When winter casts its cool gaze on BC’s Northwest, locals do anything but hibernate. Follow their cue and head outdoors to experience what the region has to offer, from uncrowded ski resorts offering in-bound pow to heli-skiing operators who can take you in search of fresh lines and jaw-dropping views. Sled, ski or tour through incredible and pristine wilderness, or find frozen thrills in the form of ice-fishing, skating, and fat biking. There’s no shortage of ways to do winter in Northwest BC.
Unpretentious and Uncrowded Ski Resorts
No lift lines? Check. Old-school charm? Check. Deep powder stashes? Check. Family-friendly runs and unpretentious après? Check and check. Northwest ski resorts are a holdover from the days when it was all about no-frills skiing. And here, you’ll find plenty of it, from beloved hills that boast impressive stats to beginner-friendly areas with easy-going green and blue runs. Shames Mountain in Terrace has long been whispered about in ski circles for its phenomenal snowfall, easy backcountry access, and uncrowded slopes. In Smithers, Hudson Bay Mountain offers 525-metres of vertical rise plus ski-out access via the Trail to Town run, which connects directly to Smithers après scene.
If you’re looking for big and bold powder that delivers epic face shots and deep turns, winter in Nothwest BC delivers. Make moves to the aptly-named Powder King (200 km north of Prince George), renowned for its massive 12-metres-a-year snowfall. The Northwest isn’t just about brag-worthy terrain and deep powder either — mellow slopes, bunny hills and terrain parks can all be found at hills, including Hart Hill in Prince George or Purden just east of town, and the ultra-fun terrain of Murray Ridge in Fort St. James.
Cat and Heli Skiing in Northwest BC
If your idea of nirvana is a long plunge into pillowy snow, you’re in luck — the Northwest is home to serious heli-ski terrain. Operators in the region can whisk you away — via thrill-inducing helicopter flight, of course — to some of the largest skiable tenures in North America, filled with deep alpine bowls, treed glades, fun chutes, and backcountry lodges of all sizes and shapes. At Skeena Cat Skiing, you’ll stay in heated, domed tents tucked into the snowbanks, the perfect basecamp for cat-ski adventures mere steps from your front snow-covered door. They serve up more than 600 square kilometres just north of the Hazeltons of untracked terrain that starts right at the treeline.
Nearby Skeena Heliskiing claims bragging rights to the second largest heli-skiing area in North America with over 8,250 square kilometres, plus luxury accommodation courtesy of Bear Claw Lodge, which is situated on the banks of the iconic Kispiox River. Northern Escape Heli-Skiing, also in the Skeena region, combines the best of heli flight-accessed terrain with snowcats for days when winter storms ground flights, a luxury which almost guarantees pow days.
At Terrace‘s White Wilderness, guests are treated to unlimited vertical so you can ride lap after endless lap. East of Prince George, Bearpaw Heli-Skiing focuses on small groups with highly personalized service to help you achieve the ski trip of your dreams. Even their tenure offers up choice, with access to four mountain ranges and endless wide-open bowls. Travelling with family who don’t ski or board? With Last Frontier Heli-Skiing, you can pick between two different accommodation options: staying in a quirky, frontier-style hotel in the heart of downtown Stewart, a historic mining town tucked just off the Stewart-Cassiar Highway, or for the quickest heli access, the stunning Bell 2 Mountain Lodge, an entire off-the-grid heli-ski village with excellent amenities. Prefer to take the planning in your own hands? Yellowhead Helicopters, based out of Terrace, offer custom heli tours for those looking to keep things small, exclusive, and personal. No matter where you choose to ski or stay, you’ll be served up delicious food, après activities, and self-care rituals for rest days (think massages, saunas and hot tubs).
Nordic Skiing in Northwest BC
Nordic skiing is a great antidote to busy minds and calendars. Just strap on a pair of skis and you’ll find yourself blissfully gliding along a snow-muffled trail, deep in the wilderness, with nothing to distract you other than the call of wildlife or like-minded companions. Winter in Northwest BC is a Nordic skier’s dream, with prime access to wilderness — and all the benefits of meticulously groomed classic and skate trails and great amenities. Some, like the trails at Onion Lake between Kitimat and Terrace, which are maintained by the Snow Valley Nordic Ski Club, the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club, which operates the Otway ski trails, the Murray Ridge Nordic Ski Trails or the Stuart Lake Trails in Fort St. James, the Omineca Ski Club operating out of Burns Lake, and the Bulkley Valley Nordic Centre in Smithers can provide ski lessons, rentals, well-maintained common spaces, and even wax cabins, biathlon ranges and agility parks. Most offer night skiing, are groomed regularly, and have dog-friendly trails.
