Deep Snow Mountain Riding At the Glacier House Resort with the Great Canadian Snowmobile Tours, Revelstoke, British Columbia.
Abridged, By Scott A. Sumner, Copyright www.slednews.com
As long as I can remember, snowmobiling in the deep powder snow of the mountains was a dream. This past January, 2005 I was able to find out first hand what this type of riding is really like. The short answer is FANTASTIC! I got the chance to travel to Revelstoke, BC and experience snowmobiling at it’s finest at the Glacier House Resort.
The blue sky’s and peaks are spectacular at Revelstoke!
Lia and Alex came from Holland to begin a tour company and soon saw the need for winter activities to offer their largely European clients. It was then they started the snowmobile rental business. A few years after that they knew their clients would enjoy a first class resort and the 16 room, 9 cabins Glacier House Resort was constructed in 2000. The main lodge has large stone fireplaces, sledders’ pub, dining room, Jacuzzi, pool, meeting rooms all in a beautiful setting. Right adjacent is a snowmobile shop complete with quality clothing sales like Reima, repair area and twenty six 2005 mountain sleds. This was heaven for a snowmobile addict like myself! Long tracked high performance sleds from Arctic Cat, Polaris and Ski Doo were all here.
Alex and Lia, husband and wife are a good a team. The tour operating company had mainly summer clientele. “After a while we said it would be more interesting if were had something to do in the winter time as well. We looked at skiing but opted for snowmobiling and then grew into a bigger business,” smiles Lia. “We wanted our clients to stay in a good hotel, so we ended up building our own, the Glacier House Resort. We started the snowmobile company in 1995, and in September 1999 started building the hotel. It was completed in June 2000. At that time no one had done the snowmobile rental business on a professional level. We looked at the heli-skiing companies as a model, where they offer an all inclusive service to their clients for a week at a time. They house them, feed them and give them a good outdoor experience. We took that model and applied it to snowmobiling and it was a very successful model that attracted a lot of people from the east of Canada, US and Europe as well.” states Alex Szirmai.” We always have snow and can run a long season. The snow, 50 to 60 feet is a large part of the success. We just came out of 10 days of nice weather, a blue sky high pressure system.”
Glacier House Resort has 16 rooms in the lodge and 9 cabins for a total of 25 units. The main selling feature of the lodge is they are right on the snowmobile trails. You can ride your snowmobile to the trails and then at the end of the day park it at the cabins.
“We are 6 kilometres off the Trans Canada Highway so it is a safe location to be, with little worry about theft. In our second year of operation we were awarded the Platinum award by SnoWest magazine, which is their highest award for best snowmobile resort in North America. We have received it every year since then, so we must be doing something good. It is an award that is done by people who stay with you. The magazine publishes a questionnaire that the readers can fill in.”
Glacier House Resort is kind of a casual but nicely high quality, service oriented resort which caters to the snowmobiler. There is a bar, a restaurant, fuel on site and some parts. You can pull your snowmobile inside to get it fixed The terrain of Revelstoke requires you to have a sled that is useful. There are 26 new 2005 high performance mountain sleds including the Arctic Cat M Series 5, 6 and 7, Ski Doo REV Summit 600 and 800 in 141 and 151 track versions and Polaris RMK 600, 700 and 900. I would get to try out many of them in my next four days of riding the 7000 feet elevations of Boulder and Frisbee and the trails to Wap Lake. A great feature of snowmobiling at Glacier House Resort is you can have an experienced guide ride with you each day. The guides are Alex, Amber, Jamie, James, Myles, Jeff and Don. 85% of the Glacier House clients are return clients that book again each year. They come from Alberta, Washington State, Idaho, BC and Montana. There are also a lot of international overseas clients from Andorra, South Africa, the UK, Germany and France. Some have snowmobile experience from Europe, but many don’t. At the Glacier House Resort you can go for a rental of the snowmobile, or you can book a package that comes with a guide, the snowmobile and accommodation, meals and fuel. The all inclusive tour packages are well priced. Remember to book in well advance!
Each day would start with a large buffet breakfast, get our packed lunch for the trail and then meet up with our guides, either Myles or Jeff. My co riders included Pat, an avid motorcyclist from Ireland and Rob, a fifth year medical student from France. A significant portion of the clients come from Europe to experience snowmobiling I found out. Our days included riding in some deep powder up and down the mountains, many times in a standing position on the sled. It made me feel somewhat like a snowcross racer, and soon I was going places I never thought I could. You could also use a sit down riding style with some weight transfers to glide the sled into some tight places. It was excellent riding and quite a learning experience even for this 35 year experienced snowmobiler!
The first day we got 60 cm of snow - 2 feet in a 24 hour period. They usually get about 50 to 80 feet in a good year which compacts down to about 14 feet. After this day five riders from Saskatchewan got too aggressive in their choice of riding locations. They chose to “drop down” in the wrong location near Frisbee and couldn’t get out. In blowing snow conditions close to dark, they were forced to spend the night outside. Five guides were out looking for them from 9pm to 1 am but it was a flyover RCMP helicopter that located them about 10 am the next morning. They got home minus their 5 sleds. They were so buried they were to be flown out by helicopter when conditions were right, which still hadn’t happened 3 days later when I left. Incidentally avalanches are a constant thing to consider in this area. You have to really know what to expect here and even then mother nature has the ultimate say.
