Frosty escapes

By Shanna Baker

There is something about a snowman that makes people smile. Perhaps it’s because so many of us have childhood memories of building these happy, jolly souls. Perhaps it’s because they look like exaggerated versions of ourselves, with their bulbous bellies and lopsided grins. Whatever the reason, just the sight of a snowman can make you feel good about winter.

With that in mind, we asked seven photographers to bring Frosty to life in some of the best winter parks around British Columbia. Whether you want to swish down a powdery slope, snowshoe a forested trail, or scale a frozen waterfall, provincial parks are ideal places for winter recreation. Over the following pages, you’ll find snowmen—and one snowwoman—sporting in the snow in Garibaldi, Kokanee Glacier, Strathcona, Akamina-Kishenina, Mount Seymour, Wells Gray, and E.C. Manning. Use our profiles of each of these seven destination parks to help you plan your own winter escape.

Garibaldi Provincial Park

Climbers first scaled Garibaldi’s namesake peak in 1907—20 years before the surrounding area became a provincial park. Now, 100 years later, this area in the Coast Mountains offers a smorgasbord of outdoor-adventure opportunities.

Skiers and snowshoers can set out from one of five main highway access points along the park’s western boundary for just a few hours in the backcountry or a multi-day trek. Some choose well-trod routes leading to warm shelters with basic amenities, while others break their own trails in the untrammelled expanses.

A popular traverse over the Garibaldi Névé shows off some of the park’s more unusual geological features: 2,678-metre Mount Garibaldi, part of a dormant volcano; The Tent, a triangular-shaped peak; a spur known as The Sharkfin; The Table, a notably flat-topped formation; and The Black Tusk, a famous, jagged remnant of a volcanic cone. Mountaineers scramble up some of these and other formations in winter and summer.

Powder seekers can get their fix by heli-skiing in the Spearhead Range, or dropping into the park on snowboards or skis from the Blackcomb ski area and hiking back out. Winter campers can pitch tents or build snow shelters at Elfin Lakes, Russet Lake, or Red Heather Meadows. There is ice climbing, too, for those who time it just right. An ice wall in the park near Blackcomb Glacier can be ascended only during a brief two-week window each year.

Park size
1,947 square kilometres.

Location
Between Squamish and Whistler on Hwy 99, about a 1.5-hour drive north from Vancouver to the park’s lower access points.

Info

  • Whistler Blackcomb (800-766-0449; www.whistlerblackcomb.com), 4545 Blackcomb Way, Whistler, near the Garibaldi Park border. Provides amenities, rentals, services, accommodation, and chairlift access to Garibaldi’s Singing Pass area.
  • BC Parks (www.bcparks.ca).
  • Vancouver Coast and Mountains Tourism Region (604-739-9011; www.vcmbc.com).

E.C. Manning Provincial Park

Set in the picturesque Cascade Mountains, E.C. Manning Provincial Park is one of BC Parks’ most popular and accessible recreation areas. The park’s main winter attraction is Manning Park Resort, offering activities from downhill skiing and ice skating to snow tubing and tobogganing. There are dedicated snowshoe trails and 30 kilometres of groomed paths for classic cross-country and skate skiing.

“There’s really a sort of family atmosphere here,” says senior park ranger Kirk Illingworth.

Manning’s backcountry particularly appeals to novice and intermediate skiers. “It’s mellower terrain,” Illingworth explains. “There’s not a lot of really big country with big bowls or avalanche risk”—perfect for those who want a variety of safe and scenic places to explore.

Beginners tend to follow the marked backcountry routes through the park’s southern two-thirds, while more advanced and adventurous visitors can set their own courses. Many follow unmarked summer trails to beauty spots such as 2,408-metre Frosty Mountain, the park’s highest peak.

Skiers can venture out for two or three days at a time, camping en route. There are also designated winter tenting spots in the Cambie Creek and Lone Duck areas, as well as RV sites at the Lightening Lake day use area.

Park size
708 square kilometres.

Location
Along the B.C.-Washington border between Hope and Princeton; Hwy 3 passes directly through the park.

Info

  • Manning Park Resort (250-840-8822; www.manningpark.com). For access to skiing and other recreational pursuits. Offers rentals, amenities, and accommodation.
  • BC Parks (www.bcparks.ca).
  • Vancouver Coast and Mountains Tourism Region (604-739-9011; www.vcmbc.com).

Strathcona Provincial Park

British Columbia’s oldest provincial park (established in 1911), Strathcona is the alpine epicentre of Vancouver Island and a magnet for local snow seekers. It encompasses six of the seven highest mountains in the Vancouver Island Ranges—including 2,200-metre Golden Hinde—and collects more than 10 metres of snow each year.

While close to 14,000 people may hike through during the peak month of August, visitors can find more solitude on the trails in the winter. Most come for the roughly 55 kilometres of cross-country ski routes and 20 kilometres of snowshoe paths, which loop through the park’s Paradise Meadows area and adjacent Mount Washington Alpine Resort. An adventurous few journey deeper into the wilderness for backcountry skiing, camping, and alpine ascents.