Other trail networks offer no-frills skiing. In Prince George, the Cranbrook Hill Greenway links 25-kilometres of trails between Otway and the University of British Columbia. In Telkwa, the Tyee Mountain Ski Trails provide a mix of easy and challenging terrain, from rolling hills to ungroomed routes where you can break trail. The Canyon Creek Ski Area, near Smithers, sits in a high-elevation snowbelt that results in cold, dry powder for most of winter. They have 22 kilometres of trails, with 10 of those machine-groomed for both track set and skate skiing.
Backcountry Skiing in Northwest BC
Like Nordic skiing, touring and splitboarding are big on self-motivated reward. Smithers‘ Hankin-Evelyn Recreation Area is well-signed and maintained for self-directed use while guided backcountry ski trips, available from Burnie Glacier Chalet near Smithers are ideal for those looking to experience the sport with an experienced guide in tow. The newly upgraded Dezaiko Lodge near Prince George keeps the spirit of this first-generation backcountry hut intact while offering upgraded creature comforts and exceptional access to great terrain, including snowpack that can get up to three metres and glades that run from treeline to valley bottom.
Terrace‘s Shames Mountain is world renown for its easy access (just take the tow rope to an expansive ridge line) to some of the most incredible back country skiing in the province. Remember to pack your helmet, probe, beacon and shovel, and while not required, having taken at least the Avalanche Skills Training 1 course is highly recommended. Always ski within your ability, and check the local avalanche forecast and know the snowpack conditions before you go. It’s always best to head into the back country with a local guide, or someone who knows the area well.
Backcountry Cabins in Northwest BC
For some, a backcountry hut is more about the journey than the destination. Those keen to link up a week-long excursion hopping from cabin to cabin will find it among the pillowy powder-covered bowls and huts of Sugarbowl-Grizzly Den Provincial Park. Set along the banks of the Kispiox River and surrounded by endless forest and mountains, Bear Claw is a luxury wilderness lodge that can do winter for the indecisive. Looking to heli-ski? They’ll whisk you away to virgin pow. On the hunt for winter steelhead? They’ll bring you to quiet streams and rivers. Foraging, cultural tours, northern lights viewing, and more? They’ve got that, too. Plus, the lodge is buy-out only meaning it’s exclusively yours for the week.
There’s no need to fight cabin fever in the Northwest. Instead, locals embrace the comfort and coziness that comes with hunkering down for a night—most often by a crackling fire or warm pellet stove—in a snowbound cabin. You’ll find dozens of huts, cabins and lodges in the region, ranging from off-grid and rustic to luxurious and full-service. Ski tour or snowshoe amongst the perfectly-shaped peaks and sub-alpine valleys of the Babine Mountains to the Joe L’Orsa cabin, which sleeps up to 20 on a first-come basis and comes well-stocked with a stove and wood pile. Near Terrace, the 12-person Anderson Cabin offers a similar backcountry hut experience. Winter in Northwest BC means generous snowfall; you can tour or splitboard here well into early spring — there’s no need to ski slushy slopes when there’s pow this good waiting.
Snowmobiling in Northwest BC
Snowmobiling, or sledding as it’s known around these parts, can grant you access into powder-filled backcountry areas few other people see — and in the Northwest, there’s a lot. The area’s generous and reliable snowfall, good mix of terrain, spectacular scenery and established sledding scenes make it a prime spot to play. There are trails for both beginners and seasoned sledders, offering up everything from open cutblocks and gentle rolling meadows to gnarly chute climbs and high alpine slopes. Take on the popular Telkwa Range and explore powder-laden meadows and steep hills from either Houston or Burns Lake.
The area between Terrace and Nisga’a Territory is a sledding hotspot, maintained by the Skeena Valley Snowmobile Association, with easy access to climb trails offering scenic treed terrain, subalpine views, and backcountry cabins. And for a truly remote wilderness experience, Stewart and the Stewart-Cassiar Highway offers some incredible, untouched terrain. Some would argue the snowmobiling in Kitimat is truly the crown jewel of the Northwest. With over the meters of snowfall on average per year, the area is known for high precipitation and deep, deep powder. The recreation areas on Robinson Ridge and Clague Mountain offer endless trails and undulating features, along with cabins and a robust and active snowmobile club.
If high altitude sledding ins’t your jam, don’t miss the Burns Lake Snowmobile Club‘s Cold Smoke Drags, an annual competition with a groomed track, pro lights, and bleachers where you can watch all the action. Fort St. James is home to 210 kilometres of trails, many of them beginner-friendly, that are maintained by the Fort St. James Snowmobile Club. Sledding in Stewart will take you in close view of glaciers, high alpine bowls, and backcountry sled shacks, all easily accessible as day trips.
