DREAMSCAPES FALL/WINTER 2021
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THE YUKON: EXOTIC WINTER ADVENTURES ARE CLOSER THAN YOU THINK
 
(2021 - Fall/Winter Issue)

Writer: NIKKI BAYLEY



If you were to create the ultimate winter wish list, spend time north of the 60th parallel in the Yukon where you could easily tick off an array of winter activities without having to leave the country.

Imagine jaw-dropping scenery that seems to tug at the heartstrings around the clock. By day, a team of sled dogs led by spirited mushers speeds across a barren frozen lake surrounded by snow-capped ridges. Outside Whitehorse, other outdoor travellers head into the remote snow-covered wilderness on guided tours with a local travel company to seek out Mother Nature’s furry residents like the soft white Arctic fox or the thick woolly muskox.

By night, Yukon’s playground morphs into a bewildering magic show. It’s time for the Northern Lights, a dazzling spectacle known as the aurora borealis that occurs in The Great White North.

“We like to call it the real Canada,” Felix Geithner, general manager of Arctic Range Adventure tells me outside his office in Whitehorse, describing a freedom of unscripted nature you experience in the Yukon that begins as soon as you arrive.

Most Yukon winter trips encompass a 3- to 5-night adventure in the Whitehorse area that is anchored around the most sought-after northern experience: the Northern Lights. Only a 20-minute drive from town, Arctic Range Adventure offers a special viewing centre far from the city’s blazing lights. “We’re right under the aurora oval over the North Pole, which has the best location to witness them,” he says, and adds that guests can participate in a Northern Lights photography tour (tripods provided) and overnight in wood-fire-heated yurts and teepees.

WHITEHORSE INSTA-MOMENTS

There’s no place that makes you feel more like you’ve left the planet than high above the clouds, and where better than on a private flightseeing tour to see Mount Logan, Canada’s highest mountain? Guaranteed to make your “likes” on Instagram hit new heights, this bucket list treat from Rocking Star Adventures starts at $480 pp for two hours.  For a jaw-clanging ride book a shorter tour to view glaciers at Kluane National Park and Reserve, home to the world’s largest non-polar ice fields.

In search of other Instagram-able moments, by day the Yukon Wildlife Preserve offers a rare chance to see the adaptations that northern mammals make to boreal and Arctic regions. “Winter is the best time to see them in their thick coats,” says Lindsay Caskenette, manager of visitor services at Yukon Wildlife Preserve, and adds, “We have one of the largest subspecies of moose along with bison, North America’s largest land mammal.” Visitors have the chance to critter sightsee by fat bike, cross-country ski, snowshoe, or by a guided tour bus around the preserve.

OUT-OF-TOWN OFF-GRID SLED ADVENTURES

Just a 30-minute drive south from Whitehorse, and a world away from city life, take a shuttle bus and ascend lofty peaks to the winter wonderland of Fish Lake and the Sky High Wilderness Ranch, an off-grid ranch in the bush. I fell madly in love with blue-eyed sled dogs there on a half-day mushing experience. Don’t tell my mini golden doodle but those pooches graced my smartphone’s home screen for a while. I couldn’t wait to show the lovable sled dog shots to friends despite a happy accident that saw them gleefully race off leaving me headfirst in a fluffy snowdrift. I leaned the wrong way on a corner!

While my idea of turning pro-musher came dashing down to earth it is an incredible way to spend time outdoors, and has made me seriously considering a multi-day tour that involves valuable daily hands-on learning with your own team of sled dogs. “Many guests cry when they leave, and we often receive email inquiries about ‘their’ dogs,” says Jocelyne LeBlanc, partner at the Sky High Wilderness Ranch on the bond guests have with these dogs, this writer included.

BEYOND WHITEHORSE

Less than an hour east of Whitehorse on the Alaska Highway, one boutique lodge has earned a well-deserved reputation for luxury in the wild with its private decks, outdoor hot tub, 24-hour fitness centre and gourmet meals.

The Inn on the Lake attracts solo women travellers and couples who seek a rustic experience with divine creature comforts. Outerwear rentals of boots and parkas are available. On the dining scene, thanks to the culinary prowess of Carson Schiffkorn, chef-owner of Inn on the Lake, the cuisine is second to none. He peppers delicacies with locavore ingredients (think wild sage-scented potatoes served with elk tenderloin and a morel mushroom and Yukon whisky sauce).

“There’s something about the thrill of an adult enjoying all those things we did as kids that’s magical,” says Schiffkorn as he describes some of the luxury lodge’s popular winter activities that bring out the kid in us. Imagine zipping across a frozen lake in a snowmobile, ice fishing on a hidden lake, or competing in an old-fashioned game of shinny known as pond hockey.  

I’m no hockey player, but in the Yukon I became a first-time snowmobiler. At another location, which was equally snow covered, once I got to grips with the throttle, I zoomed along the frozen Takhini River, ringed with snow-garlanded pines and spruce with the soft sloping Golden Horn and Grey Mountains in the distance. I shrieked with glee all the way. 

My time in the Yukon has taught me that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes! Warmly clad in rented parka, snow boots and (my own!) thermals, the “Deep Freeze” holds no fear.

Instead, a world of exotic snowy adventure is closer than you think. Whether it’s as simple as snowshoeing on a frozen lake, learning to mush a dog sled, or as fancy as a private ski plane tour to explore a glacier, you can do it all and much more in the Yukon.

INSIDER’S TIP

Head to the heart of the Klondike Gold Rush in Dawson City and immerse in Canadian heritage. Drive across the frozen Yukon River on the ice bridge, snowshoe Tombstone Territorial Park, take in the views of the snowy tundra and winding Klondike Valley from the Midnight Dome.

TICK OFF THAT BUCKET LIST

Now more than ever, visitors want an authentic, high-quality, and safe experience, and Whitehorse local, Teena Dickson of Who What Where Tours, wants guests to know that boutique custom-created itineraries are possible. “The Yukon is on everyone’s wish list. Enjoy feeling like a rock star,” says Dickson, about their affordable customized experiences.

A member of the NWT Chipewyan First Nations, Dickson operates her company year-round and boasts an extensive network of other companies and attractions that she works with to ensure guests have a seamless trip with the best possible guides and experiences. Whether it’s a flightseeing tour soaring over the Chilkoot Pass in the steps of the Gold Rush, or an exhilarating day whipping through the backcountry on a guided snowmobile safari, the sky’s the limit in “Larger than Life” Yukon.

INSIDER’S TIP

Get pampered at the Eclipse Nordic Hot Springs, a brand-new spa facility at the naturally heated geothermic Takhini hot spring, located outside Whitehorse. The stylish spa offers 15 bodies of water varying in temperature from 35–42 degrees, two steam rooms and two saunas, plus relaxation rooms, and decks and patios with fire bowls and heated concrete loungers. Make it an overnight stay at the on-site vacation rentals.

Travel Planner

Follow COVID-19 rules and protocols and check the destination prior to your visit. For more travel information see travelyukon.com or call Travel Yukon toll-free 1-800-661-0494.

 
 
 
 
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