White and wild on Dakota Ridge
Forty minutes ferry-ride from West Vancouver, the Sunshine Coast is better known for The Beachcombers, scout camps and verdant shorelines. People don’t typically associate this 140-kilometre peninsula with snow. But there it is, several feet of the stuff, just waiting to be played in.
You just have to look up.
Poking through the clouds about 1,200 metres above the beaches and pretty parks is Dakota Ridge, one of the best cross-country ski destinations in the last place you’d expect to find it. Between November and March, if it’s raining at sea level, there’s a good chance it’s snowing up there.
And it’s only a 20-minute drive from sea level.
“You can come up for a couple of hours and be in a completely different world,” says Craig Moore, a cross-country skier and long-time member of the Dakota Ridge Winter Recreation Society, a non-profit group working to promote the area. “For cross-country skiing it beats anywhere on the west coast.”
It’s pretty good for tobogganing and snowshoeing, too.
A 620-hectare (1,532 acres) plateau atop a working watershed, Dakota Ridge offers a rolling landscape of stunted old growth hemlock and yellow cedar. On a clear day you can see the North Shore mountains, the Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island beyond – even Mount Baker down in Washington State.
Cross-country skiers will find 13 kilometres of groomed Nordic trails, all of them signposted and colour-coded according to degree of difficulty. Professional engineer Reidar Zapf-Gilje, who prepared Callaghan Valley’s 2010 Nordic Olympic course, designed Dakota Ridge’s trail network.
“In many cross-country skiing areas you’re skiing through woods and you don’t see too much,” says Zapf-Gilje.
“Dakota Ridge is way up there in terms of esthetics. Its real strength is its potential for recreation and citizen [cross-country] races.”
Jamie Mani hopes that potential will be realized. Mani owns Alpha Adventures, a Wilson Creek outdoor-adventure store specializing in guided snowshoe and cross-country ski touring on the Ridge.
“One of the great things about this place is its proximity to so many other activities,” says Mani. “Someone can literally be out snowshoeing in the morning up in the mountains and then golfing or kayaking in the afternoon.
“And for Nordic skiing we have excellent potential because of great snowfall and a blend of flat and rolling trails. We have been skiing on the Ridge as late as May in previous years.”
Snowshoers will find their own trails and there’s plenty of room for hiking and tobogganing. You’ll find a parking lot, warming hunt and toilet at the trailhead.
The turnoff for Dakota Ridge is at the top of Field Road in Wilson Creek, about half way between Gibsons and Sechelt, and 20 kilometres drive from BC Ferries’ Langdale terminal. For many years, the unplowed access road to Dakota’s trailhead made it a ridge too far for some. In recent years the 11-kilometre road has been upgraded to allow for regular plowing, but four-wheel drive vehicles equipped with chains are still the way to go.
Or take advantage of Alpha Adventure’s shuttle service.
- To learn more about Dakota Ridge, visit http://www.scrd.ca/Dakota-Ridge
- For road updates and snow conditions on the Ridge, visit www.suncoastcentral.com/outdoor-reports.asp.
- To book cross-country ski lessons, a guided tour, equipment rentals or shuttle service up to Dakota Ridge, call Alpha Adventures at 1 604 885-8838 or visit www.outdooradventurestore.ca