Ski touring is the ultimate way to enjoy fresh untracked snow, but available terrain is limited to access from the highway or ski hill. Due to recent increasing popularity of touring, you may not be alone in locations such as Rogers pass, Kootenay pass and the backcountry off of Kicking Horse.
Backcountry lodges offer helicopter accessed, fully catered, fully guided ski touring trips of varying lengths, (as well as self-catered and self-guided), but the increasing popularity of such trips are now making it nearly impossible to book less than a year in advance.
A snowmobile is a great alternative and in most cases can access locations a car and human powered cannont without a lot a burned calories; 30 km or more on an unplowed logging road could be covered in 20 minutes depending on conditions. The area surrounding Golden has a history rich in mineral exploration and forestry; the roads used in these industries serve as sled access to some of the best single or multi day trip ski touring.
A major concern with snowmobiles is that they can cover a lot of ground much quicker than two feet and a heartbeat, thus making it more difficult to pay close attention to the snow conditions around you.
Here are a couple things to look for on the sled trail to the start of your ski tour:
- One of the most recognisable early warning signs of instability in the snowpack that can be observed without even getting off your snowmobile is the ditches on the side of the road. Look for settlement fracture lines as you ride along, the weight of a snowmobile can trigger weak interfaces deeper in the snowpack than a person on skis.
- Find an embankment large enough to side hill with your sled, but small enough that it isn’t a terrain trap; this is the snowmobile equivalent of ski-cutting a slope.
- In areas where there isn’t an embankment in the ditch, observe the tree-wells for settlement in flat areas as you ride past, you won’t feel or hear the whoomf of a settlement on your sled so you have to keep your eyes open for this one.
The most important part of ski touring from a snowmobile is securely transporting your skis from the truck to the start of your tour. Over the years I have seen (and been a part of) some pretty interesting contraptions to affix skis and snowboards to sleds. They kinda worked ok, but never really worked great. I have nothing against spending a night in the shop with your buddies, having a few drinks and cutting up falling wedges to bolt to the side of your tunnel, but a ski rack is one of those things that requires machined pieces of aluminum, someone else has already done all the hard work for you. Open up your wallet, shoo the moths away and fork over some bucks for a proper rack. Both brands have a ski or snowboard (or both) system for almost any sled on the market.
Here are a couple ski rack choices for you
- Knightrider Racks, designed right here in Golden BC!
- Cheetah Factory Racing, designed near Golden BC in Pemberton!
If you are new to ski touring from a snowmobile and would like the experience to be as easy as possible, try one of Golden’s three managed snowmobile areas, they offer smooth groomed trails that allow access to many drainages. Weather and avalanche forecasts, as well as other valuable information on Gorman Lake, Silent Pass and Quartz Creek, can be found at www.sledgolden.com.
Here are a couple handy hints when shopping for a used snowmobile
- Spin the track around and have a look for missing paddles or tears, a couple missing paddles isn’t the end of the world but a tear in the track means replacing it; and they can be costly.
- Have a look for broken springs on the shocks, and while you’re looking at the shocks, inspect the shock bushings as well.
- Doing a compression test is the easiest way to check the condition of the motor, bad compression=bad motor.
- The running boards take a beating if they see a lot of action from ski boots, luckily, there are lot’s of stronger options available in the aftermarket.
- Have a look at the clutches and the belt; they are what transfers the power from the motor to the track.
If you would like to try out a snowmobile before committing to buying your own, head to https://www.tourismgolden.com/activities/winter/snowmobiling/tours-rentals
There you have it, sled access backcountry skiing is within your grasp. Now find someone who has done it before and knows the zones so you don’t spend the whole day looking around for 1 lap.