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At Hudson Bay Mountain, off-the-grid cabins offer a fast track to the Smithers Backcountry

Hudson Bay Mountain, situated just outside the northern B.C. town of Smithers, is a symmetrical alpine peak that serves as a home to Hudson Bay Mountain Resort. And while there’s lift-serve to access the 36 cut trails on the mountain, nearby, a cabin community has taken root to access the expansive terrain surrounding the modest resort.

A ski-in, ski-out experience is a primary attribute for the Hudson Bay Mountain cabin community. [Photo] Abby Cooper

Comprised of four dominant peaks and cradling two large glaciers, Hudson Bay Mountain is monolithic against the Smithers skyline. The northernmost peak is the tallest, offering 1,200 meters of vertical relief from summit to valley. The mountain got its name from the Hudson’s Bay Company that oversaw many railways and ports across Canada in the 18th and 19th centuries, but it wasn’t until the mid 20th century that skiing gained a foothold in the valley. Photo records in the Bulkley Valley Museum archives showcase backcountry ski excursions as early as 1946, when skiers would make the two-hour slog to a zone on Hudson Bay Mountain called the Prairie—a one-square-kilometer area that serves as a natural avalanche barrier and an access point to the upper section of Simpson’s Gulch and the south ridge of Hudson Bay Mountain.

A T-bar at Hudson Bay Mountain Resort has made accessing the backcountry a little bit easier in recent years. [Photo] Abby Cooper

In a 1991 article from the archives of the Bulkley Valley Museum, author Joe L’Orca documents how in the 1950s, local Smithers ski pioneer Chris Dahlie—a Norwegian transplant to the area—and friends started making the trek up to Hudson Bay Mountain. The area had been previously used for skiing and military training, and Dahlie, who had trained in Hudson Bay as an Army ski patrol instructor, was familiar with the terrain.

With almost 4,000 vertical feet of relief, it’s easy to get into the clouds at Hudson Bay Mountain. [Photo] Abby Cooper

In the late 1950s, Dahlie talked the Forest Service into allowing him access to the mountain from the existing Duthie Mine Road for the purpose of building the first cabin on Hudson Bay Mountain—an eight by 12-foot plywood shack that he built with his son Jorgen and friends John Lapadat, Ev Person, Dr. Leighton and Steve Maze. Shortly after the construction of the shack, Dahlie constructed a second log cabin, while his friend Horst Saffarek built a third—all three structures were intended for ski touring. Over the years, other adventure-seeking skiers built cabins, and by 1995 there were 60 ski-in-ski-out cabins on Hudson Bay Mountain.

A-frames and cabins dot the side of Hudson Bay Mountain. [Photo] Abby Copper

Over time, these cabins became a colony with accessible terrain right out of the front door, with well-spaced trees and peaks and bowls just a short skin away. Multiday traverses and glaciated terrain are also accessible from these remote lodgings, and the Prairie serves to protect the cabins from natural hazards. For the sidecountry inclined, a new T-bar—just a short glide from the existing cabins—provides a way to shorten the initial skin up the mountain, allowing for longer days and bigger objectives in the alpine.

Some of the cabins are older, and some newer, but they all share easy access to the Smithers bc. [Photo] Abby Cooper

So what does it take to stay at this piece of B.C. ski history? As many are privately owned, renting a cabin can be tricky, but some make their way on to VRBO or Airb&b in the winter months. There are also two huts available for reservations through the Hudson Bay Mountain website. But if things are looking booked up, the nearby Stork Nest Inn—owned by Brian Hall who is also the owner and founder of the backcountry-specific resort Hankin-Evelyn—offers lodging just a short way away from the Hudson Bay Mountain backcountry.

Comments

  1. Annalee Luhman says:

    Hello Abby – thanks for the wonderful article! A small correction: my grandfather’s last name is Dahlie. Best, Annalee Luhman

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