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Prince George: Winter on the Edge of Wilderness

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Tourism Prince George/Darrin Rigo

Winter in Prince George comes early and stays long—and the cold weather doesn’t stop locals and visitors from embracing the snowy splendor.

There are nearby resorts and hills for skiing (three of them, in fact), snow-draped forests for snowshoeing, frozen lakes for ice fishing, and if you’re lucky you may spot the elusive Northern Lights. As the largest city in the region, Prince George is also home to flourishing culinary and arts scenes that cement its reputation as a basecamp for northern adventure.

So take it from the locals who are in on the secret: Prince George is best visited from November to March.

Where to Downhill Ski in Prince George

In Prince George, skiers are spoiled for choice. Within city limits (15 minutes from the downtown core), check out Hart Ski Hill, ideal for beginners and for those times when you want to ski more and commute less. Purden Ski Village, 45 minutes east of Prince George, features 3,335 m (10,941 ft) of vertical descent and 25 runs that see dry powder and uncrowded slopes. The aptly named Powder King Resort—a two-and-a-half-hour drive into the Pine Pass area northeast of the city—is blessed with an average of 12 m (40 ft) of annual snowfall. Powder King has long been coveted by the weekend warriors of Prince George, and whispered about by in-the-know powderhounds hailing from farther south.

Steep and deep at Powder King Mountain Resort | Northern BC Tourism/Andrew Strain
Powder King Mountain Resort

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For backcountry enthusiasts, there are many options close to town, including Sugarbowl-Grizzly Den Provincial Park & Protected Area about an hour east of Prince George. (To check availability of the three cabins for day and overnight use visit the Prince George Backcountry Recreation Society.) Much of the park’s territory includes the slopes of the Cariboo Mountains—24,765 ha (61,195 ac) of soft, pillowy powder. For guided backcountry skiing and lodging, check out Dezaiko Lodge.

When enjoying the backcountry, don’t forget your beacon, probe, and shovel, and be familiar with how to use them. Check for snow conditions with Avalanche Canada, never travel alone, and always let someone know your trip plan. Avalanche safety training is highly recommended.

Bearpaw Heli-Skiing, a family-run operation, is currently booking for the 2022 season and has announced a COVID-19 cancellation policy. With its home base situated in the tiny outpost of Sinclair Mills (95-km (59 mi) east of Prince George) in the scenic Upper Fraser valley, Bearpaw’s tenure stretches across four mountain ranges and offers untouched alpine bowls and lower-elevation treed lines.

All Hail the Snowy Trails

Prince George is home to a vast trail network, beloved by runners, hikers, and cyclists in the summer. In winter months, these quiet wooded paths are thick with snow, and a perfect way to enjoy winter while socially distancing. Strap on a pair of snowshoes or cross-country skis and watch your breath hang in frozen bursts around you as you glide through the forest.

Otway Ski Trials | Northern BC Tourism/Marty Clemens
Sit-skiing at Otway Ski Trails

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Some of the city’s best snowshoeing is found at Cottonwood Island Nature Park, located a short stroll from downtown. Trails criss-cross 33 ha (81 ac) and follow the Nechako River’s edge. Then there’s the Ancient Forest/ChunT’oh Whudujut Provincial Park, an inland temperate rainforest. While it’s spectacular in every season, the park is exceptional in winter when its towering western red cedars are cloaked in snow.

For more rosy-cheeked fun, head to the Otway Ski Trails, operated by the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club, where you can take on 55-km (34 mi) of groomed runs. (Rentals, including sit-skis, are available.) Or try the Cranbrook Hill Greenway, which links 25 km (14 mi) of trails between Otway and the University of Northern British Columbia.

Across the Fraser River, you’ll find the settlement of Penny. It’s home to just 11 residents and one community hall, but in winter, the population swells thanks to the Red Mountain Backcountry Cabin, maintained by the Prince George Backcountry Society. Between the start of the trailhead and the hut is a 12.5-km (7.7-mi) ski-tour or snowshoe through low-elevation subalpine. Penny is also the only place in BC where mail is still delivered by train; time your visit to see this in action.

Ice, Ice, Baby—Ice Fishing, that is

While ice fishing can feel intimidating for beginners, the more than 1,600 lakes surrounding Prince George makes the city a perfect place to start.

Tourism Prince George/Alex Zander

Borrow an auger—the tool used for drilling holes in the thick ice—from the Prince George Visitor Centre (check the website for hours due to COVID-19). They won’t charge you to keep the equipment for up to a week—or for the expert ice-fishing intel. Don’t forget to stock up on warm clothes and food and drink beforehand. Local tip: The sandwiches at Birch and Boar make for excellent ice-fishing grub.

Prefer to go faster? Skate under the dark night sky at the Prince George Outdoor Ice Oval, a speed-skating facility with a 400-m (1,300-ft) track. There are also six community arenas that host public skate nights (please check with the City of Prince George for COVID-19 restrictions).

Look for the Northern Lights

The uncertainty and unpredictability of the Northern Lights is what makes seeing them so rewarding. There are a few factors that help, though—like the farther north you go, the better your chances. Luckily, Prince George benefits from northern coordinates, and on clear nights you can watch pulsating splashes of green paint dance across an inky black sky.

Northern Lights | Tourism Prince George/Krist Foot

Your best bet to see the Aurora Borealis is between midnight and early morning, with reduced-to-little light pollution (including moonlight). Good viewing areas include Salmon Valley, Teapot Mountain, and Ness Lake Regional Park. Before you kick off your all-nighter, grab a coffee from Ritual Coffee (they close at 5 pm) to help keep sleep at bay.

You don’t even need to brave the chilly weather. Visit the Prince George Astronomical Society‘s observatory, where you can look for the first signs of light through their telescopic lenses. They are open by donation on Friday evenings in winter; check the schedule ahead of time before you visit.

 

Winterfest | Kelly Bergman

Cool Events

The sheer number of outdoor events in winter is a testament to how much Prince George locals celebrate the cold. This year, COVID-19 safety plans are in place to make sure some of the city’s most-loved events can make their return.

See Event Listings

Food and Après

After a day spent outdoors, there’s nothing like peeling off the layers and warming up—physically-distanced-style—in a local restaurant.

 

Crossroads Brewing | Tourism Prince George/Darrin Rigo

Tuck into a wood-fired pizza at Betulla Burning, or enjoy a brew and a hearty burger at Nancy O’s, where you’ll find a large, ever-changing list of craft beers from across the region and around BC.

The riverside Northern Lights Estate Winery has an inviting bistro where you can sample the winery’s signature fruit wines and fusion dishes. Trench Brewing and Distillery has a rotating selection of beer and food; and Crossroads Brewing and Distilling, another local favourite, transforms their patio into an outdoor curling rink in winter.

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