fernie

Fernie area – There are practically endless kilometres of snowmobiling trails in this Elk Valley playground where sledders can enjoy a banquet of choices for all abilities and styles. Some of the favorites of the locals are:

  • Rolling Hills – easily accessible, lots of options, warming hut, only 10 km to the Rolling Hills cabin with cut blocks beyond, connects to the Wranglers / Morrissey trail network
  • The Notch – provides access to some really technical areas, the Wranglers Cabin along the way, steeper climbs to the sub-alpine bowls and glades
  • Hartley Lake trail – the gateway to some super technical alpine sledding into remote areas, boondocking opportunities, towering limestone peaks, scenic rocky mountain views
  • Corbin – 10 km of groomed trails lead to advanced alpine riding zones on the the BC/Alberta border.
Cranbrook

Cranbrook area – Probably the most popular snowmobiling area around Cranbrook is Lumberton. The approach is just 10 km outside the city, you can count on the trails to be smooth, and the snow is always good. Lumberton caters to just about every kind of sledding and provides challenges for all abilities. The Cranbrook Snowmobile Club website offers an excellent map of the Lumberton trail network.

Kimberley

Kimberley area – “If you have had enough of crowded sledding areas, busy parking lots and whooped-out suspension-eating trails, Kimberley is a hidden gem in the Rockies, offering a more relaxed family orientated atmosphere that escapes the hustle and bustle of other tourist towns bombarded by the weekend effect.” (Mountain Sledder Snowmobile Magazine)

With the Rockies to the east and the Purcells to the west, the trails to the north of the city dish up some of the deepest, driest powder anywhere. Rides are on ungroomed, back-country trails into tall pine forests, deep gullies and over creek beds, testing both machine and rider.

The area around Kimberley Alpine Resort offers groomed trails where beginners can ride along established routes through woods and valleys, while advanced sledders can challenge themselves in more remote areas.

Central Columbia Valley

Central Columbia Valley area – The area between Canal Flats and Spillimacheen is legendary snowmobiling country, with great rides for beginners and intermediates and thrills and chills aplenty for the more experienced. All that, plus a long, hot soak in the famous mineral hot pools at Fairmont or Radium Hot Springs are the perfect ending to your adventure.

From Panorama Mountain Resort, sign up for your choice of some memorable guided tours:

  • The half-day tour to Paradise Basin takes you up to 2400 metres (8,000 feet) and features an abandoned silver mine, with wildlife sightings and spectacular scenery.
  • The full-day Paradise Basin tour is all of the above and more.
  • The Mountain Icefall tour through old-growth forest provides views of Panorama Mountain Resort, the towering peaks surrounding Toby Creek Valley, and a breathtaking frozen waterfall.
  • The Powder X tour is for the daring folk who want to challenge the deep, dry powder with high-performance machines. Learn to boondock, sidehill and highmark.
  • The beginner tour (Taste of the Valley) is a good way to introduce yourself to the sport of snowmobiling.
  • Or there’s the granddaddy tour of them all — the 2-day Paradise Basin & Powder X combo. Day 1 will be spent in Paradise Basin on a 65-horsepower touring snowmobile. Learn new skills and gain confidence. Day 2 will be in the backcountry near Forster Creek on a Skidoo Summit 600.

Radium Hot Springs offers riders several trails to experience:

  • Forster Creek, on the Forster Creek forest service road near Radium Hot Springs, is the most popular. It is a groomed trail leading to four meadows for powder carving and boondocking or, if you’re more adventurous, you can go further up to high alpine lakes.
  • Brewer Creek trail lies 17 km south of Invermere. It is not maintained and is defintely more challenging, but the incredible meadow and high alpine-bowl scenery is well worth the experience. Avalanches are an ever-present hazard.
  • Rocky Point, west of Brisco, is not maintained and is suitable for experienced riders. Access this area along is by the Bugaboo forest service road. Use extreme caution here.
  • Doctor Creek is an unmaintained area near Canal Flats and features several avalanche paths along the trail so is suggested for experienced mountain riders only.
  • Paradise Mine is an area that is privately maintained by Toby Creek Adventures. If you wish to visit the area, you can book a trip with them through Panorama Mountain Resort or obtain written permission.

SnoRiders magazine has a good map of the Columbia Valley trail system.

Golden

Golden area – Here in the midst of the Canadian Rockies, the Selkirks and the Purcell range, you’ll find spectacular powder on more than 240 kilometres of groomed trails, 4 maintained areas and 13 zones:

  • Quartz Creek is a groomed area 40 kilometres west of Golden on the Trans-Canada Highway, at an elevation of 2,590 metres (8,500 feet). Quartz Creek is suitable for all abilities, but more advanced riders might like to travel into the Prairie Hills (avalanche hazard in this area). Since this borders on Glacier National Park and heliskiing areas where sledding is not permitted, it is advisable to check the map at the trailhead.
  • Gorman Lake area is only 5 minutes from Golden and can be accessed from the Golden Golf Club road. Turn left onto the Dogtooth forest service road and follow it to the ticket booth. Carry on about 3.5 kilometres to the parking lot then take the groomed trail for about 20 kilometres to the end. Climb up to the lake to see panoramic mountain views. This trail is not recommended for inexperienced sledders.
  • Silent Pass involves using a logging access road leading to rolling hills in the slpine area at an elevation of 2,530 metres (8,300 feet). All sledders, from beginners to advanced, will enjoy this one.
  • West Bench trail is ideal for families, with no avalanche danger and gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains. With a highest elevation of 1,097 metres (3,600 feet), it’s 38 kilometres from beginning to end. It can be accessed from either the Gorman Lake trailhead or the Quartz Creek trailhead, but if you begin at the Gorman Lake end you will need to turn off at the timberframe sign about 8 kilometres along the way.
Snowmobiling in the backcountry
Photo by White N Wild Snowmobile Tours, Golden

These suggestions will hopefully get you started planning your next winter sledding adventure in East Kootenay, but it’s only a start. Do your own investigating in advance and learn everything you can about the area that you choose so you’ll be prepared to have a safe and memorable adventure. Happy trails!

(Feature photo by White N Wild Snowmobile Tours, Golden)

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