Snowmobiling has come a long way since the first “motor toboggan” was patented in 1927. These days the machines’ light frames, powerful engines, and extended tracks can take you off the flat, groomed trails and into the deep powder of the mountainous backcountry.

The Kootenays are renowned for the vast snowmobiling opportunities and Castlegar is no exception. The difference here, compared to other parts of the region, is there are fewer trucks and trailers parked at the trailheads. That means you get more terrain and trails to yourself to enjoy.

Goose Creek snowmobiling area near Castlegar, BC. Julie-Ann Chapman photo.

Julie-Ann Chapman is the owner of She Shreds Mountain Adventures, which offers snowmobile safety and riding clinics, snowmobile rentals, and avalanche courses throughout the province. She started her business in Pemberton, BC, but moved to Krestova, just north of Castlegar, five years ago because “I always knew I wanted to raise kids here,” she says. Her first introduction to mountain snowmobiling was 18 years ago when, as a professional snowboarder, she was instructed to get one so she could access the backcountry where a lot of filming was happening.

Two years later Julie-Ann realized she was more hooked on snowmobiling than boarding but she couldn’t find any courses that would help improve technique. So she decided to start She Shreds to offer riding and safety clinics. She’s since worked closely with BC AdventureSmart and other organizations to develop curriculums that concentrated on avalanche risk assessment and rescue as well as backcountry survival programs. “There wasn’t a lot of women in this industry when I first started,” she says. “It was hard. I needed to be a lot stronger back in the day when I was the only one. Now, 15 years later, there are a lot more women who are into snowmobiling and it’s great.”

Sledding in the Slocan Valley just North of Castlegar. Billy Stevens photo.

As an entrepreneur and professional athlete with Polaris, Julie-Ann finds herself travelling a lot during the winter, but still runs her business from her home all season with the help of her lead guides so she does have the opportunity to ride the trails and terrain here. She offers clinics and snowmobile rentals here as well. She says the West Kootenay Snowgoers club does an excellent job maintaining an area up the Paulson Pass, just West of Castlegar, called 24 Mile that has hundreds of kilometres of trails. “That terrain is amazing for trail riders,” she says. “There’s a beautiful cabin, old-growth trees, and no exposure to avalanche risk so it’s attractive to families and the older crowd.”

Billy Stevens photo.

There are two other maintained areas near Castlegar that Julie-Ann recommends visiting provided you have safety training. The non-profit Castlegar Snowmobile Association is responsible for the trail systems off Pass Creek Road called Goose Creek and Ladybird. Wayne Hnatuk is has been president of the 235-member group for the past four years and he says they have three groomers that maintain almost 100 kilometres of trails in the two areas. They also manage three backcountry cabins, including one that can be rented out on a nightly basis. Wayne gets out on his sled between 70-90 days a year and says “I’ve been snowmobiling here for the past nine seasons as well as further up the valley and in Revelstoke. The terrain is similar but the big difference here is there’s not as many people.”

If riders do want to explore Goose Greek and Ladybird, Julie-Ann cautions that even though many areas are  groomed, “they’re still mountain riding. You’ll want to have skills reading terrain and know what to do in the case of an avalanche.” It’s especially important for Ladybird, she says, because it crosses avy paths on the way in.

Billy Stevens photo.

Beyond that there’s the terrain off the Bombi Summit, just east of Castlegar, which a lot of riders enjoy, as well as innumerable decommissioned logging roads that will take you to all manner of backcountry riding. “The best part about Castlegar snowmobiling is it’s so vast,” Julie-Ann says. “You have the option of mellow, non-risky trail riding or of big mountain riding.”

For those interested in getting into snowmobiling, or for people who want to improve their riding skills, find out more about the courses Julie-Ann offers at