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Snowmobiling in Heaven (Rainbow Mountains)

by Ted Hlokoff

Although the Rainbow Mountains are spectacular in summer, some of us “crazy sledders” much prefer the brilliant colors all covered with deep white snow.  The Rainbow Mountain range is along BC’s west coast and Bella Coola Valley is nestled at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, although it is nearly 300 miles inland from the Ocean proper.  Highway 20 allows travel west of Williams Lake to the Ocean at Bella Coola.  What’s important is that the moist Ocean air travels inland and as it lifts up and over the Mountains, it leaves most of its miosture behind in the form of snow.  Heckman Pass at the top of the famous Bella Coola Hill is where the majority of this soft, fluffy beautiful snow drops to the ground.  Highway 20 has a “rest area” at 6,500′ of altitude where parking is available and that is the start of nearly all “trailered” snowmobile trips in this area. 

Nimpo Lake is my home and I normally sled from my yard to everywhere I need to go.  Gas, General Store, restaurants and the Post Office were all available by sled.  My normal riding area was just south of my Log house to the Charlotte Alplands.   Ice fishing is available anywhere on Nimpo or Anahim Lakes and is quite popular.  The community has a Lake New Years party with an ice rink, food, curling and fireworks.  Nimpo has a snowmobile Poker run once throughout the winter where about 30 sleds from Nimpo and Anahim Lakes ride up the Mountains for a BBQ.  This is a good place to winter if you own a sled … or a Dogsled, like Traci’s.

The sledding here is spectacular.  Scenery is unbelieveable and most of the Moutain areas have only been seen from the ground during the last couple decades!  Herds of Cariboo roam through these areas and are often harvested to “restock” Yellowstone Park and the Monashees with our Cariboo (they change their names once they move them).  With only a few full time residents the snow stays in excellent shape and lasts much longer than heavily populated areas like Revelstoke and the Coquihalla areas.  There are thousands of miles of ancient wagon trails and locally trimmed quad/sledding trails throughout this area of the West Chilcotin.  Historically famous for Rainbow Trout and Moose hunting this area is more recently quietly becoming famous for it’s vast wilderness available through Horseback, snowmobile and quads.  Recreation is becoming the world’s new pasttime with Nimpo and Anahim Lakes hidden away for only the elite know the secret areas for the best riding and the ultimate scenery.  Sunsets are amazing in this area of pure clean mountain air and I’ve sledded as early as November and sledded as late as the first weekend in June.

A 20 minute ride (old road) south of Nimpo Lake gets you to Charlotte Lake which is nestled at the end of the Southern Coastal Mountain Range.  Riding into the Charlotte Alplands we usually take the deactivated logging road directly into the Mountains.  There are residents at Charlotte Lake, although the resorts there are usually closed through out the winter.  Several resorts in Nimpo and Anahim are open through the winter for snowmobilers.  My friend Dave Morin and I have a tradition sledding for a week exclusive of anything else.  Nimpo/Anahim Lakes being situated on a plateau surrounded by 4 mountain ranges means we’ll probably need another couple decades to sled them all.  End of February 2012 was to be the sled week and Dave loaded his lightly modified Orange M1000 onto his sled deck and drove the 400 miles to Nimpo Lake.  We’d received fresh snow just the last couple days, although it wasn’t a lot.  When Dave arrived we unloaded and did some local “get back the feel” riding down the trails and had a burger at the Cafe. Next morning we took our time, since it was Holidays, and headed out close to 11am.  We did some trails and had to go about ten miles to get close enough to the mountains to find deep powder in the meadows.  We did a discovery voyage and found strange sights such as this broken ice over a huge boulder.

It was snowing heavily, which was great, but made it hard to ride quickly because of the lower visibility.  We did carve up some meadows and carved, and carved … until we fell off our sleds because our muscles were too tired and sore to hang on any longer.

Dave’s 3rd day we talked to Richard Simon and were invited to go ride with him and a few friends from Williams Lake to the Rainbows.  The Rainbows is a vast area and has much steeper areas for sledding.  Dave and I were out of shape and already sore, but we decided that the Rainbows sounded good and we’d been using the local Highway Maintenance crew to keep in touch of the several feet of fresh powder that had been falling at the rest area each day for the last several days.  Weather report was that Sunday was going to be sunny and perfect.  10am in the Heckman Pass rest area was our arranged meeting place.  Although there was a few other vehicles in the parking lot they were headed in a different direction.  The Tweedsmeer Ski Club maintained a small Ski Hill and a crosscountry trail which the other sled heads were going to “set tracks” in the deep (2′) of new snow for their users.  This meant that we got FIRST TRACKS and needed to do our own trail breaking.  With all big sleds in our groups trail breaking uphill isn’t considered a chore, it’s considered the best part of sledding.  Derrek Hanna, of WL Sight and Sound, had sleds for himself, James Kilborn (of Pioneer Log Homes), Richard Simon, and JJ (Justin Grey – a Diesel mechanic).  All of us are expert level riders and we blasted up the unopened trail.  I stayed near the back as I was photographer today.  Dave sometimes follows me and sometimes rides in front of me with his Helmet Camera collecting video.

