There’s a reason snowmobiling is a one of the most popular winter activities in Castlegar: terrain. There are so many places to explore via snowmobile around the city and in the surrounding mountains that it would take a lifetime to see it all. And the fact the region gets about 12 metres (40 feet) of snow every year means the snowmobiling season can last as long as early November to late April. That’s why you’ll see a snowmobile in the driveway of almost every second house in Castlegar. Whether you’re a local, or a visitor, here’s a definitive guide to everything you need to know about snowmobiling in Castlegar.
Before embarking on a snowmobile adventure around Castlegar, it’s important to know some of the slang. Firstly, most locals won’t refer to the activity as snowmobiling – instead it’s called “sledding,” and it’s pronounced “sleddin’.” And the actual machine is called a “sled.” Some will call it a “snowmachine” or a “Ski-doo” but the latter is a brand name and the former could refer to a plow or a cat. So stick with “sled.” Here’s some other lingo you should know:
- Bluebird – Sunny, cloudless weather. Castlegar enjoys a lot of Bluebird Days.
- Carving – Riding through the snow with your sled on edge.
- Coldsmoke – The champagne powder snow the Kootenays are famous for.
- Flat Light – Compromised visibility due to falling snow or cloudy conditions, making it difficult to see terrain variations.
- Freeriding – An energetic style of riding that relies on one’s interpretation of terrain and the ability to ride creatively.
- Ghosting – When you fall off your sled and it continues down the mountain without you.
- Highmarking – Sledding as far up a steep mountain slope as possible, then turning around and coming back down without crashing.
- Inversion – When a dense layer of cold weather is trapped in a valley under low-lying clouds. Above the inversion it will be sunny and warm.
- Sesh – A session of riding
- Shredding – Aggressive, off-trial riding
- Yard Sale – When you make a mistake, crash your sled and your gear goes flying everywhere.
Established in 1990, The Castlegar Snowmobile Association (CSA) is a volunteer-run, registered non-profit society that is responsible for grooming various areas around Castlegar, including the popular Goose Creek zone and Ladybird. It’s mandate is to offer the local and visiting snowmobile community a recreational getaway with groomed trails and great cabins as well as protect and enhance the sport of snowmobiling. It also promotes safety on sleds, avalanche awareness and backcountry ethics. Its volunteers maintain over 70 kilometres of groomed trails and three cabins with free firewood and barbecues on hand. In exchange for these services, the CSA charges $120 for a seasonal membership or $15 for a single-day trail pass. For information related the CSA, visit its website at csasled.org.
As mentioned above, there are no shortages of places to sled around Castlegar. Numerous logging roads and trails can be accessed just outside of town in every direction: to the west are the rolling mountains of the Paulson Pass; the north boasts extreme peaks in the Valhallas; and the south has yet more untouched mountainous terrain to enjoy, including the Bombi Pass. Of course, there are maintained zones too. The Castlegar Snowmobile Association grooms over 70 kilometres worth of trails at two zones near Castlegar including Goose Creek, and Lady Bird (which includes Norns). For more about the different places where you can enjoy sledding around the city, read our article “Where to Snowmobile in Castlegar.”
It’s important to note that if you’re heading into the mountainous terrain around Castlegar you should carry avalanche gear with you including a transceiver, probe and shovel. (The latter comes in handy for digging your sled out of particularly deep snowbanks too.) And it goes without saying that you need to know how to use them. (There are multiple ski guides in the West Kootenay who offer Avalanche Skills Training courses.) Other emergency gear you should always carry with you include a first aid kit, headlamp, waterproof matches or lighter, protein bars, emergency blanket, pocket warmers, and spare gloves. It’s easy to stock up on those items at Canadian Tire, located right off the highway in Castlegar, plus you’ll also find sled clothing, tools, replacement parts and more there. Another store where you’ll find snowmobiles and all related equipment is Playmor Power Products, located in Crescent Valley, a 20-minute drive north of Castlegar.