Destinations
March 11th, 2018
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Silent Pass, Golden BC

It’s a long way in, but the sledders who regularly ride Silent Pass know that the ride is worth it. The trail goes deep into the Purcell Range, where the peaks are high and the snowfall is plentiful. Although the zone is closer to Golden, it is a staple for vacation homeowners and locals form Radium Hot Springs who don’t mind a bit of a drive north to get it good. Silent has a lot of low-angle and treed options, making it suitable for both a wide variety of riders and for deep storm days when the avalanche hazard is elevated. A little big of open alpine riding here is just the icing on the cake.

Here’s our look at Silent Pass—one of Golden’s most underrated snowmobiling areas.

 

Snowmobiling in Silent Pass, Golden BC

To the Silent Pass Trailhead

From the junction of Hwy 1 and 95 in Golden, drive south on Hwy 95 for 37km to the small community of Parson. Less than 2km from the turnoff, you’ll pass the Twig and Berry Trading Co. Parson General Store, which is your last chance option to fuel up or grab food and drink for the day.

Turn right at Parson River Crossing (AKA Spillimacheen River Main), adjacent to the defunct Tembec log yard. Observe the radio call sign and be sure to use both your radio and caution on this road in particular, as every winter there is some close call or worse involving sledder and logging vehicle traffic.

Go straight at 17km to continue on to Silent Pass. On this busy road, be sure to call your kilometers where signed, proceed with caution and always give way to logging traffic.

The road crosses the main Columbia River channel and a handful of secondary channels before the ticket kiosk where an attendant will collect your trail fee for use of the groomed trail. Head up the road past the booth, taking care as it can be slippery through several kilometers of steep and winding road. At around the 6km mark the road grade evens out, and it’s relatively smooth sailing from that point.

There are still plenty of sharp bends in the road though, so keep your speed down and don’t cut any corners. At 17km, stay straight to head up the North Fork. Now, depending on the logging activities in the area, the trailhead could be located anywhere between this point and as far as another 19km along. The end of the line will be obvious however, with a large pullout or two cleared to accommodate trucks and big trailers. Do your best to park economically—keeping others in mind and not taking up more space than is necessary—particularly on weekends and other busy days.

To the Zone

Continue up the North Fork on your sled from the end of the plowed stretch, sticking to the main road at junctions. At 46km, turn left onto McMurdo Creek FSR and immediately cross the upper Spillimacheen River. After a short distance, the road curves west and tucks into the McMurdo drainage. Here, the trail becomes exposed to overhead avalanche hazard from tall peaks on both sides of the trail. These do run far enough to cover the road, albeit infrequently, but keep your head on a swivel and keep moving.

A little more than 10km up the McMurdo FSR is an old bridge which usually has a few tracks running over it, but it’s best to stick to the groomed path that goes around it, lest you end up in the creek. Another 600m farther, the road starts to switchback up as the valley gains in elevation quickly. Some folks start riding off-trail here, but it’s really quite steep with dense trees, so most end up following the groomer just a little farther to the end.

After a second switchback the road terminates, and a singletrack trail leads up from there. In early season and occasionally at other times the singletrack up from the road can get a little rutted out in places, causing some difficulty for less experienced riders, but it’s nothing that should deter anyone from ever wanting to go riding at Silent Pass. Sometimes you might just need a little ski-pull to get through a tricky bit, and then it gets easy again right away. After a little over a kilometer of singletrack, the trail opens into the edge of a meadow at the base of Silent Mountain itself.

The Riding

There is reasonably spaced tree riding to be had down below the meadow, but most riders choose to continue up to better terrain above. At the far left end of the meadow is The Waterfall, a moderate climb up a gully that leads to the main riding areas at Silent Pass. The Waterfall will be a challenging climb for beginner sledders, but with a little help from a more experienced group member, it should be doable.

At the top of the climb, the terrain levels out into a wide plateau sitting above 2000m. To the east is a series of mellow treed-fingers and patches that run gently down for 500m or so in that direction. On either side are steeper trees that either ascend to bigger slopes to the south, or back towards the singletrack trail below to the north.

Silent Lake and the surrounding meadows near the top of the Waterfall make a good central point of reference for navigation when the pass is socked in.

Straight ahead from The Waterfall, you can climb a little ways up a treeline shoulder before it starts to get too steep. There are a couple of small cliff features in amongst this convoluted terrain that can be fun and challenging for technical riders.

To the southwest of The Waterfall is Silent Lake, and the area around it is suitable for beginner and intermediate riders getting used to the alpine. Beyond the lake is a short drop down through some tight trees that opens into a huge meadow that is fun for ripping donuts when the snow is deep. Just watch out for the creeks that divide the meadow! They never quite fill in completely in places.

Past the meadow, the slope gradually rolls over into prohibitively steep and dense timber, but there are some open patches between that are fun to explore if you don’t mind off-angle tree riding. To get to the open alpine at the back of Silent Pass, head west from The Waterfall, past Silent Lake. The route goes up and over numerous treed fingers and gullies as it traverses across a low-angled slope towards the Duncan River drainage.

Before the timber tightens and the slope becomes steeper as it falls off that way, head uphill towards a notch in the southern shoulder of Silent Mountain. As you pass through the notch, the route opens up into a wide, southwest-facing alpine bowl with incredible views of the Duncan and Beaver glaciers across the valley. The width of the bowl is made up of gentle, rolling terrain, bordered by a steeper wall on the southern extent that runs down below the notch.

The headwall at the top of the bowl runs east-west and marks the near edge of Caribou Creek, which is legally closed to snowmobiling. At the bottom of the bowl the slope falls away into the Duncan River valley, where a fire some years ago left a nicely-gladed forest of standing dead timber. It is possible to ride the burn downhill for some distance—how far you should go will depend on your ability level. Take note that more than a couple of riders have gone farther than they should have, and their sleds didn’t make it back up! So proceed with caution, and turn around before getting yourself into trouble.

Riders at Silent Pass may also continue north over the shoulder to one more micro-bowl before bumping into the Glacier National Park boundary—beyond which riding is not permitted. The micro-bowl features riding that is steeper and tighter, recommended only for the slightly more adventurous. If taking chances isn’t your thing, then your best bet is to instead spend some quality time in the wide open bowl below Silent Mountain, soaking in the sun and the stunning scenery that can be found here, deep in the Purcell Mountains.

Click here for more information about riding in the Golden, BC area.

See our Ride Guidebook for a full description of Silent Pass and all other ride zones in Golden and the Columbia Valley.