We opened and packed down the trail to the Ski Cabin and then we headed off into the Mountains.  Dave had a GPS and I’d been riding in the Rainbows many times so I had an idea of where I was going, but Richard had been spending a lot of time riding through the Rainbows the last few years so everyone followed him and considered him the Guide.  This was the second time that Dave and I had sledded the Rainbows during his “Nimpo week” and this looked to be one of those ‘perfect days’ that we all wish for.  The sun was brilliant and the snow was soft and deep.  Steering was all about leaning.  It wasn’t very long until someone blasted through a short corniche and got stuck.  Here was a lesson on getting unstuck at the expert level.  Roll your sled …

Might not be the best choice if you run a full windshield, but with a shorty windshield and soft snow, this is definitely the easiest way to get unstuck and back to riding.



Some spots along the trail were interesting, but with deep fresh powder riding is a fantastic experience from unloading the truck and trailer until we load the machines back in.


To say that we were having fun would be an understatement.  Although I was out of shape, this was one of the best days of sledding in my recent memory.  Equal to the Dec 4th, I came out with Richard and Calvin Sager to this exact area a couple months previous.  Everyone agreed that it just can’t get any better than this.

Young Creek rambles though valleys between the mountains making some excellent riding bumps, turns and corniches.  We were all having a blast and seldom did we ride in each other’s tracks.  We could spend a month riding this small area of the Mtn range and still not cover the area with tracks.  Each of us had our own thousand acres.  We found some steeps to play on …

I stood on the other side of the Valley to take these shots.  It was steep, and it was fun.  Sometimes the snow was so deep that even a simple carve could look like submarining.


For lunch, we found “a place with a view”.  Left to right is; Richard Simon, Dave Morin, Justin Grey, Derrick Hanna, James (Thunder) Kilborn and me, Ted Hlokoff.

After lunch we did some cliff jumping off a nearby corniche.  JJ (Justin) tried it out, then Richard showed him how to do it.


If jumping off a cliff and dropping 40 feet or so doesn’t give you that “Adrenaline Rush” then it’s time to go home.  There were many areas below the Alpine that allowed Tree bashing and carving uphill through the trees was almost an artform the way that Derrick perfomed it.

As we were heading through the trees towards home, I went flying through a group of small trees, hit one with my ski, got thrown to the side and my sled got hung up on a stump.  I tried but couldn’t lift the sled over the tree and everyone was gone.  After working for 15  minutes I called Dave on my 2 way radio.  Seems he’d just gotten help getting free of some trees farther along the trail and he agreed to come back and help me back onto the trail.  That was great and I recommend everyone carry a 2 way (or better) radio in their pack.  I told Dave where in the trees I was hidden and he rode up towards me.  Once he saw me above the hill he wouldn’t be able to climb, he turned, smashed into a tree bigger than the one that stopped me and snapped it off bouncing into a bigger tree than that.  I thought, ‘Oh my God, he’s going to fall into an 8 or 10 foot treewell.’ but Dave just sledded right through several large branches and his M1000 powered off the snowcovered branches!  He rode around and came up beside me.  Once Dave helped me climb free we chased the rest up the trail and got stuck in the deep snow, again.  As the group came back we were free and moving and I helped one of them get unstuck.  What a blast.  Most exercise than I’d gotten throughout the year.


On the ride out we stopped so that James could change a belt.  Not a problem as all snowmobiles come with a spare belt.

The Heckman Pass rest area is  only 27 miles from Anahim Lake and we stopped at my store on our way home for gas and snacks.  We were sore.  Richard’s Store is on Hwy 20 at Nimpo Lake and signs are posted on Hwy 20 (near the Hydro substation) pointing the 1 block to Anahim Trading!

The Rainbow Mountains are one of the best riding areas of the world that probably has no equal.  The Little Rainbows, the Ulkatchos, the Itches and the Charlotte Alplands also offer 4 mountain ranges for a huge varieity of riding as well as local trails.  However, it is also a vast area that is far from hospitals and very low population saturation so although this means that Nimpo and Anahim Lake areas are similar to heaven, keep in mind that this means spare parts and medical attention is a minimal service in these areas.  Cell phone service is still non-existant west of Williams Lake.  Although we have a hard working road maintenance crew out here, their equipment is not up to par and the roads will stay ice covered from Nov through April, so use winter tires.

Richard owns Nimpo General Store (250 742 3333) while my wife and I own Anahim Lake Trading Store (250 742 3342).  We both have minimal snowmobile supplies and sell gas and oil.  We are also the local people to call for accomodation and restaurant information for this area.


Video of the day