Travel

A snowmobile adventure to Marmot Falls

Expect the unexpected in the Kootenays, including a visit to an epic frozen waterfall

  • Published Feb 02, 2023
  • Updated Feb 06
  • 1,021 words
  • 5 minutes
Snowmobiling in Paradise Basin. (Photo: Robin Esrock)
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I’m having dinner with an American writer, a first-time visitor to Canada. Picking away at her introductory plate of poutine, we’re discussing the cultural differences that span the 49th parallel. In the United States, I explain, incredible natural attractions are heavily marketed and promoted on billboards, where visitors are usually charged for admission. We do that in Canada, too, of course, yet I often find myself exploring a destination or activity, and a guide will just casually mention there’s something worth seeing along the way. When I inevitably show up at that something, it kicks me hard in the bucket list.

Soon after, we find ourselves admiring the world’s longest skating path on Lake Windermere in Invermere, B.C. Every year, the Toby Creek Nordic Ski Club grooms a 30-kilometre-plus track around this stunning lake, adding cross-country skiing and fat-biking trails and curling and hockey rinks for good measure. Framed by the Rockies and Purcell Mountain range, there are two main access points, with entrance by donation to support the multi-use path’s impressive maintenance. Conditions weren’t ideal for a skate on the Whiteway, so we walk the path, spotting ice-fishing cabins in the distance and bubbles suspended in the ice beneath our feet. It’s spectacular, but the Kootenay region is a spectacular region of British Columbia, so all of this is par for the course (11 of which welcomes golfers around Invermere each summer).

Fernie, B.C. (Photo: Robin Esrock)
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Our Kootenay road trip had already stopped at the vibrant mountain towns of Fernie and Kimberley, with time well spent on the slopes of their fantastic namesake ski resorts.  Fernie’s craft beer, distillery, and Big Bang Bagels were noteworthy, as was the dining along Kimberley’s Bavarian-inspired Platzl, overlooked by the world’s largest standing – and inexplicably yodelling – cuckoo clock. It’s great stuff but doesn’t quite prove my thesis about the shoulder-shrugging, no-big-deal local Canadian attractions that ambush the imagination. For that, we’ll have to hop on snowmobiles.

Let’s raise a toast to Joseph-Armand Bombardier, the Quebecois mechanic who built the first snowmobile back in 1935. The machines are easy and fun to ride, open up a world of winter possibilities, and allow us to effortlessly ride a steep track almost 2500-metres above sea level to an abandoned silver mine. Toby Creek Adventures, located opposite the Panorama Ski Resort, owns this sweeping alpine terrain, with tenure for nearly 35,000 acres more. As with ziplining, any snowmobile adventure tends to be as special as the location in which you do it, and Toby Creek’s Paradise Ridge and Basin are about as special as it gets. I stop to ogle the ski slopes streaking down Panorama Mountain, the apex of Mount Goldie, and the rocky crest of Mount Nelson. 

Walking along Lake Windermere in Invermere. (Photo: Robin Esrock)
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With our snowmobile’s heated handles, ample power, and friendly guides to help navigate the switchbacks, even first-time riders were elated when we paused for hot chocolate at a heated log cabin.

A derelict entrance to a decommissioned silver mine, along with mining relics collected in the cabin, recall the gold and silver rushes of the Kootenays, which took place in the late 1800s. Paradise Mine, with shafts extending hundreds of metres deep, continued operation until as late as 1964. By then, the Kootenays had shifted to coal mining and, more recently, the invaluable commodity of tourism. Eight alpine ski resorts lie along a circular route known as the Powder Highway, encompassing the mountain towns of Fernie, Rossland, Nelson, Golden, Revelstoke, Invermere and Kimberley. That’s a lot of terrain to cover, and I haven’t scratched the surface, mostly because the surface is covered in thick snow.

With the blessing of our guides, we let the snowmobiles loose in Paradise Basin, revving the engine over the hills and bending into the curves. Great stuff yet again, and you must ride a snowmobile if you ever get a chance. The true, jaw-dropping, OMG caps-locked ONLY IN CANADA moment finally presented itself on our descent into the valley. I knew it was coming because our guide pulled over and casually asked if we wanted to see a frozen waterfall. Just a short walk through the trees, he told us, you know, a little attraction worth the stop. If you’ve seen one frozen waterfall, you’ve seen them….no. Trust me, you have not seen Marmot Falls.

Marmot Falls. (Photo: Robin Esrock)
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It looks like a frost giant has frozen a raging cascade in mid-motion. Named after squirrely rodents chittering in the trees around us, the winter spectacle of Marmot Falls is the result of ice forming at the top and bottom of the waterfall, eventually meeting in the middle to expand outwards.  It’s the colour that hits you first; a  deep glacial blue, contrasted by the late afternoon sky and powder white snow. Ice torrents seem to flow downwards. I found myself rubbing my eyes, clearing away any doubt that I’m actually here; this is actually happening, and I’m not lapsing into the kind of dream you have when your daughter watches Frozen for the thirty-ninth time. “Does anybody want to slide down?” asks our guide. A channel has been carved in the ice, creating a slide long enough to generate a thrill and a photograph worth printing for posterity. 

Here it is, I tell my American friend. “Another perfect example of a unique, little-known attraction that epitomizes the wonders of Canada.”  Marmot Falls could and one day might feature on a billboard, but the Kootenays are too rugged, glorious and free for tour buses. The epic frozen lake, bizarre cuckoo clock, old silver mine, frozen waterfall and uncrowded world-class ski resorts come with the territory of expecting the unexpected.  Wait until she discovers the rest of our country. 

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