Just Returned From → Milan, Italy. Headed To → Tofino, British Columbia.

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Winter 2014 in Pictures: Wolves, Helicopters, Ski-Doos, Deep Powder & Northern Lights

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It is May, and for Canadians that means winter is officially a memory and it’s time to tackle the warm months. But first, I want to reminisce on one seriously awesome northern winter:

In This Canada Travel Article You Will Discover:

  • Where to Walk With Wolves
  • Deep-Powder Destinations
  • Two Ways to go 100 km/h
  • Canada’s Best Arctic Adventure

I’m a summer guy. I’ve never made a secret of that. Give me warm ocean waves, soft sand, evening campfires, a motorcycle ride with no destination set and I’m good. But the cold months bring adventure potential that cannot be ignored. And hell, winter’s snow and ice is a reality — may as well take it for all it’s worth. What did I get up to last winter? Turns out, a lot:

Skeleton Racing in Whistler

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Hitting 96.8 km/h in Whistler. (Coast Mountain Photography)

My brother turned 40 this year and since he’s a professional stuntman, the festivities had to involve extreme speed and some legitimate chance of injury. Skeleton racing at Whistler Sliding Centre fit the bill. Yes, this is the same track you watched during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games — the fastest sliding sports track in the world. Tourists like us start from merely one-third the way up the track, but that didn’t stop me from hitting 96.8 km/h as I dragged my face-mask over the ice through the final corner (3Gs strains the neck). Upon completion, we were awarded certificates that praised our “athleticism and bravery;” the latter being the only truth, as instructors literally describe the technique as “becoming a sack of potatoes.” No, we were not in the same league as the Olympians. But for during my two 30-second runs, it sure felt that way.

Skiing Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

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One of 87 in-bounds chutes.

I hadn’t skied in BC’s Purcell Mountains in almost eight years — but I remembered the deep, dry and abundant powder well, so I was stoked to spend a few days shredding slopes around the town of Golden. Kicking Horse Mountain Resort is steep and deep. And steep. Did I mention it is steep? The Golden Eagle Gondola accesses more vertical than any single lift in North America — and you can ski double-black diamonds and easy green cruisers from the same offload point. (Personally, I liked CPR and Feuz Bowls.) I also liked that Kicking Horse sees one-tenth the crowds of Whistler; we did fast laps on the chairlifts all day long — and it was spring break. I had the pleasure of being toured around by local legend John Parry — read more about that here. My only disappointment was that Boo the grizzly bear, who lives in a habitat on-mountain, hadn’t yet arisen from his winter slumber.

Walking With Wolves

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Walking with Wolves in Golden, BC.

I missed out on the grizzly bear, but more than made up for it with another legendary predator: the gray wolf. Located near Golden, BC, Northern Lights Wildlife Wolf Centre stewards wolves adopted from TV and film or zoos — and they also offer visitors a chance to get up-close with these gorgeous creatures. I accompanied owners Shelley and Casey Black on a daily exercise run with two sociable wolves — Scrappy Dave and Maya — an experience they offer to the public for $295 (for two people). We wandered into the forest along a snowy logging road and spent more than an hour with the wolves, observing them, feeding them, photographing them and even playing with them. And, most importantly, we learned about these wolves — the Blacks hope visitors will become de facto wolf advocates, carrying a message forward that canis lupus is not the Big Bad Wolf of lore, but a vital keystone species that deserves protection and respect. I guess it worked.

Snowmobiling, for the First Time Ever

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I almost look like I know what I’m doing!

I’d always been sheepish about admitting I’d never ridden a snowmobile before — like my very Canadian citizenship was in jeopardy. I’m happy to announce I lost my Ski-Doo virginity last March in BC’s Kootenay Mountains. I joined Snowpeak Rentals on a half-day snowmobile tour — we hopped on lightweight (that means pull-starts) 800 cc mountain sleds and tore off into the hills; I could not believe how fast these things were. One gentle touch of the throttle had me doing 100 km/h… 110… I stopped looking at the speedometer after that. Sledding is also hard work. They tip over, they don’t really steer well — and in deep snow left is right and right is left. WTF, right? Surprisingly, it’s actually a pleasant way to see the mountains. Some of the nicest moments of the day came when the motors were shut down, the helmets were off and we just spent a few minutes counting snowflakes.

Heli-Skiing in the Purcells

There is absolutely nothing in this world like the rush of a helicopter. Flying deep into the Purcells via Bell 212 chopper and piling out atop an untouched mountain like a wartime commando is worth the price of admission alone. But then the real fun begins. All day long, it’s nuthin’ but untracked powder turns — run after thigh-burning run. The mountains are yours, and with Purcell Heli-Skiing, there are 500,000 acres of mountains to call your own; during our five-run day we barely scratched the surface of a single peak. A few face-plants, a lot of laughs and a ton of turns later we were back in the chopper — it went by too fast. I was particularly lucky, as our media group was escorted by owner Rudi Gertsch, a legend of the Canadian Rockies and one of the original three founders of heli-skiing (the other two being Mike Weigele and the late Hans Gmoser. I skied with Mike in 2005, but never met Hans).

Ski-Touring Nunavik

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…An experience that will stay with me for a while.

The best was last. As winter was coming to a close in southern latitudes, I flew into one of the coldest places in Canada — Nunavik. Here, in Arctic Quebec, the mercury was always negative double-digits and the wind seemed to triple that chill. But the vast and beautiful land will live with me forever. Our group, led by five Inuit guides from Kangiqsualujjuaq, ventured into Parc national Kuururjuaq for a five-day ski and snowshoe tour. We stayed in a woodstove-heated Inuit tent the first night, waking up in -25 degrees Celsius. We skied along the frozen Koroc River, flanked by crumbling primordial slopes striated with icy waterfalls and rimmed with tamarack trees. We crossed the border into Labrador during a snowshoe trek up a mountain known, in Inuktitut, as “caribou’s long way to go.” We ate fresh ptarmigan, dispatched by our guides the same day and Arctic char jigged through the ice by an Inuit elder. We watched the aurora borealis dance atop the peaks of the Torngat Mountains. We felt insignificant in face of boundless wilderness and a powerful Arctic winter. It was a privilege.

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About the author: David Webb is a Vancouver, BC-based travel writer, photographer and magazine editor.

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