The guides are full time snowmobile professionals that ride 5 days a week. They have in-depth avalanche training as well as mandatory first aid training. The first thing the guides do is go into a briefing before they meet with their clients to discuss weather, snow routes and where they will take avalanche riding skills. Everything of influence for that day will be discussed. “Safety is Number 1. We may have to take an alternate route and change your schedule, depending on the conditions,” says Lia. “There is the Canadian Avalanche Association and they produce bulletins every day. We follow those closely along with our day to day observations, putting into place the knowledge you have accumulated during all your training. It is based a lot on experience. Our aim is not endanger our clients. We will always try to pick safe routes. You can’t make a client fully avalanche trained in 1/2 hour. You need experience and it takes years. The trick is to give them good areas to ride in that are safe. Some riding groups have been in the mountains many times while other people rent sleds and are on their own. Others are with the guide and the guide provides the safety. They know what you are doing. We try to give the client what they are looking for within their riding capabilities and the avalanche situation.”
The favourite approach is the all inclusive package. You get up and have breakfast between 7 30am and 930 am. The snowmobile guides want you at the shop from 830am to 930am and they go over the day. On the first day they do a more involved briefing and sign waivers. They suit you up with what you need if you don’t have your own suit helmet, boots and gloves. You pick up your packed lunch for the trail and come back by 430 to 5 pm when it gets dark. You get rid of all your clothes, go in the hot tub, have a drink in the Sledders Pub, watch some DVDs and then have a nice dinner. The average stay for Europeans is usually a week. The guided tours give people a much more enjoyable experience, especially of you are not used to riding. You get to do a lot more things you felt you weren’t capable of. The guides will teach you how to do things like riding up a steep hill, side hilling and off trail deep snow riding.
The tours start about mid December. “We use the first two weeks of December for guide training and want to see snow on the ground at the resort before we get going. By April 15 when the snow disappears at the lodge, we stop for the season you could ride easily to the end of May higher up, but in the spring time people can lose interest and go golfing.” notes Lia. “If you don’t like it you shouldn’t be doing it. The sledding is great. We live in a beautiful mountain environment here. I could ride every day if I had the time, but I do get out 3 to 4 times per week. It’s a lot of fun. Everyday is different because you have different conditions and different snow packs. I love to ride when we have fresh snow and in the spring when you can go many places and explore. It’s always a challenge to find new routes,” smiles Alex.
Glacier House has been quite successful. Our aim is to be the number one snowmobile destination in North America. We have corporate partners to help us run a quality operation. One of the projects is to build an additional 24 to 30 units on the property. We are using permission to build a cabin on Frisbee Ridge where we will be able to sleep people overnight as well,' states Alex. “There is always something new. If you are from in Europe you Beale pretty quickly there are a lot less people here and a lot more space and so you Beale it is worth something. You have clean water, fresh air, space, a home with a backyard. Try getting that in Europe.”
The original Glacier House was 60 kms east of the current location on the top of Rogers Pass. It was the second CP Hotel built in Western Canada. Canadian Pacific Railroad came through in the late 1800’s and built Glacier House because they had no means of pulling their dining cars up the steep grade. They had to create a restaurant style facility. When they put the original Glacier House up there were no sleeping accommodations, but many of the travellers asked if they could stay here as it was such a beautiful spot. That really marked the beginning of tourism in the area. Alex and Lia found out the name wasn’t protected so chose it and can draw on the history a little bit. Many of the tour groups at Glacier House go down to the hot springs. It’s a neat experience. There are 23 natural hot springs in the area. You go 50 km south on hwy 23 and take a ferry across the Arrow Lakes and the hot springs are just beyond the ferries on the road. It’s a nice thing after a days sledding to sit in the hot water.
My first day of my riding was at Boulder Mountain and the second and third at Frisbee Ridge. The last day was on the trails at Wap Lake. You can also ride Mount Hall (Mount Hall has a big plateau about 20 km long with beautiful scenery), which is south of Wap Lake, the Applocolpa, and Mt McCrae. The first two you can ride from the Glacier House while the others you trailer.
Pat Jamieson from Ireland was a fellow rider during my trip. “I found out about the snowmobiling here through H-C Travel. I’d already read about H-C Travel’s snowmobile tours in a Bike magazine article. So many motorcycle people love this kind of sport. They are petrol heads so to speak, speed freaks. My idea to come here was to learn how to ride the sleds with some degree of proficiency, particularly in the soft snow. I’ve ridden motorcycles for at least 30 years - off road and on road. During ski trips in Europe I hired snowmobiles for 1 hour at a time. That was my only previous experience,” notes Pat. 'It’s superb here. The guides are brilliant. Very patient. I was able to get up to top speed fairly quickly. This week I’ve come on by watching the guides and trying to copy them. A lot of the snowmobiling depends on confidence, the same as trials riding in motorcycling. You need the confidence to know the machine will do what you ask it to do. You look at some slopes that seem impossible, but actually you can get up it. It’s all in your mind - get the mental thing right. Keep your momentum, don’t over rev the sled. Do what they tell you.” Our guide Myles was a huge help during my trip to Revelstoke. His upbeat, positive, fun personality was very evident. Also his riding skill helped me learn a lot. Avalanche training is extremely important here and we learned a lot about that from our other guide Jeff. One night we had a steak barbeque at the cabin at Frisbee. It was delicious. Our guide Myles proved to be a great chef. Riding down the mountain at night was also exciting.