WINTER

Riding as fast as a caribou, in the Cariboo

Andrea Cohen – author
Kaelen Cohen – photographer

I yearned for wide open spaces, reconnection with nature and an exploration of British Columbia’s heritage, so my husband Kaelen and I set out for a week-long trip to the Cariboo Chilcotin region. We heard whispers that January averaged a low of -10°C, so we packed clothing worthy of the tundra. Happily, we were greeted with pleasant temperatures for the duration of our time in the Cariboo.

100-Mile Nordic Society

Five hours after our departure from Vancouver, Kaelen and I arrived at the 100-Mile Nordic Ski Society, located in 100-Mile House. The society is volunteer-run by (mostly retired) cross-country skiing enthusiasts. Gary and Rob outfitted us with cross-country skis in the beautiful day lodge, where I luxuriated in the log-burning fireplace. The society oversees an intricate system of circuit trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing – and, because the society hosts several races, they’ve built an arena circuit in front of the day lodge, which is particularly convenient for spectators. After a heartpumping spike out on the trails – there are options available for beginner and advanced enthusiasts alike – I cozied up beside the fire in the lodge and tucked into homemade soup and desserts.

Mount Timothy Recreation Resort

The drive to Mount Timothy started as a flat, winding road along the countryside and quickly evolved to a rugged hill climb of switchbacks. It was snowing heavily and the roads were packed.

We were ushered into Mount Timothy Recreation Resort by a magical blizzard. A friendly entourage greeted us, complete with the resort’s owner, management team and furry friends. The mountain is home to downhill ski and snowboard terrain, magic carpet areas, a tube park, day lodge, and four brand-new ski-in ski-out log cabins. The cabins are milled onsite, and equipped with fully stocked kitchens, adorable décor, and plush bathroom linens.

Here, visitors will find the Gold Rush Snowmobile Trail, which rides north as far as Barkerville. Unlike coastal downhill ski terrain, the trail had a minimal number of rockfaces, and we happily weaved on and off the groomed trails at our leisure. The open terrain made the mountain seem much more vast. And, there were no lift lineups!

Scout Island

Located in the heart of Williams Lake on the west side of the lake is Scout Island Nature Centre. The island, bridged by a wooden bridge to a peninsula, resembled Vancouver’s False Creek Habitat Island. Scout Island is on the migration path of hundreds of species of birds, making it bird-watchers heaven. We toured the outside trails and gazed on what once were ice rinks for playing hockey. At the furthest east point of the island, a very brief summit gave us a view of the lake.

Williams Lake First Nation

In search of cultural history, we took a five-minute drive to the Williams Lake First Nation arbour. We had visited in the summer, but winter was mystic, especially the white-painted entrance. In need of a warmup, we finished off the day gorging on tasty Indian food from a local bistro in Williams Lake.

Sunrise in Quesnel

We were lucky with our timing and gazed upon some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets I’ve ever seen. Quesnel’s sky lights up like pink cotton candy sprinkled with purple lavender and sunkissed oranges. Often, a thick layer of cloud engulfs the scene, illuminating the sky.

Ice fishing on Dragon Lake

Seeking trout for dinner, we stopped at the Quesnel Visitor Centre to utilize their ice fishing program. We borrowed a kit, which included rods, tackle, an auger to drill a hole in the ice, and an ice scoop, then drove 10 minutes from downtown Quesnel to world-renowned Dragon Lake, known for its huge rainbow trout. We followed the locals and set up shop near the boat launch, curious about the lake’s melting ice. They assured us that beneath the slush was a solid foot or two of thick ice.

Troll Ski Resort

About an hour’s drive northeast is a quirky spot to ski, Troll Ski Resort. Built in 1972 by the Lars Fossberg family, the ski hill is run by the same family today. It’s an affordable mountain, evoking a funky ‘70s atmosphere sprinkled with trolls and gnome statues! The mountain is home to three tee-bars, one of which is the second-longest tee-bar in the world, running at an 11-minute ride. For coastal riders such as ourselves, this was a true adventure. Again, we felt like we had the terrain completely to ourselves, enjoying epic views of the valley in near solitude.

Wells SNOWMOBILE CLUB

An hour’s drive east brought us to the Wells Hotel. After check-in, I parked myself at a nook in front of the fireplace. The quaint hotel felt like a time capsule back into the gold rush era, complete with onsite saloon boasting grand spreads of Indian, Asian and Western Canadian delights.

Early at dawn, we linked up with the Wells Snowmobile Club for a day packed with adrenaline. The volunteer-run club operates more like a society, managing a network of over 100 kilometres of groomed trails from the foot of your accommodations in Wells. Located just outside of Barkerville in Wells, they are the final destination of the Gold Rush Snowmobile Trail. Visitors can rent snowmobiles from Beckers Lodge at Bowron Lake, and organize an expert guide from the club.

We toured with seven expert riders into the backcountry. A quarter of the way up the mountain, light began to dapple the cloudy sky. Abruptly, we emerged into bluebird conditions and champagne powder; thick clouds layered the valley below, with the mountain summits peaking through. “Dog rainbows”, as the locals called them, shimmered into view, looking like sideways rainbows. I trailed behind the experts, as they effortlessly weaved on and off of the route. They were great sports – at one point, they helped dig my sled out of deep powder. We summitted two mountains, traversing through bowls in the lower valleys along the way. Afterwards, we warmed up in a communal cabin at the Groundhog Lake Recreation Site. As I wolfed down my delicious lunch – packed to-go by the Wells Hotel saloon – I gazed at the glassy glacier.

One thing I learned during my visit to the Cariboo: don’t expect to hurry. Everyone has a story, and they’re happy to share it. The mountain landscapes put everything into perspective, helping us forge a renewed respect and appreciation for nature. We’ll certainly be back for more winter thrills next season!

WINTER Experiences

100 Mile Nordic Society

Williams Lake
FIRST Nation

Hallis Lake

MT. TIMOTHY RECREATION RESORT

BULL MOUNTAIN

TROLL SKI RESORT

Scout Island

Ice-fishing in Quesnel

WELLS Snowmobile Club