It’s no secret that British Columbia offers some of the best outdoor adventures in the world. A better-kept secret is when to come.
Spring, summer and fall have their charms, but for many British Columbians, winter is when things get really interesting.
And, although BC's growing reputation as a downhill destination is the obvious draw, there's a lot more to winter here than skiing and boarding.
May we suggest, for example, dog sledding, snowmobiling, sleigh riding, ice climbing, ice fishing or snowshoeing? Or what about a spot of winter scuba diving, surfing or storm watching?
Virtually every mountain resort in the province offers a growing menu of ways to play in the snow, from snowshoeing to tubing, outdoor ice skating to romantic horse-drawn sleigh rides. Eco-friendly backcountry lodges provide access to untouched tracks of snow alpine, and, when the snow falls flies, BC's guest ranches shift gears from riding to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing (bonus: the spas run year-round).
Snow-tubing — basically sliding down a track on an inner tube — is available at most of the big ski resorts. It’s fast, fun, easy and a huge hit with kids.
Ziplining, a year-round sport, lets you fly above the snow-capped treetops while securely harnessed to a steel cable.
Ice Climbing: if you can climb a rock face, why not scale a waterfall? Frozen waterfalls in the Coast Mountains and the Kootenay Rockies attract challenge-hungry rock climbers in winter.
Other activities, such as snowshoeing, dogsledding and snowmobiling, which began life as high-latitude transport, are gaining ground as winter sports in BC.
Snowshoeing: one of the most accessible and low impact winter activities there is, snowshoeing requires little more skill than walking, so beginners, kids and non-athletes can be trekking through the white hush of a winter forest in no time. Virtually all of BC's mountain resorts and cross-country destinations offer snowshoeing. One popular twist is a romantic starlit snowshoe trek followed by fondue at a lodge or marshmallow roasting over a campfire. At the other extreme, outfitters can take serious snowshoers on multi-day, hut-to-hut, wilderness treks; Wells Gray Provincial Park in the Thompson Okanagan region is a prime destination.
Dogsledding: this traditional form of transport is gaining huge popularity as a sport, a thrill ride, and a low-impact way to get around the backcountry. Many BC ski resorts offer short trips for beginners, while several companies offer longer day and overnight lodge-based journeys. At Elkford, near Fernie in the Kootenay Rockies, the annual Wilderness Classic Sled Dog Derby features dog sledding and skijoring (where a skier is pulled along by a dog team). In addition, each February, Fort St. James in Northern BC hosts the annual Caledonia Classic Dogsled Races, an exciting sprinting event.
Snowmobiling: Snowmobiling is growing in popularity throughout BC, thanks to the easy access it provides into BC’s backcountry. At Whistler, guided rides might finish with a fondue dinner at a cabin in the woods. At nearby Pemberton, sledders can snowmobile across a glacier. The Logan Lake area, near Kamloops in the Thompson Okanagan, has some 500 kilometres (311 miles) of marked trails, while the Rocky, Purcell, Selkirk and Monashee mountains in the Kootenay Rockies beckon with vast backcountry and panoramic views. Guides can take snowmobilers into the alpine from Golden, Revelstoke and Panorama Mountain Village.
The Bridge River Valley, located in the south Chilcotin Mountains, is something of a sledder’s paradise with a vast network of trails and several local outfitters in the neighboring communities of Gold Bridge and Bralorne. Also in the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast region, Tweedsmuir Provincial Park’s Rainbow Range, accessible from Highway 20 near Heckman Pass, is a prime snowmobiling destination, with a cabin reservable through Tweedsmuir Ski Club. In Northern BC, the snowmobiling options are limitless, but two popular trail networks are at Tumbler Ridge, with 300 kilometres (190 miles) of designated snowmobile trails, and Terrace with 80 kilometres (50 miles) of groomed routes in the surrounding mountains.
Off the Beaten Path: think you want to skip the snow altogether? On BC's coast, winter, with its clear waters, is the peak season for scuba diving, for surfing (for those who like the really big waves), and for storm watching, a delightful activity that involves curling up by the fire and watching nature's fury play out beyond the windows.
Believe it or not, watching a winter storm is all the rage on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Each year (November through March), six-metre (20-foot) waves crash against the coastline, and the sound of the roaring surf can be heard for miles. Many locations in both Tofino and Ucluelet celebrate the season with a variety of accommodation which include storm watching packages (some offering afternoon nature walks complete with rain gear). Indeed, this is one getaway where storms are a welcome sight.
Curling up by the fire, is, of course, always an option. Whether you’ve spent the day snowmobiling, ice skating, dog sledding, or having a hot stone massage, you still get your après -— finishing the day in a spa resort, a ski condo or a eco-friendly backcountry lodge, complete with roaring fire, top notch cuisine and a passionate discussion about the next off-beat sport to try.