6 Things to Know When Planning a Snowmobile Trip Out West (BC)
By Patrick Garbutt
Ever dreamed of breaking free from the trail and riding the wide-open terrain of the big mountains out west? It’s a beautiful dream and one that every snowmobiler should experience. But enjoying that moment of freedom first requires some planning and know-how. Here are 6 things to know when planning a snowmobile trip out west.
You’re Probably Going to Need Avalanche Gear
The whole point of making a snowmobile trip out west is to explore the mountains, right? Sure, there are plenty of trails with no exposure to avalanche terrain to ride if you feel so inclined, even out there. But if you’re going to the effort to travel that far, you’ll probably want to experience some of the breathtaking alpine terrain firsthand.
In that case, then yes, you’re going to need dedicated avalanche gear—transceiver, probe and shovel. But it’s just as important to know how to use that stuff as it is to carry it! That leads us to our second point.
It’s a Good Idea to Hire a Guide
If you’ve never sledded in the mountains before, it’s a really good idea to hire a guide. There are plenty of risks to snowmobiling in the hills, but a guide has the necessary knowledge, experience and equipment to mitigate those risks for you. They aren’t just there to show you around, but to keep you safe as well. You will have more fun cruising around and taking in the views with a guide watching over you than you will wandering around on your own, worrying about hazards that you don’t even know exist.
Bring Your Own Sled or Rent?
If you’re flying across the country to go snowmobiling, bringing your own sled with you is not a plausible option. Some people do choose to make the long drive west with their own snowmobile. However, if you’re coming from afar, chances are your sled might not be ideally suited for mountain terrain anyway. With a rental unit you’ll be getting a modern mountain sled, which will help you to access the most remote and technical terrain your ability level allows. A unit from a reputable rental outfit will be set up properly for use in the mountains, and be kept in good working order.
The other advantage to renting is that it may be possible to try out a few different models of sled over the course of a few days to find which one you like riding the best.
Put Together All the Pieces
Are you wanting to manage all aspects of your trip yourself, including transportation, accommodation, gear, sled rentals, guiding and so forth? In just about every sledding destination out west there are businesses that can help you out with one or two of these requirements.
But if you are hoping to make the most of a short trip without all the logistical stress, there are a handful of outfitters in British Columbia that can take care of everything for you—just like a heli-ski operation does for skiers. A few of the best well-known are Carl Kuster Mountain Park (better known as CKMP) [link: https://www.carlkuster.com] and Grizzly Lodge[link: https://grizzlylodge.ca]—both located in the interior; and Head-Line Mountain Holidays [link: https://headlinemountainholidays.com] based in Whistler. All three of these outfitters can supply everything you need for your holiday from accommodation and food to sleds, guides, outerwear, gear and everything you might possibly need.
Knowing Where to Ride
It’s easy to find information on which destinations you might like to visit, but once you’re there, you’ll have to figure out where to ride—and where you can’t ride. Local snowmobile clubs are a great resource for this.
Much like back east, there are certain restrictions on where you can’t go. These include wildlife closures for grizzly bear, mountain goat and, in particular, mountain caribou. There are also backcountry recreation user group agreements in place in certain areas that restrict use, with both legal and locally agreed upon closures.
But mostly there are plenty of places you can go, and not much signage to help you out. This is a blessing to be able to freely explore—just refer back to point #2 so you don’t risk getting lost and partaking in a free night’s stay in the backcountry.
The freedom to enjoy remote, mountainous backcountry on a snowmobile is a joy. It’s amazing how much ground you can cover in a day, over rough and rocky alpine terrain that would be impossible or grueling at best to traverse in the warmer months. In just a few minutes you can cross an entire drainage that might take hours to hike, ski or snowshoe—and there’s no other humanly way to access it except by helicopter.
Every snowmobiler should experience the view from atop a 3000 m peak at least once in their lifetime. There is a lot to know before you get there, and it can be a hassle to get everything lined up to make that dream come together. But once you’re there, it’ll all be worth it.
Pat is the Editor of SledderMag.com. For the 2019 & 2020 Seasons, Sledworthy and SledderMag will collaborate to bring you a number of shared experiences…connecting the sledders of the East and West.