Silent Pass - Golden, British Columbia | Snowmobile Ride Guide
If you haven’t been to Silent Pass in Golden, you’re missing out. Golden, British Columbia is a motorized haven—a sled-friendly bubble surrounded by no less than five national parks. With so many epic mountains around, it is understandable that the people living here take their mountain recreation seriously – including in Silent Pass.
Sure, Golden has a ski hill with all the family-friendly activities that go along with it like snowshoeing, tubing and ice skating. There is a world-class Nordic ski center, and other tourist activities like dog-sledding nearby as well. And it is the birthplace of heli-skiing, which remains incredibly popular today. But Golden is a sledding town at heart.
People were sledding in the mountains here decades before the first chairlift ever went up, and they still ride with equal enthusiasm. For every couple of skiers you’ll see in the grocery store at the end of the day, there is sure to be someone sporting a plaid jacket and a big grin, with a faint aroma of 2-stroke trailing behind. That’s if they’re not still out there, ripping around and having fun in the twilight.
Originally a resource extraction town, now in transition to a tourism-based economy, Golden has developed all the amenities needed to comfortably host out-of-town sledders. And yet sledders today still benefit from the legacy of Forest Service Roads that penetrate and allow access deep into the heart of the mountain ranges. Sled-friendly zones in the high and rugged peaks of both the Purcell and Rocky Mountain ranges are easily within striking distance in a day from here. Two major highway systems that intersect in town ensure easy access, either to a riding zone for the day or simply pulling into town from across the Great Divide. Tall peaks, open alpine, stunning backdrops and deep, dry powder are a sledder’s dream, and that’s what riding Golden is all about.
Here’s our look at Silent Pass—one of Golden’s best and most underrated snowmobiling areas.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Need more reasons to get convinced to come to Golden and ride Silent Pass? Here are our other fav things about Golden, BC:
Easy to Get To
Golden is closer to major cities and large snowmobiling populations than any other major mountain riding destination. It’s located less than a three-hour drive from Calgary and in close proximity to much of the mountain sledding population of Alberta.
Variety of Riding
Golden is home to a wide variety of snowmobiling options, from beginner-friendly to challenging, expert terrain areas (like Silent Pass) with regularly groomed access trails managed by the Golden Snowmobile Club. And there are also a number of unmanaged riding areas, away from the crowds.
Authorized Service For All Makes
There is factory dealership service for all four brands of snowmobile, right in town. Parts, accessories and expert service for Polaris, Arctic Cat, Ski-Doo and Yamaha brand sleds are easy to come by, thanks to two authorized dealerships (Check out Mountain Motorsports and Banner Rec/MotorTech).
Accommodation and Dining Options
The Town of Golden is situated along Trans-Canada Highway 1, the country’s busiest corridor. That means there are a myriad of hospitality options to choose from, in-and-around Golden. The choice of accommodation and dining options to suit any preference are plentiful. Check out Tourism Golden’s Accommodations Page for more info.
More Winter Activities
There are many other winter activities in the area that can help round out your holiday or keep your family occupied while you’re out riding. These include resort and backcountry skiing, nordic skiing, snowshoeing, dog sledding, tobogganing, skating and more.
See our Ride Guidebook for a full description of Silent Pass and all other ride zones in the Golden area.