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I’ve had my share of world travels, but there is no scene so complete, in my mind, as the winding Kitchi Creek, unfurling into the McGregor River from Kakwa Provincial Park, with the towering Mt. Ida presiding over it all.
In October 2015, I took a flightseeing tour with Guardian Aerospace and two other photographers to Kakwa Provincial Park. Our Cesna 172 followed the Torpy River into the mountains east of PG, and on the way we window shopped for what will be years worth of alpine hiking trips. Then, the massive, humbling rock faces of Mount Sir Alexander sprung up around us, and the legendary landscapes of Kakwa seemed just beyond our reach. The park is renowned for its dramatic, mountainous scenery, but also revered for its remoteness. As such, a flight tour in the park is a visual feast for anyone to enjoy, but for a backcountry enthusiast, it’s a must have experience.
It so happens that Kakwa, the Cree word for “porcupine,” has been on my hiking bucket-list for a few years: an endeavour inspired by recent photography from adventurers before me. Like many recreational areas in the region, this one’s modern access was made by mining and forestry activities, then it was established as a park to protect it from those same industries. To give you a sense of the area’s relatively untravelled newness, its highest peak was not winter-summited until 1990, and it did not receive Class A park status until 1999.
If you’re prone to wilderness wanderlust, a flight seeing tour in the mountains is the ultimate tease. In a couple short hours you will see Arctic Lake and Pacific Lake side by side at the continental divide, scarcely trodden hiking routes, rarely touched mountains and hardly travelled waterways. These inspiring elements are all key to the allure of northern BC’s barely explored adventuring frontier.
Whether you’ve visited Prince George once, twice, or a dozen times, chances are you’ve heard of the Otway Nordic Ski Centre- –and for good reason! Conveniently located on Otway road, only minutes from downtown, the ONSC facility has certainly become a hotspot for people looking to get active and enjoy the beautiful outdoors that Prince George has to offer.
Personally, I have grown to know this amazing facility quite well over the past few years. After moving to Prince George three years ago to pursue the sport of biathlon, the ONSC quickly became my primary training grounds and, ultimately, my second home. And how could it not have? There is no other outdoor facility in Prince George as diverse as Otway is; especially one that is open for use all year long! Thanks to the support of the facility’s dedicated volunteer and paid staff, Otway is able to keep over 55 kilometers of trails well maintained throughout the year. And these trails are not only for cross country skiing, aside from the 3-5 meter wide ski trails, the club has also designed a plethora of single track trails that are used for mountain biking, running, and even snowshoeing! And as an added bonus, due to recent upgrades, over 5 of these 55 kilometers are equipped with lights making after-work workouts & evening adventures safe and enjoyable for everyone.
So, were you thinking of trying something new this winter? Perfect! Whether you’re completely new to skiing or snowshoeing, or an experienced athlete looking to improve your skills, I can guarantee that the Otway Nordic Centre has something for you. With a focus on getting its users to stay active for life, the ski centre offers a wide range of drop in classes, private lessons, and long term programs that are tailored for every skill and age level! And if PG is just a stop along your journey and you don’t have your equipment with you while you’re on the road –don’t worry! Otway has an onsite rental shop that would be happy to outfit you with all of the equipment you will need for a snowshoeing or cross country skiing adventure!
Now, as a Prince George resident for three years I may sound biased as I speak about Otway so highly, but, let me explain to you why I’m doing so. After the announcement that the 2015 Canada Winter Games would be held in Prince George, and that the ONSC would be the venue for both the Cross Country Skiing and Biathlon events, the executive directors at ONSC wasted no time in beginning to prepare for the Games. These directors, as PG residents themselves, were passionate about showing the nation the beauty of the city, thus leading to the design of incredible upgrades for the facility that they believed were sure to leave visitors in awe. Over four years these designs became a reality as Otway underwent a major facelift. This began with the construction of a world class biathlon range, two new timing buildings, and some of the most technical and exciting race courses in all of Canada! When the games finally came around the hard work certainly did not go unnoticed. Athletes, coaches, and spectators from across the country left Otway spreading raving reviews and, quite often, vows to return to PG’s trails again in the future.
So, not convinced to go check it out yet? Ok, give me one more shot. Here’s one of the main reasons why I always enjoy my time spent on the trails out at Otway.
As remarkable as the facility is, one of my favourite things about Otway is the welcoming atmosphere that it’s users create. Whether it’s early Sunday morning, or late on a Friday night, you are never completely alone out at the centre; some days you may only have the silent stares of a herd of deer keeping you company, while other days you’ll be sharing the trails with over a hundred young skiers taking part in the ski school programs (but don’t let that scare you off, there’s plenty of room on the trails for everyone!), but each and every visit you will not have to look far to find joy in your adventure. The strong sense of community and friendship that is shared amongst the users on the trails has always been comforting to me, and it will surely keep you returning to Otway over and over again!
Some of my very best memories of Prince George were made at the Otway Nordic Ski Centre, and I am confident that some of yours could be too!
#TAKEONPG Tourism Prince George hit up Powder King with local snowboarder Brad King for some spring boarding. For 365 activities in and around Prince George, visit www.takeonpg.com!
To live in Prince George, you have to like winter. We actually get a bit (or a lot) excited when the snow starts to fly, as we start to itch for our favourite winter activities. Luckily for us, there is a huge array of fantastic activities to choose from in our city; snow covered grounds or fallen temperatures are not reasons to stay away, but an invite to come and play! Here are three family friendly reasons to visit Prince George during the winter months.
