Guest blog by photographer Abby Cooper that specializes in remote backcountry locations.
Snowmobiling is a vessel for seeing the unknown and feeling the remote wilderness no matter where you are. When snowmobiling in the northern mountains of British Columbia Canada, it adds a new level of remote. The town of Stewart, BC is a snowmobiler’s paradise, and nothing short of wild in terms of terrain. Jagged icefields spill below the tree line and their exposed bergschrunds crown the flowing Salmon River, which lives up to its name come springtime. The population of Grizzly bears is most likely equal to the human population of Stewart BC come summer, which thankfully isn’t a big concern during the winter months. Needless to say, the ice caves, alpine peaks, and endless options to explore beckoned us.
Our adventure began as soon as we loaded the snowmobiles side by side on the sled deck and pulled out of our driveway in Squamish. Over 16 hours of winter driving lay ahead of us, and we knew more than half the drive would be without service. A lot of mountainous drives have limited cell reception which can make any type of simple car trouble difficult to deal with in a safe and timely manner. Add winter conditions to the mix, and a simple flat tire can become a serious event. For these reasons, we always charge the Bivy Stick and keep it in the center console should we need to ask for help en route – not necessarily an SOS, but the ability to text a friend to look up directions, open hours, or phone numbers of a local auto parts store. Lucky for us, we didn’t need to use the Bivy stick while driving. We did, however, send a few check-in messages at key junctions, just to keep our family in the loop of our progress.
Approaching Stewart, we saw the stunning Bear Glacier. Its pristine blue ice nearly reaches the highway, only separated by the turquoise blue Bear Lake. Winding our way down to the sea-level town, we passed numerous jaw-dropping peaks while following a winding river down to the ocean. Stewart has a population of 406 people, an overly optimistic number in winter as many prefer to live here in the bustling summer months. The town’s offerings in winter are perfectly geared towards snowmobilers and heli skiers. A 24-hour gas station, two grocery stores, two pubs, and a few options for meals. What more do you need?
Parking big rigs (snowmobile setups) is no problem in Stewart as the town’s wide roads provide ample room for parking. The town has several options for accommodations, our personal favorite being Ripley Creek Inn. Each unique suite has a kitchen and embodies the history of the once gold-booming town. A little slice of history with modern-day comforts is the perfect place to crash after a big day in the mountains.
Let’s talk sledding! A few adventurous zones with ungroomed access circle the town for the skilled mountain rider, but the main access zone is just across the Alaska border in a town called Hyder, just a few minutes from the hub of Stewart. Hyder and Steward blend together, separated only by a one-sided Canadian border crossing, meaning you can enter Hyder without a passport, but you’ll need a passport to get back into Steward – don’t forget your passport!
From Hyder, the iconic Salmon Glacier access road quickly takes you back into British Columbia. Depending on the year and snow conditions, the road may be groomed from the 0-mile marker or further up the access road. Either way, you’ll eventually hit a groomed trail, at which point, the main road winds above the breathtaking Salmon Glacier. More adventurous routes deliver big frozen lakes, glaciers, and ridgelines, and treed areas provide great visibility when needed.
Having offline maps downloaded before we left our home-away-from-home was an absolute must and we referenced them constantly. Given the remoteness, limited nearby emergency resources, and lack of cell phone reception, we brought one Bivy Stick per rider. Bivy’s GroupTrack feature allowed us to communicate and track each other for safe exploring and easy regrouping. Knowing we could reach help when hundreds of kilometers away from a formal hospital was a big piece of mind. One morning on the drive up the Salmon Glacier road, a piece of ice had fallen and blocked access to the unloading area. With the Bivy Stick, we were able to reach the road operators who came and cleared the way for us.
Even though connecting with and asking for help is easy with the Bivy Stick, it was important for us to understand that when embarking on remote adventures, help isn’t necessarily going to arrive quickly if things go seriously sideways. Dialing back our general risk tolerance, researching the avalanche conditions, reading weather reports, studying the maps, and ensuring everyone has first aid experience and the right safety gear was essential.
Our time in Stewart was snowy bliss. Incredible powder, easy access, and epic vistas kept us entertained for hours on end day after day. Each ride we started and ended in the dark; it was just too good to turn in earlier than we had to. We always made it back across the border in time to refuel our bodies at the Silverado Cafe, where we attempted (unsuccessfully) to make our way through the array of available dishes. Each evening, the friendly staff was keen to share local beta and set us up with new objectives for the next day.
Every time I visit Stewart, it takes another little sliver of my heart. The wild terrain, friendly folks, and endless offerings leave me craving more.