The post first appeared on my Facebook feed, I felt a mix of jealousy and excitement.
“Ready to pull the trigger on a roadie trip to Smithers Monday to Friday next week. Two of us in so far… One more would really bring the cost down… Who’s interested?”
I was salivating at the prospect of catching the storm of the decade up north. I was walking the dog through knee-deep puddles listening to news reports of how a north-bound Pineapple Express had collided with a south-bound arctic front, the fierce snow storm hanging over Terrace and Kitimat for much longer than usual. Around 160 centimetres fell in 36 hours, cutting power to both communities and residents of Kitimat requiring evacuation.
If there was any time to head to Northern BC, it was now.
Last minute road trips are incredibly stressful prior to departure. Rescheduling meetings, trying to move work around and organizing friends to look after my dog were just a few of the hassles. The plan was to drive through the night on Sunday with two companions, ski three days, then fly back to Vancouver in time for a scheduled presentation Thursday evening (that one could not be rescheduled) and my friends would drive home in the car Friday. The timing was tight and it was an enormous distance to travel for basically a weekend of turns. Desperate times had called for desperate measures, damn it all. I wasn’t going to miss the storm of the decade up north.
A lot of people forget just how big this province is. While the term “Northern BC” generally applies to the latitudes north of Prince George, that area covers more than the upper two thirds of British Columbia. Despite Smithers being in the “lower” part of Northern BC, it’s still a good 1,000 kilometres drive from Whistler.
That drive took us 14 hours, each of us taking two to three hours shifts at the wheel. Flying up would have been much more civilized, but we where all short on budget and didn’t have the funds for a rental. My friend’s ageing Rav4 would have to do.
The ski resorts in the north are quite basic, mostly serviced by T-Bars, the odd fixed grip chair lift and staffed by local families. Hudson Bay Mountain (24 kilometres up the road from Smithers) is no exception, the terrain mostly consisting of beginner and intermediate runs with a few steep descents adjacent to the boundary. These areas had all been hit by locals after a busy weekend (“busy” being a relative term in the north) so we were mostly skiing through tracks, but with the consistently cold temperatures over the last week, the quality of the snow was still better than anything we had skied all season back in Whistler.
But what we really came to ski was the backcountry. About 40 minutes outside of Smithers, the Hankin Evelyn Recreation Area was the perfect destination for two days of touring. Cut ski runs and uptracks are carved into a treeline area on crown land, complete with a warming shelter, trail maps and signs, what local professional powder seeker Lee Lau described as “even a moron can navigate.” We couldn’t have asked for a more convenient place to go touring – safely – while avalanche conditions remained high and the alpine was a complete white out. I flew home the next day all smiles, ready to embrace the rain and warmth once again.
If you’re disappointed with the season in Lower B.C., start adding Smithers and Terrace to your weather updates. You can fly return from as little as $500 and you’ll get to explore a whole new part of the province you may never have thought was worth visiting. You may even find it worth staying a while.
This article first appeared in the Whistler Question in February, 2015