Credit: Bearpaw Heli-Skiing
Are you looking for something new to do this winter? Check out these awesome, all-Canadian outdoor adventures:
Shred First Descents, BC
Heli- and cat-ski operations in BC’s Kootenay, Monashee and Cariboo mountains, as well as near Whistler and in the Rockies, tend to hog much of the press and leave the five operations in northern BC off-radar — which means the north has plenty of first-descents waiting to be skied. Bearpaw Heli-Skiing, just east of Prince George, and Skeena Cat Skiing, near Smithers, are two of the newest NBC operators, having both opened up only a year ago. Within its 4,800-sq-km tenure, Bearpaw offers virgin snow in the McGregor, Dezaiko, Misinchinka and Hart ranges. Skeena Cat Skiing treads through a 600-sq-km tenure, overlapping with Skeena Heli-Skiing (established 2004), and promises unskied routes in the Babine Range’s glades, bowls and steeps. Simply put, if you want to boldly ski where no one has skied before, these two operations can make it happen daily. Skeena Cat Skiing is $450 per person/day (day ski) or $700 to $800 per person/day (10-person private group, all-inclusive); Bearpaw Heli-Skiing is $2,250 to $2,365 per person/day (four-person private group, all-inclusive).
Start Here: bearpawheliskiing.com & skeenacatskiing.com
Winter Cave Adventures, BC & AB
From October until May each year, the well-loved experience of Vancouver Island’s Horne Lake Caves dramatically changes from cool and quiet to wet and wild. This is the secret: caving need not be serene. Spelunkers are invited to delve into the depths of the Earth alongside cascading waterfalls and underground rivers; these roaring water features pump up adrenaline well beyond summertime levels. Dress to get wet — very wet. Also, for Rocky Mountain travellers: if Sunshine Village and Lake Louise are iced-out and you’ve had your fill of snowshoeing, Canmore Cave Adventures will take you deep into nearby Rat’s Nest Cave. Unlike the Jekyll & Hyde personality of Horne Lake Caves, Rat’s Nest stays an even five degrees Celsius every day of the year, so you may actually need to peel off a layer upon starting the descent. Prices, $69 (Horne Lake); $105 to $145 (Canmore).
Ski-Tour the Nearest Frontier, QC
Are you familiar with Abitibi-Témiscamingue? This region in western Quebec, about 2.5 hours east of Timmins, ON (via Hwy 117 S) or six hours northwest of Montreal (via Hwy 117 N), is a 65,000-sq-km adventure mecca of lakes, rivers, woodland and unbridled potential for winter recreation, yet remains off-radar to many outsiders. While certainly no secret to the area’s 145,000 residents, tourism is a burgeoning industry in Abitibi-Témiscamingue — crowds and high-prices are not on the ledger. Pack your cross-country or snowshoe gear to explore this region properly, starting in Parc national d’Aiguebelle. Offering 38 km of backcountry nordic trails, the park is best experienced in either the three-day/two-night tour dubbed “The Faults,” or the four-day/three-night “Northern Getaway;” varying-difficulty routes that link together rustic shelters for comfy overnight touring. Cabin prices range from $67 to $100 per night for two people; baggage services start at $12, one-way; park admission is $6.50 per adult.
Start Here: abitibi-temiscamingue-tourism.org
Heli Harp Seal Excursion, QC
Often thought of as purely a summertime cottage destination, every late-February through mid-March the Iles de la Madeleine is home to an unbearably cute wildlife experience: seal observation. Offered by Chateau Madelinot as a four-day/three-night package, hotel guests are heli-lifted from the seaside inn to the frozen ice floes of the Gulf of St. Lawrence to get up-close-and-personal with fluffy harp seals. With a knowledgeable and engaging guide (and a supplied Mustang Survival Suit) you will wander the ice, photographing and observing white-coat seal pups — newly born and discovering the world under the eye of their speckle-skinned parents. Hundreds of thousands of these seals crawl onto the ice during birthing season; it is a phenomenon that must be seen to be believed. Package prices range from $1,315 to $1,513 per person.
Start Here: hotelsilesdelamadeleine.com
Unknown Parks, QC
Pingualuit, Kuururjuaq, Tursujuq — it’s likely you haven’t visited Nunavik’s three national parks (Tursujuq having officially opened in July of 2013). In fact, you may have never even heard of them. But what’s not immediately certain, perhaps, is why you would go there. In one word: adventure. During the winter season, these parks are best explored in March and April, when temperatures have mellowed out from their extreme Arctic lows, daylight hours are longer and icepack and Aurora Borealis are still in their prime. For 2014, Parc national Kuururjuaq is offering a guided alpine snowshoe expedition through traditional Inuit territory (March 3 to 8); expect wildlife (possibly polar bears) and unique cultural experiences throughout. Parc national Pingualuit is home to an even more adventurous, seven-day, camp-to-camp, guided backcountry ski expedition through expansive Arctic tundra en route to the otherwordly Pingualuit Crater and more natural wonders and cultural sites (March and April, 2014). Discover a unique edge-of-the-Earth region only a few will ever see, yet is located just a couple of hours’ flight from Montreal.
Start Here: nunavikparks.ca