JOIN THE (SKI) CLUB
Admit it: You've never heard of the Tweedsmuir Ski Club, one of Canada's most exclusive operations. You have no idea how to get to Troll Resort, but the name sounds cool. Mt. Timothy Ski Area must be a place to ski because it says so right in the name, which you came across for the first time when you started reading this sentence. All three are in British Columbia. All three are mom-and-pop shops. Two out of the three even employ people. The Globe and Mail's Carrie Tait heads deep into the Chilcotin and Cariboo regions to explore the remote trio
Tweedsmuir Ski Club
It is a powder day at Tweedsmuir, but no one shows up before 10:30 a.m. A few kids climb a metal ladder to the top of what passes for Tweedsmuir's lodge and shovel snow off the round roof. That's the deal here: No one rides the lift until the roof is shovelled.
"Lift" is a generous word. At Tweedsmuir, a volunteer operation about three kilometres from the nearest road, skiers and snowboarders get to the top of the hill thanks to a handle tow. It stretches 300 metres and ferries three or four people at a time. Any more would put too much stress on the gasoline-powered engine. Dogs run up the tow rope track so they can tumble down the snowy hill beside their skiing owners.
The deep snow swallows tykes learning to turn and teens perfecting their moves. "You know what? It is like heli-skiing," says three-year-old Kasper Treadway, who is just parroting his dad's take on the day. But Kasper isn't wrong – the snow is heli-deep and the experience unique. The club has about 50 members, and 20 or so show up to play on this sunny day.
Lindsay and Geoff Gericke and their two kids, Lila and Ivy, are club members from Bella Coola. Ms. Gericke snowboards with one-year-old Ivy in a contraption on her back. Mr. Gericke and Lila go down the hill together, the three-year-old skiing between her dad's legs. "Her skis just disappeared," Mr. Gericke says at snack time. "Her legs were disappearing."
The handle tow bisects the hill's open face. Skiers look out at the Rainbow mountain range when standing on the top of the hill. There is room for about 15 untracked lines on the gentle side of the rope and perhaps 25 on the slightly – just slightly – more challenging slope. A lift line, perhaps three people deep, forms a few times. Kasper and Lila are too little to use the tow rope on their own. Instead, they stand between their parents' skis or ride on their shoulders to get to the top. The hill is only open on Sundays.
The Tweedsmuir Ski Club was formed about 50 years ago, with volunteers running this backcountry ski hill, grooming 30 kilometres of cross-country trails and maintaining access to the alpine area for snowmobilers.
Families gather at the base in the fading green wooden roundhouse, about six metres in diameter. (Pack a lunch and water – ski resort staples such as poutine and overpriced Dasani water are not available.) The Treadways heat hot dogs on the barrel stove's grill and share s'mores with kids warming up. There's fresh snow till quitting time. No need to rush to beat the crowds.
"What time does the lift close?" Dave Treadway asks.
"When we leave," Mr. Gericke responds.
Getting there: The hill is in B.C.'s Tweedsmuir South Provincial Park, and the parking lot at the trailhead is on the north side of Highway 20, about 40 kilometres west of Anahim Lake and 95 kilometres east of Bella Coola. Visitors must walk, snowshoe, cross-country ski or snowmobile to the hill. Ask nicely and someone may give you a lift on their snowmobile or tow you there.
Day rates including tax: $35 for families; $15 for adults; $10 for students. Club members receive discounted day rates or can purchase season passes.
Where to stay: The Tweedsmuir Ski Club operates a backcountry log cabin – outhouse, propane lamps, wood-burning stove, comfy bunkbeds for six, spacious eating area – between the highway and the hill. Club members pay $60 per night; non-members pay $80. A family membership costs $35.
At the Eagle's Nest Resort on Anahim Lake, accommodations range from rustic cabins – some have power and water – to suites inside a lakeside building. Cabins range between $85 and $200, and rooms between $95 and $150.
