Gateway to the Backcountry: An Insiders Guide
Photo by Dave Steers
Like opening a door to a new world full of surprises, a gateway offers a glimpse into a life unknown, a mystical world in a magical place. In the Coast Mountains that surround Pemberton, this world is simply known as the backcountry. Situated smack-dab in the middle of a ruggedly beautiful and awe-inspiring landscape, Pemberton is known as the 'Gateway to the Backcountry.' Easy access to expansive wilderness terrain is key to the town's adventure allure.
Pemberton is one of only five communities in British Columbia to have been are given a 'Gateway' designation. With backcountry access from numerous locations along the Duffey Lake Road, Hurley River Forest Service Road and Pemberton Portage Road, plus Mt. Currie, Joffre Lakes Provincial Park and Birkenhead Lake Provincial Park, opportunities abound in all directions for serious backcountry adventure.
“When people come here who have never set foot in the winter backcountry, they're utterly speechless,” says Eric James, a former 16-year Pemberton local. “When I bring friends here for the first time, they can't believe how still it is, how quiet and pristine. I'll never tire of seeing that look of amazement on their faces.”
Pemberton's backcountry is home to untouched purity, untracked wildlife and unspoiled wilderness. Jagged peaks, expansive glaciers and open meadows allow for exploration in all seasons. For those willing to venture into this vast wilderness playground (whether by hiking, skiing, snowmobiling, mountain biking or mountaineering), the ultimate backcountry experience awaits.
In these parts, powder reigns supreme. On average, an impressive 32 feet of cold Coast Mountain snow falls every year, a natural phenomenon that fuels the fire of backcountry enthusiasts. Professional skiers, photographers and filmmakers choose the region for its abundance of snow and scenery, and people seeking a respite from the crowds of Whistler frequent the area for its prime ski-touring opportunities and incredible tree-skiing, all accessible with relatively little effort.
“I've been coming to Pemberton every winter for 21 years now, and I'll keep coming back because of the fact that the whole zone is pretty easy to access, and the variety of skiing and boarding is unlimited,” says Vancouverite John Jared Hamilton. “Even if you're just into going for a quiet cross-country tour through the woods, you can escape pretty easily. All around Pemberton, you get swept away by the scenery pretty easily. It hasn't changed much, and there are still so many places to explore that haven't been touched by the hand of man. It makes you stop and realize how beautiful these mountains really are.”
One of the prime destinations for many off-the-beaten-path travelers is the Pemberton Ice Fields, known more commonly as the Pemberton Ice Cap. In the white of winter, the massive 300-square-kilometer expanse of ice and snow opens its arms to keen snowmobilers and ski-tourers looking to shred fresh tracks through the frozen landscape. Towering white peaks reaching as high as 8,000 feet fan out in all directions, piercing the sky.
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