Jamie Boulding, executive director of the family-operated Strathcona Park Lodge, has lived on the park’s edge for some 40 years and chalked up many memorable winter experiences.

“I remember once skiing across [Tennent Lake] where you could barely see your feet. From a distance you couldn’t see anyone’s feet. The fog was waist deep . . . it was like skiing on a cloud.”

One of his favourite challenges is to ski or snowshoe the steep slopes of Mount Myra in Strathcona-Westmin (a smaller provincial park within the larger protected area), sometimes sleeping in a snow cave part way up summit. With his three young daughters, Boulding opts for less extreme pastimes in the park: looking for Roosevelt elk, canoeing lower-elevation lakes, or venturing into the forest to find a natural skating pond.

“That’s still a pretty special thing, to actually skate outdoors on ice in the winter.”

Park size
2,458 square kilometres, plus 33-square-kilometre Strathcona-Westmin Provincial Park.

Location
West of Courtenay on Vancouver Island, about a four-hour drive northwest from Victoria.

Info

  • Mount Washington Alpine Resort (250-338-1386; www.mountwashington.ca), #1 Strathcona Parkway. For rentals, amenities, lodging, and access to snowshoe and cross-country ski trails.
  • Strathcona Park Lodge & Outdoor Education Centre (250-286-3122; www.strathcona.bc.ca), 40 km west of Campbell River on Hwy 28. Offers guided outdoor winter programs and accommodation.
  • BC Parks (www.bcparks.ca).
  • Tourism Vancouver Island (250-754-3500; www.vancouverisland.travel).

Mount Seymour Provincial Park

The North Shore mountains have long been a winter playground for Greater Vancouver residents. A party from the British Columbia Mountaineering Club first climbed Mount Seymour in 1908, and members of The Alpine Club of Canada recognized the potential for a skiing area during their explorations in 1929. Scenic Mount Seymour Provincial Park was established in 1936.

The family-run Mt. Seymour Resorts operates within park boundaries today, attracting skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers, tobogganers, and snow tubers. While visitors must pay to use the resort’s trails and facilities, BC Parks also marks out two free ski routes with orange-tipped poles each winter. Those looking to escape the crowds may trek the rigorous Mount Seymour Backcountry Access trail, which climbs an exposed ridge almost to Mount Seymour’s summit with panoramic views of the Fraser Valley, Gulf Islands, and surrounding terrain.

“If it’s a real crystal-clear day, especially in the wintertime, you get beautiful views of Mount Baker,” says Larry Syroishko, BC Parks area supervisor for Vancouver. “Some of the sunsets are just incredible.”

Adventurous snowboarders routinely test their skills on the ungroomed backcountry. Many catch the topmost chairlift and hike partway up Mount Seymour so they can ride the ridgeline back down to the ski resort—a daring feat not recommended for novices.

A word of warning: the backcountry here is prone to avalanches and adverse weather. Travellers should expect icy conditions, deep snow, and disorienting fog. Only experienced backcountry travellers prepared hor hazardous conditions should venture into the park’s backcountry.

Park size
35 square kilometres.

Location
North Vancouver on the Lower Mainland, about a 30-minute drive from downtown Vancouver.

Info

  • Mt. Seymour Resorts (604-986-2261; www.mountseymour.com), 1700 Mount Seymour Road, North Vancouver. Offers amenities, rentals, and many options for winter recreation.
  • BC Parks (www.bcparks.ca).
  • Vancouver Coast and Mountains Tourism Region (604-739-9011; www.vcmbc.com).

Akamina-Kishinena Provincial Park

When the snow flies, the solitude of Akamina-Kishinena Provincial Park beckons experienced backcountry travellers to British Columbia’s southern Rocky Mountains. Visitors leave their vehicles a kilometre or two from the trailhead and ski or snowshoe in along the unplowed access road.

Many winter adventurers choose a route that follows the provincial border down to Cameron Lake in Alberta’s Waterton Lakes National Park, says Dave Zevick, southern Rockies area supervisor for BC Parks. Others trek to Wall Lake, where a blue drape of ice that reaches 45 to 60 metres high occasionally lures ice climbers.

Zevick’s top pick is the Akamina Ridge Trail. But whatever route one chooses, he says, the scenery is spectacular.

“You’ve got to go up high . . . but once you’re in the alpine it’s quite exposed and the views are amazing. You can look down into Montana, you can see out to the Prairies, and all the various peaks, the Flathead Valley, Akamina, and down through there.”

Park size
109 square kilometres.

Location
In British Columbia’s extreme southeast corner, adjacent to the Montana and Alberta borders, about a two-hour drive from Fernie through Pincher Creek.

Info

  • Waterton Lakes National Park (403-859-2224; www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/ab/waterton/index_E.asp), Alberta.
  • BC Parks (www.bcparks.ca).
  • Kootenay Rockies Tourism (250-427-4838; www.kootenayrockies.com).