Hildur Sinclair gathers empty pop cans in Troll's lodge, keeping a gaggle of kids entertained. She puts a can in a crusher attached to the wall, and a toddler dangles off the handle, needing all his weight to smash the tin. "Ooooh, you found one," Ms. Sinclair says to a kid who wants another turn. "You have another can!"
Three-year-old Eli wanders by. "Eli, Daddy's over at the ski shop," Ms. Sinclair says to the kid who is not her kid. "Should we go find Daddy?" She takes his hand as they look for his father. Then she takes over the kitchen duties so one of her employees can go skiing with a family of rippers in town for a couple of days. She asks a young skier in a race suit if he has a ride home at the end of the day.
This is Ms. Sinclair's mountain. Her heritage. Her vibe. She feeds Troll's employees each night. Locals share a potluck dinner every weekend in the lodge.
Leila Sumi plays a fiddle made in 1912 while Birch Kuch plays the lodge's piano, both providing services in exchange for ski passes. Ms. Sinclair, still in her apron, joins her friends in dancing after dinner, snapping her fingers along to the music.
"She's always dancing," says Hervé Gagnon, a French-Canadian employee.
Ms. Sinclair's Norwegian parents built Troll, a quiet ski area in the north Cariboo, in 1972. Her dad, Lars Fossberg, built the first iteration of this lodge, saving money by recycling materials others had tossed away. "I remember straightening nails," Ms. Sinclair says.
Now, the log lodge is both expansive and cozy. Old-school skis, snowshoes, photos, plaques and other accoutrements decorate the place.
And then there's Troll's signature lift: a two-kilometre-long red T-bar. It pokes along and deposits skiers and snowboarders at the top of scores of family-friendly runs. Kids such as Eli give'r down Astrid's Alley, named in honour of Ms. Sinclair's mom. Astrid's is a bending trail accented by kid-friendly jumps on its sides. The Shaft hosts a spray of moguls. Troll's Face is an expansive pitch, perfect for swoopy turns.
A second T-bar gets visitors higher, into Troll's tree runs, again stuffed with jumpettes. If you're lucky, Troll's snowcat will be running, taking skiers and riders to the mountain's powder paradise. These runs are in the trees but with lanes wide enough to forgive mistakes.
The mountain's real gem, however, is its learning area. It's yellow T-bar is gentle and low enough for toddlers such as Eli to ride alone.
When Mr. Fossberg passed away at 68, the family had to decide whether to keep the ski resort, so Ms. Sinclair held a family meeting in Calgary.
"The kids said, 'Mom, we have to keep the hill.'" And so she did. "We might not have cash in the bank, but we live in a nice house, we call our own shots," she says. "I have no regrets."
Getting there: Troll is 50 kilometres east of Quesnel, which is halfway between Williams Lake and Prince George. Commercial airlines operate out of all three cities.
Day rates including tax: $50 for adults; $45 for students; $35 for adults who are at least 65; varying rates for kids between six and 18; five and under, as well as adults 75 and over, ski free. Visitors with a season pass from other mountains receive a 25-per-cent discount.
Where to stay: The Wells Hotel opened in 1934 and has 13 guest rooms of varying size. Winter rates start at $70 a night.
Quesnel has numerous hotels and motels, ranging from roadside independents to chains such as Travelodge and Ramada.
Mt. Timothy Ski Area
Dave Wright is alone, sitting in a white plastic chair by a fireplace in Mt. Timothy's lodge. No, not the fireplace on your left when you walk in. And no, not the one by the window overlooking the chairlift. The one in the middle. That one.
Mr. Wright is 75. He's the kind of guy who learned to slide downhill on wooden skis with no edges. He's wearing a red-and-black plaid flannel shirt, eating an orange and a ham and cheese sandwich. He has white hair and a white mustache. He is a regular here and ski patrolled on the side when Timothy opened in 1988.