Rods, Skates and Wheels: Winter At Ground Level
You don’t need to seek vertical to enjoy winter. In the Northwest, there are plenty of activities to keep families and all ages entertained, from ice-fishing to skating to fat biking. Smithers is home to a number of lakes that freeze over in winter, including Seymour Lake, Tyee Lake, and Lake Kathlyn, cleared regularly by locals for skating and games of pond hockey. You’ll also find an outdoor ice rink maintained in town and nearby in Telkwa.
The Prince George Outdoor Ice Oval is a 4oo-metre long track speed skating facility, while in Prince Rupert, locals lace up skates at Oliver Lake or Moresby Pond. Ice-fishing is a great way to while away a chilly afternoon. Pack a rod, an auger, plenty of snacks and warm drinks, and head to frozen lakes around Burns Lake and Prince George. Like anglers, mountain bikers don’t need to endure a dormant season when winter hits. With fat biking, you can keep the wheels turning. Head to Burns Lake for some serious pedal-powered fun in the snow where you can ride easy three-kilometre loops on Kager Lake, Magee, and the Rod Reid Trail. Rent bikes and nab local intel on additional riding spots from Burnt Bikes in town.
Snowshoeing in Northwest BC
Snowshoeing is a fun and affordable way to witness nature’s wintry spectacle. From November to March, trails across the region transform into magical snow-filled corridors. Where to go? Provincial parks protect unique ecosystems and in Terrace, you’ll get to snowshoe through stands of old-growth forest at Hai Lake-Mount Herman, while Prince George is home to Canada’s only inland rainforest at Ancient Forest/Chun T’oh Whudujut Park. Marvel at the park’s biggest trees along the Ancient Forest Boardwalk Trail or opt for the more vigorous Driscoll Ridge Trail, a strenuous 15-kilometre loop that follows the park’s southern ridgeline. Prince George’s Pidherny Recreation Site has a challenging mix of trails appealing to intermediate and veteran snowshoers, while minutes from downtown are the snowshoe routes of the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club. In Burns Lake, the popular Boer Mountain trails offer something for everyone, including easy treks around frozen lakes.
Frozen Water Falls and Winter Hot Springs
Frozen falls and warm springs — winter in Northwest BC has something for everyone. The river canyons and gorges that surround Houston are dotted with dozens of waterfalls, and when the temperature drops they transform into stunning icy sculptures. Snowshoe, cross-country ski, or even tour to these frozen monuments. In the Bulkley Nechako region, Dungate Falls, Buck Falls, and Findlay Falls are good places to start and all accessed by short, easy treks. There’s nothing quite like slipping into the steaming waters of a natural hot spring surrounded by the quiet of snow-draped trees. The ones tucked into the forests of the Nisga’a Territory are especially reverent — their slight sulphuric scent is said to be the spirit of Sbi Naxnok, a supernatural being in Nisga’a oral tradition. Naturally spring-fed, the water is piped into a series of round wooden tubs accessed by a short boardwalk.
Après, All Day in Northwest BC
What’s winter without après? The Northwest invites revelry of all kinds, and in the winter, that can take shape as tasty pints poured in craft breweries and tap houses, high-energy live music and events, warming cups of coffee from cafes and on-mountain lodges, and hearty food from local restaurants and eateries. Swap tales of the day’s adventures over ales (and more) at Wheelhouse Brewing in Prince Rupert, Sherwood Mountain Brewing in Terrace, Two Peaks Brewing in Kitimat, and at Smithers Brewing and Bulkley Valley Brewing in Smithers. En route to a heli-skiing in the Hazeltons? Swing by Mercedes Beans for a taste of locally roasted coffee and bring some to your heli lodge to keep you fuelled for the week. You’ll find on-mountain pubs and drinking holes at regional ski hills, but they’re not the only places that serve up après with a view — try the Northern Lights Winery in Prince George, or the Waterfront Restaurant at the Crest Hotel in Prince Rupert.
Festivals and events are another great way to après. Take in touring musicians or live performances at community theatres including the Lester Centre for the Arts in Prince Rupert and the Prince George Playhouse. There’s even entire festivals dedicated to winter here. Coldsnap is a nine-night celebration of live music, art, and instructional workshops that take place in venues across Prince George. There’s both a Prince Rupert Winterfest and a Fort St. James Winterfest. At the latter, catch the Caledonia Classic sled dog race or dress in your best retro ski suit for a themed throwback at Murray Ridge Ski Area. Prince Rupert’s mild, coastal weather highlights a different type of winter in the form of a ‘sail pass,’ where boats cruise past the harbour decked out in their best lights. There’s other dazzling light displays to check out in town and opportunities for kids to meet Santa. Sleigh rides are a quintessential hallmark of winter. Bundle up and journey through a serene landscape with Crazy M Ranch in Prince George or B&T Adventures in Telkwa. So if you’re looking for an outdoor adventure off the beaten path, celebrate winter in Northwest BC this season.