Local skiing/snowboarding options
An article about winter activities in Prince George would be amiss if it didn’t mention the opportunities for skiing and snowboarding in our region. There are four different hills, in a range of sizes and challenges, within daytrip distances (and shorter) to Prince George – and the powder, of course, is amazing! The Hart Highlands Ski Hill is a small hill in a suburb only ten minutes north of the downtown core of PG, but it’s fun for the whole family – a great place to bring kids who want to try downhill for the first time or work on finding their groove. Tabor Mountain Ski Resort, only 15 minutes east of PG but with over 20 runs, is where I learned to snowboard years ago, and is great for a whole day or a half-day, being so close to town. Purden Ski Village is 60 km east of Prince George, and is a great option for both a half-day trip and a full day, especially if you take advantage of their shuttle and sleep on the way! There are 25 runs at Purden and the views of the snow-covered landscape and Purden Lake are phenomenal. And finally, Powder King Mountain Resort, found in the Pine Pass in the Rockies, is just over two hours north of PG. Powder King has an amazing 37 runs, boasts over 40 feet of powder every year and a shuttle is also available (a great option to avoid more travel time on our wintery roads).
Local hockey: Prince George Cougars and Prince George Spruce Kings
Locals and out-of-towners alike will enjoy taking in some Prince George Cougars or Prince George Spruce Kings games (or both) every season. I’m not even a big hockey fan (gasp, sorry!) but I enjoy heading to the arena at least once a year. It’s a great excuse to eat popcorn and hot dogs, and cheer for the locals/yell at the opposing team! But real hockey fans will love to see these WHL or BCHL athletes in action. CN Centre can draw in big crowds for the Cougars’ games, making for a very exciting evening, and the PG Coliseum and the Spruce Kings’ games can be a really fun family night too. (And note, the City of Prince George offers public skating times at the Coliseum in the winter too!) What a great reason to spend an extra night in Prince George, especially if the kids are hockey fans, or even aspire to the bigger leagues one day themselves!
Snowshoeing at Ancient Forest
Snowshoeing is one of my favourite ways to spend some of our snowy days, and I love that in Prince George, I can drive short distances in any direction to find some good trails (or places to make my own). Heck, I can even snowshoe from my driveway if I want to. But when I really want to experience the quiet, magical, snowy wonderland of our region, I head somewhere a bit more special: the Ancient Forest. Just over an hour east of Prince George, you’ll find this rare temperate rainforest area with several kilometres of trails, interpretive signs, a beautiful waterfall and some of the biggest ancient cedars you’ll lay eyes on in our region. While I particularly love the Ancient Forest in the winter (it’s just so calm and quiet!), the area is great hiking all year round, especially now that local volunteers, led by the Caledonia Ramblers hiking club, have completed a 1600-foot boardwalk, making the trails accessible to all.
When it comes to locations for winter activity around Prince George, especially snowshoeing, the possibilities are endless. With a maze of trails that can be accessed both within the city limits, as well as in the surrounding areas, it can be difficult to choose the best place to hit the trail.
There are both private and public options for snowshoeing venues nearby. The most popular option for a private venue is the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club. This is a non-profit organization, but there is fees to use their trails.
As far as the public options go, although there are many, there is three main trails (or trail systems) that come to mind when I think of great locations to get out in nature.
Eskers Provincial Park
Eskers is a great beginner / intermediate location for snowshoeing near Prince George. With 15 kilometers of marked trails, you can do anything from a quick 20 minute walk with the kids, to an all day excursion, exploring all of the trails that Eskers offers.
The trails weave through the numerous lakes and marshes that make up the park. Often in this pristine habitat, you will even be lucky enough to come across some of the local wildlife such as grouse or moose. While snowshoeing is one of the highlights of winter in this particular park, there is no track setting.
Crooked River Provincial Park
This park can be found north of Prince George, just south of Bear Lake. While in the summertime this park consists of a popular campground, during the winter the gates are closed at the highway. Luckily, this is part of what makes it great for snowshoeing! Not only is there marked trails throughout the park, but you can also embark down any of the road systems that navigate throughout.
For shorter ventures, the bear lake trail around the main lake is quite popular, but if you are ambitious and feeling up for a bit longer jaunt, the square lake trail takes on a large loop which then joins up with the crooked river trail to take you back to the main (bear) lake.
Similar to Eskers there is no track setting in this park as well, although this is also a popular destination so it is usually not an issue.
Viking ridge is, by far, the most technical of the three locations. This should only be considered my advanced people since it is a very steep trail and takes you above treeline on to a mountain ridge.
The views that you obtain on this trail are second to none. You can see a full 360 degree view of all the surrounding, low lying, areas. The trail starts with a steep ascent through the forest which takes you to an open meadow. From there, you climb higher to a small lake, and then finally on to the ridge.
The Viking ridge trail is not track set, and although there is flagging on the way up to help you navigate, it is not recommended for unexperienced outdoors people.
For both Eskers and Crooked River, detailed trail maps can be found online at the BC Parks website (www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks). For Viking ridge, information can be obtained through the Caledonia Ramblers website (www.caledoniaramblers.ca).
Whether you choose to embark on a venture to one of these locations, or just find one on your own, you are sure to experience nature at its finest around Prince George. After all, is there such a thing as a bad day when you are in the great outdoors with snowshoes strapped to your feet?
Copyright N. Trehearne 2015
The ten-day event will run from February 5-14 and include a number of events such as The Integris Iceman competition; Cougars, Spruce Kings, and Timberwolves games; cultural performances; and the annual Chinese New Year Celebration at the Exploration Place. It will also include free admission to a variety of City facilities on Family Day. The highlight of the festival will be the Plaza event on February 13 including concerts, food trucks, activities, displays, and fireworks.
Photo by Shawn Haines, 2015 Canada Winter Games
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