This post was originally published on the Spectacular Northwest Territories blog.
They say it's not about the arrival. It's about the journey. That's certainly true up in the Northwest Territories, where winter travel is the coolest kind of fun. When our lakes freeze over and snow blankets the land, adventure shifts into high gear.
Love slipping silently through a hushed and frosted forest? Strap on some skis and get kickin'. Seeking vrooom to roam? Rev up for a snowmobile tour. Wanna make tracks? A variety of treaded transport vehicles are ready to take you on a wild ride across the stunning Northern landscape. Check out the list below:
Dogsledding is the classic mode of Northern transport. For eons, Dene and Inuvialuit traversed the hinterlands of the Northwest Territories, towed by trusty huskies. Today, you can take dogsledding tours beneath the Aurora or go "mushing" to visit Canada's only reindeer herd. But possibly the best part of dogsledding is getting to know the dogs themselves – the fuzziest, friendliest pooches you'll ever meet.
Dogsledding is romantic and all, but these days, when Northerners want to cover ground, they fire up a snowmobile. Several Northwest Territories outfitters offer snowmobile adventures. They're a great, high-adrenalin way to sight-see, and provide fast and easy transport to off-the-grid Aurora-viewing lodges, remote parks, and secret ice-fishing spots.
Runways? We don't need runways! Just strap a set of skis on a Twin Otter and you've got the ultimate go-anywhere flying machine. Ski planes are ubiquitous in the Northwest Territories. You can charter one to take a sightseeing tour, skimming low over our winter wonderland. Ski planes are also a great way to get out to Aurora-viewing lodges and remote wild parks. So buckle up and prepare to catch some air.
'Bombadeer' snow bug
They've been rattling around the Northland for seventy years or so, and they'll likely be around for seventy more. They're "Bombadeer" snow bugs, puttering across the surface of Great Slave Lake, carrying tourists and commercial fishermen to promising ice-fishing holes. Take a ride in one and you'll find out why they're our most beloved winter vehicle, brimming with old-timey character.
Pioneered by First Nations people millennia ago, snowshoeing is an ingenious way to master the Arctic snows. With their broad footprint, snowshoes allow you to float over the drifts, turning a potential slog into a powdery, pristine stroll. It's a great activity at Aurora-viewing lodges, where showshoes are often available for rent or loan.
With few roads and lots of ice and snow, people in the Northwest Territories have crazy ways of getting around. One way: the Swedish-made Hägglunds Bv206, a tracked, amphibious, all-terrain vehicle often seen rumbling across the frozen surface of Great Slave Lake, carrying tourists between Yellowknife and a local Aurora-viewing and ice-fishing lodge.
In recent years, they've become all the rage in the Northland: Winter bicyles with monster-truck tires, designed to sail across snowy paths and frozen Subarctic lakes. Pedaling them is said to be the most fun you can have while sitting down. Sign up for a winter cycling tour, or bring your own bike and hit the trails.
Some say that cross-country skiing is the slickest way to get outside and enjoy winter. Others find it to be a chilly way to feel extremely awkward. If you belong to the former camp, pack your skis to the Northwest Territories. Many of our major communities boast groomed scenic trails. Everywhere else, you'll find endless miles of backcountry terrain, perfect for exploring on skis.
OK, we're joking. Team-skiing won't get you very far. It's a hilarious contest featured in Inuvik's Muskrat Jamboree – one of many charming, cheerful winter events held in communities across the Northwest Territories.
Ice road truckin'
Everyone knows about the famous ice roads of the Northwest Territories. We're the home of ice-road truckin', where a web of winter-only highways allow access to remote villages, scenic landmarks and the habitat of exotic animals. Many of our ice roads are easily accessible – you'll find them right out the back door of towns like Yellowknife, Inuvik and Fort Smith.
This is an intriguing gizmo. It's basically a mobile ice-fishing hut. First, it chugs out onto a frozen lake, keeping you warm inside the heated cabin. Then it hunkers down low on the ice, panels open in the floor, and you drop your line through a hole drilled down to open water. Hooking the catch of the day doesn't get easier than this.
Every so often, when the lakes freeze over but the snow holds off, the Northwest Territories turns into big ol' glorious skating rink. That's when everyone cinches up their skates and goes gliding across the ice. If skating's your thing, you'll also find groomed outdoor rinks in various communities and at plenty of winter events – and of course, there's an indoor ice rink in nearly every Northern town.