, paragliding & hang gliding from Mount 7 Golden BC Canada

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Golden Adventures
Outdoors enthusiasts will find that the tiny mountain town near the B.C.-Alberta border has something for everyone, from wildlife watching to thrilling white-water sports.
Monica Andreeff
Southam Newspapers

GOLDEN, B.C. - The plane ducked low and circled past the sheer walls and sharp peaks of some of the most remote mountains in the Rockies. With 80 kilometres of back-to-back glaciers and 300-metre waterfalls dropping into remote, bluer-than-blue lakes, this is a sight for soaring high flyers, Golden Eagles and a handful of serious backcountry climbers. "People just can't get over the scale, the absolute size of things and the absence of human activities," says Steve Neill, speaking through the pilot's head set.

But that's Golden.

This small British Columbia mountain town is near the Alberta border and straddled on the east and west by the Rocky and Purcell mountain ranges. Golden's terrain is as stunning as the neighbouring national parks, with wildlife watching, fishing, scant crowds and thousands of kilometres of open spaces for hiking and camping. You won't need to buy a pass, get a special backcountry permit or jump through any hoops to have fun. Unlike its bureaucracy-bound cousins in Yoho, Glacier, Kootenay, Jasper and Banff national parks, in Golden almost everything is possible.

A veteran mountain pilot, Neill and his wife Ann operate Alpenglow Aviation from the Golden airport and fly through the heavens each day, past lakes at 2,000 metres and peaks that soar above 3,000 metres. "It's really continuous glaciers from Lake Louise to Mount Robson," says Neill. Many people drive through Golden on the TransCanada Highway, glance at the ubiquitous white-water rafting signs, then refuel the gas tank and their blood sugar levels at the roadside stop and keep going. But beyond the highway, there are well-run and affordable bed-and-breakfasts scattered throughout the valley, a summer-long slate of activities and a variety of tours available, guided and self-guiding.

Be prepared to look beyond the surface when you visit Golden. The centre of town is not its best asset, set among the construction and logging detritus that thus far has dominated the economy and the street layout. The real beauty of the area is only a few minutes away. Down in the valley, two great rivers, the Kicking Horse's frothy rapids and the mighty Columbia, meet within the town.

The 180-kilometre-long upper stretch of the Columbia features the largest and most important river wetland system west of Manitoba, supporting more than 260 resident and migratory species of birds. For a water-level view, jump on board an interpretive float trip, where you can spend hours spotting different species, checking out their marshy habitat and even the odd moose that wanders by.

For high adrenaline, the rivers offer rafting, kayaking and canoeing on white water rapids or through calm pools and eddies, as well as great fishing. Hikers will find the Gorman Lake Trail an easy one- to two-hour walk into the Dogtooth Range, where they'll discover glacier lilies in the spring and great angling.

The Blaeberry Valley, just north of Golden, provides direct access on trails to the Mummery Glacier, a popular summer route. Farther up the valley lies Howse Pass, which leads to Saskatchewan River Crossing, a route once proposed as a highway shortcut through the Rockies. The Blaeberry's dense forest is also packed with mountain-biking trails that could take months to get to know.

Closer to town in the Moonraker area -- just up-slope towards the ski resort -- there are former Nordic ski trails converted into summer single tracks for mountain bike riders.From the top of Mount 7, just southeast of town, you can test your nerves on an extreme bike descent or hitch a ride on a tandem hang-glider. There's also an 18-hole golf course, rated among the top 10 in B.C., where you can still get a Saturday morning tee-time in mid-summer.

Formerly a logging-industry town now struggling for a tourist reincarnation, Golden's 4,000 residents are an eclectic mix of lumberjacks, former urban professionals, their families and young people who are there to play in the outdoors. "I decided this was a good place to come back to," says Marlon Chambers, a 33-year-old native of Golden who returned after 10 years in Calgary to work as the business development officer for a local tour company.

There's also a new wave of bed-and-breakfast operators and tourism entrepreneurs -- many hailing from Switzerland and Germany -- lured in recent years by the area's obvious potential. They've custom-built new wooden post-and-beam bed-and-breakfasts with an eye to open European style and efficiency, some with saunas, hot tubs, bicycles and fireplaces and with prices that start at $65 for two people, including breakfast.

This summer, there will be museum and photographic exhibitions, theatre productions, street entertainment on weekend evenings, centennial ascents of mountains and various celebratory events to mark the 100-year-old Swiss guiding tradition of the Rockies.

Imported by the Canadian Pacific Railway at the turn of the century to keep their luxury hotel guests in Banff and Lake Louise from falling off the nearby mountains, Swiss guides wintered in Golden and used it as a home base for many of their first ascents of the Rockies. (To catch a glimpse of the area's earliest homes there is a newly refurbished Swiss village open for daily tours throughout the summer.)

These pioneers spawned a mountaineering tradition in Canada that flourishes today and many licensed Association of Canadian Mountain Guides professionals can be hired in Golden for climbing trips.

People with little time who want to hike through the wildflowers of the high alpine, can hook up with Purcell Heli-Skiing, a reputable operator with 25 years' experience in the area. You bring lunch and they supply the guide and the short helicopter ride into remote places.

When owner Rudi Gertsch came to the area from Switzerland, he remembers how local residents thought it laughable that he would stake his business and family's future on recreational visitors, rather than forestry. "For a long time no one realized how important tourism was," said Gertsch. "Now they're just waking up."


Getting there: Golden is on the TransCanada Highway near the Alberta border. Accommodation: Golden has hotels, motels, lodges, hostels, campgrounds and bed-and-breakfasts. Call the Chamber of Commerce.
Kicking Horse Country Chamber of Commerce
500 10th Avenue North
Box 1320
Golden BC, Canada, V0A 1H0
Phone: (250)344-7125
Fax: (250)344-6688
Toll Free: 1-800-622-GOLD

Recreation: Golden has close to a dozen white-water rafting companies and at least four different wetlands tour operators, a bike shop with rentals and numerous guides.

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