Smith-Dorrien trails

by Bob Truman on December 5, 2013

in Animal tracks & sightings, Chester/Sawmill, XC

Post image for Smith-Dorrien trails

Many readers are commenting(and I’m lamenting) about the Smith-Dorrien xc ski trails. The Smith-Dorrien trails(also known as the Chester-Sawmill trails) were last groomed for xc skiing in 2008. My records indicate that I last skied there on Dec 1 of that year.

Upper yellow of the Smith-Dorrien trails

Upper yellow of the Smith-Dorrien trails

Located along the Smith-Dorrien road(also known as the Spray Lakes road), the trails were accessed either from Chester Lake or Sawmill trailheads, but you’ve likely deciphered that already.

In the years that I skied on them, 1999 – 2008, I believe they were groomed only in the early season if there was no snow at Ribbon creek(If Jeff is reading this, maybe he can confirm that theory, or poke holes in it). I know they weren’t groomed every year in that time period. The yellow and blue trails were groomed in their entirety at one time, but in the last five or six years, only the blue and a portion of the upper yellow were maintained.

The meadow on the upper yellow of the Smith-orrien trails

The meadow on the upper yellow of the Smith-orrien trails

They were fabulous and I enjoyed skiing there immensely. Skiing the perimeter loop was about 16K, and I would have to rate it on a par with the Whiskey jack-Tyrwhitt-Elk pass loop in PLPP. Varied terrain with lots of hills, a few long, fast downhills, meadows, creek crossings and spectacular scenery. There was one hairpin turn at the bottom of a hill that I seldom was able to negotiate until I learned to slow down.

Occasionally the Chester Lake loop was also groomed.

The Lynx family

The Lynx family

I remember the steep hill descending to James Walker creek. On one occasion, I was skiing with a friend who had an accident on that hill. Warren somehow lost a ski as he was rocketing downhill, and being behind me, I didn’t realize what happened, so finally turned around and went back to find him. He was retrieving the wayward ski from a snowbank but otherwise was unscathed.

A scene I will never forget was the rare sighting of a family of Lynx as we were driving home from skiing on these trails. Mom and her two offspring were on the road and in no hurry to move, so we got a good close-up look. I finally got my camera out and took a photo as they were scampering up the hill at the side of the road.

Photos from the Smith-Dorrien ski trails:

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Diana Piggott December 15, 2013 at 7:11 pm

Yesterday we went to PLPP for the first time since the flood! Also went to the visitor centre there, which had just re-opened, and had a long chat with the nice man behind the counter, whose name I did not get 🙁
Anyway, part of the long chat was about the Chester-Sawmill trails, and he said they had been designated snowshoe trails now to try to keep skiers and snowshoers separate, with the huge increase in snowshoe popularity. That seems reasonable but very sad from the skiers’ point of view. With the huge increase in population pressure, some compromises are necessary.
He also said that he had recently been up there on snowshoes, and that going down James Walker Creek was a nightmare due to flood damage. I’m not sure exactly where that is, but we did see the Chester Lake trailhead in September and goodness what a mess that was!!


2 Dana Roman December 9, 2013 at 11:17 am

Yes, but how is the Chester Lake trail cover/quality of snow (ungroomed) right now? Usually very good. Have anybody been there? Thank you Dana


3 Diana Piggott December 5, 2013 at 11:08 pm

Bob, I am very envious of your lynx sighting!!

We have been back a few times since grooming stopped, but timing is everything because the snow is very quickly ruined by exposure to sun, wind, and a variety of other trail users. It can be fantastic if your timing is right, but utter misery if not :-/


4 Bob Truman December 5, 2013 at 8:23 pm

I decided to check if I made a blog posting about the Smith-Dorrien trails in 2008 and indeed I did. It was back in the formative days of this blog. It was the 12th-ever post. I’ve made 961 since. I wish more of them had been about these wonderful trails.


5 Steve Riggs December 5, 2013 at 7:45 pm

Add my wife Jo and I to those who have fond memories of the Sawmill trails as a groomed cross-country ski network. It was a favourite due to the long season, great views, and interesting fun skiing. Far more enjoyable for the recreational tourer than the fairly boring Shark system, which nobody that I know ever goes to. Of course, one can still ski Sawmill, but the thought of breaking trail or following a snowshoe rut on skinny skis does not appeal too much.
It went into a slow decline after about 1990 with the green trail the first to get dropped, if I recall correctly. As the years went by more trails were abandoned and the grooming became sporadic, leading to a decline in usage which probably got K-Country thinking- “nobody skis here anymore, let’s not groom at all”.
The huge Sawmill parking lot still gets maintained though, go figure.
I wonder how much damage was done to the trails by the June floods?
Someone on the trip reports page was wondering about a trail map from the glory days of Sawmill, it didn’t take long to dredge this out of my collection-


6 Barb Davis December 5, 2013 at 9:28 pm

Hi Steve,
Brian & I have led trips into Sawmills a few times in the past 3 years. Last year we led 2 trips into Sawmill and both times the snow was powderful. Breaking trail was fairly easy because of the light snow. Most of the loops are designated for snowshoe travel but the route we took started with the yellow then onto the green & back down the red/yellow/green. Most of the snowshoe people tend to do the red section so we had the trail to ourselves until we came down through the red section which is only a short distance. We’re thinking of doing it maybe this Sunday to see just what the flood left in its wake. The temperature is supposed to be -14C which seems o.k. Care to join us if we go?


7 Randy Jaggard December 5, 2013 at 2:01 pm

I remember the se trails with the same fond memories. I started skiing them in the mid-1980s. My wife liked the red loop because it was relatively short. In the springfg you could sit and watch the avalanches on the mountain across from Sawmill parking lot. They were frequent and always impressive. I do remember sking there in early November some years becuase there was no snow anywhere else. Trails wer enot always track set that early but if the track setters wanted practice, that’s where they would go. After skiing, we always went to Mt. Engadine lodge (which had just opened) for coffee and dessert .
They stopped or cut back on track setting the trail system because of budget cuts which I understood. Maintaining the equipment is very expensive. Last ime I skiied the trails was about 4 years ago after a warm week when it had rained and then gotten cold again. We spent most the time on our butts and cursing the trail. I said I would never skii there again but your pictures are making me think otherwise. It looks like that have done some track setting.


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