"The only thing I don't like about Timothy is the slow chair," says Mr. Wright, a retired principal who lives in Williams Lake.
Indeed, locals often wait to load into Timothy's triple chair. Not because it is crowded, but because they want a chair with soft padding to come around. Timothy can't afford padding for all its chairs, so locals wait it out, confusing out-of-towners.
Timothy is a non-profit ski society, which is rare and often financially unstable. The place stays afloat thanks to government grants and donations. Five hundred bucks will get your name on a chair on the lift. Ten grand gets you a spot on one of the red chairlift towers.
It is Thursday, and about 60 students are learning to ski and snowboard here, sharing Timothy's skiable acres with about 40 other visitors. A bit busy, according to Mr. Wright.
The groomed runs are cruisy, with rollers adding the mildest of spice. Adventurous skiers and snowboarders can access more difficult terrain by walking a short stretch at the top.
The lodge buzzes with kids at picnic tables but remains uncrowded. The café, Clancy's On the Hill, serves classic day lodge cuisine such as cinnamon buns and poutine.
Mr. Wright puts in 15 to 20 laps each time he visits, clocking in at around 9:30 a.m. and wrapping up around 2 p.m. Lunch lasts half an hour. He used to ski Sun Peaks Resort near Kamloops but now finds it pricey. That, and his aging legs dig Timothy's short runs.
Timothy is in the Cariboo Region, and while it does not cast a big shadow, it is a respectable ski area. Its vertical drop is 310 metres, giving it an edge of about 100 metres over Ontario's Blue Mountain. Timothy employs 12 people, and another 11 serve as volunteer ski patrols.
Caroline Sherrer, a veteran in the ski industry, took over as mountain manager in 2015 as Timothy teetered financially. The volunteers, she says, deserve credit for building this place and fighting to keep it alive.
"Those guys put in a lot of hours trying to get this ship going in the right direction," she says in her office after the chair and magic carpet close. "As long as people want to see it succeed, it will succeed."
Getting there: Mt. Timothy is 20 kilometres from Lac La Hache, which is about 60 kilometres from Williams Lake on Highway 97. Commercial airlines service Williams Lake.
Weekend day rates including tax: $50 for adults; $38 for youth between 13 and 18; rates vary for other age groups. First Nations and members of the military receive 25 per cent off. Season pass holders from other resorts receive discounts of between 25 and 50 per cent. Mt. Timothy is open Thursday to Sunday and over B.C.'s Family Day long weekend.
Where to stay: The Lake Motel in Lac La Hache offers basic, clean and comfortable rooms on the highway; $60 per night for a king bed and $70 for two queens.
Williams Lake has a number of chain hotels such as a Best Western and Sandman Hotel & Suites.
The reporter and photographer were guests of the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Association and Destination British Columbia, neither of which reviewed or approved this article.
The Chilcotin and Cariboo regions are, proudly, out of the way. But that does not mean they are inaccessible. Even folks mildly interested in road trips can pull this off. The locations are close to Prince George, Quesnel, Williams Lake and Bella Coola – all accessible by commercial airlines.
Places such as Calgary, Vancouver and Kamloops are further afield, but that just means more time cruising the Alaska Highway or driving alongside the Fraser River.
Take road signs warning of moose seriously. Keep an eye on your fuel gauge – this is not the time or place to see whether your vehicle can make that extra 25 kilometres. Respect the forecast. Pack snacks. Do not feed the wildlife your snacks.
Stop at Anahim Lake's general store to check out the pictures of old-timers and their ratty cowboy hats on the wall. A hat belonging to some local hockey player named Carey Price is also nailed to the wall.
While Troll and Timothy are just off their respective highways, Tweedsmuir is a bit more ambitious. Visitors have a few options: Self-propel themselves from the trailhead to the hill by snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or alpine touring; zip in via their own snowmobiles; or hang out in the parking lot in the hopes of hitching a ride with a local snowmobiler.