Wells Gray Provincial Park

The spectacular landscape of Wells Gray Provincial Park in the Cariboo Mountains has taken three million years to perfect. Shaped by small basaltic volcanoes and their deposits, it features glaciers, mineral springs, major lakes, rivers, and waterfalls. Today, winter visitors can explore its vast wilderness on snowshoes and skis.

Among Wells Gray’s most remarkable natural attractions is Helmcken Falls, measuring some 140 metres high. In the coldest weeks of winter, it develops a peculiar feature. A giant cone of ice and snow accumulates at the waterfall’s base, at times growing to more than 70 metres tall.

Cross-country skiers willing to veer off the groomed trails can access a particularly impressive vantage point of the falls, says Jean Nelson, a cross-country ski enthusiast from the nearby community of Clearwater. A path that begins near the park’s Murtle River bridge leads to an escarpment that directly overlooks the plunging water.

“If you go the normal tourist route, you have an excellent view of the waterfall but you’re not nearly as close to it,” says Nelson. “You can stand right above the waterfall, if you care to. . . . And you can feel the frozen spray landing on you. It’s a very exciting experience.”

Wildlife watchers will also find excitement in Wells Gray. A variety of birds remain active in the park year-round, as do wolves, cougars, lynx, bobcats, wolverines, moose, deer, caribou, mountain goats, and smaller mammals such as fishers, marten, and mink.

Winter activities in the park include heli-skiing, ice fishing, ice climbing, hut-to-hut ski trips, and snow camping—just a few of the many reasons to don a toque and snowsuit and get out for an adventure in Wells Gray.

Park size
5,400 square kilometres.

Location
North of Clearwater in the Cariboo Mountains, about a two-hour drive from Kamloops.

Info

  • Explore Wells Gray (www.explorewellsgray.com). An informative website produced by park facility operator Blackwell Park Operations Ltd.
  • Helmcken Falls Lodge (250-674-3657; www.helmckenfalls.com), 6664 Clearwater Valley Road, Clearwater, near the park’s south entrance. Lodge operators maintain cross-country trails in Wells Gray and offer guided winter activities in the park.
  • BC Parks (www.bcparks.ca).
  • Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association (250-860-5999; www.thompsonokanagan.com).

Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park

Imagine a winter utopia almost three times the size of Vancouver, with prime backcountry-skiing terrain, a dependable three- to five-metre snowpack, the exclusive use of an attractive cabin for you and your friends, and hardly anyone else in sight. That’s what’s at stake for outdoor enthusiasts who enter the annual draw for a chance to visit Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park in the Selkirk Mountains. For each week between December and the end of May, a group of winter adventurers is selected by lottery for a seven-day stay at the park’s 418-square-metre Kokanee Glacier Cabin. Access is by helicopter only, and each group of 12 gets to spend their week making fresh tracks in the mountains—alongside those of resident wolverines, cougars, coyotes, and other wildlife.

“There’s spectacular scenery, 360 degrees around. You can ski in a different direction every day of the week,” raves BC Parks senior park ranger Kevin Giles.

Visitors to the cabin will also find a peculiar fleet of a dozen or so green plastic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle sleds (incredibly strong and long-lasting, Giles says). These can be used to haul supplies from the helicopter pad—or simply for joy riding on nearby slopes.

A few additional winter visitors come to the park to camp at Kaslo Lake, roughly a kilometre from Kokanee Glacier Cabin. Campers must contact BC Parks for permission to fly in; skiing in is discouraged, as the trail from the park’s access road is 27 kilometres long and crosses hazardous avalanche territory. Kokanee Glacier Park in general is susceptible to snow slides: visitors must come prepared.

Park size
320 square kilometres.

Location
In the Selkirk Mountains, 15 minutes by helicopter from the Interior city of Nelson.

Info

  • Alpine Club of Canada (www.alpineclubofcanada.ca). Conducts the annual lottery for stays at Kokanee Glacier Cabin; $750 to $825 per person. An ACC custodian is stationed at the cabin and provides visitors with basic avalanche safety instruction and information.
  • BC Parks (www.bcparks.ca).
  • Kootenay Rockies Tourism (250-427-4838; www.kootenayrockies.com).

Winter Safety

Avalanche hazards exist in many areas of the province. Before heading into the backcountry, winter travellers should hire a knowledgeable guide or take appropriate avalanche training. The Canadian Avalanche Centre (250-837-2141; www.avalanche.ca) provides a free online avalanche rescue course, and maintains a list of qualified avalanche safety instructors offering courses throughout the region. Participants learn how to assess slide risks and avoid treacherous terrain, what tools to carry (transceiver, probe, snow shovel, Avaluator card), and how to perform an avalanche rescue.

Backcountry users should also be familiar with crevasse rescue and proper glacier-travel techniques. Search the Internet for courses offered in your area.

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Christine Ly

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