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(2011 - Winter Issue)

Writer: Elaine Corden

That this frozen wilderness appears right before your eyes is somewhat confounding.

It doesn’t fit with the world you know, and seems more like the setting of an adventure novel written in some bygone era. But as you stand there looking through frosty lashes at the unreal landscape stretching from your feet to forever, the cold snaps against your skin and quietly insists: this is real.

The lure of the Yukon is a well-documented phenomenon. While more than 100,000 fortune-seeking souls set out for the North during the Klondike Gold Rush at the end of the 19thcentury, only a third of them completed the arduous journey, with most turning back in the face of merciless elements and almost impassable terrain. For those who completed the trip, wealth was not a given. Indeed, by the time many reached the goldfields, the creeks and rivers had been panned out. Still, when those weary characters made their way home, even the most unlucky prospector was not empty-handed. They returned with tales of life at the edge of the world, beyond the barrier between man and nature.

They had lived under the dancing northern lights in a place both wild and still, alive with beauty and quieter than the softest whisper.

Those tales of the Yukon’s magic have echoed in the imaginations of adventure-seekers ever since, and it’s perhaps not surprising that the Yukon is still a dream destination for so many travellers.

Fortunately, answering the Call of the North is nowhere near as difficult these days as it was in the wild era of the gold rush. Even in the deep-freeze of Canada’s winter, Whitehorse, the Yukon’s capital city, is just a two-hour plane ride from major urban centres such as Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. Upon arrival in Whitehorse, visitors will find a robust, lively city with modern hotels and shops. However, don’t be fooled. This is still very much the last frontier, and beyond the city limits there is still a breathtaking land of ice and snow waiting to be explored.

Where to Begin

A winter getaway to the Yukon can seem daunting even to experienced travellers. For most, the adventures are completely new. Dogsledding, ice fishing, snowmobiling—even snowshoeing and cross-country skiing—can seem daunting in unfamiliar terrain. Each activity requires different knowledge, and with so much pristine backcountry to explore and so many ways to explore it, it’s hard to know where to start. With that in mind, some of the Yukon’s most respected wilderness adventure experts have joined forces, with the aim of putting the furthermost edges of the last frontier within reach.

Formed in 1999, Yukon Wild is a co-operative group of 23 first-class adventure travel companies operating in the territory—all members of the Wilderness Tourism Association of the Yukon. It might seem odd that competing tour operators would band together, especially given that many of them offer similar adventures. However, the members of Yukon Wild are united by an authentic love of their home and a genuine desire to show their stuff to guests. To that end, all of Yukon Wild’s members adhere to a set code of conduct, which demands a respect for the land and its inhabitants as well as the culture, history and long-held traditions of northern life. Visitor safety is also paramount and all guides must be qualified and experienced in leading novice adventurers into the wilderness. Simply put, Yukon Wild’s members bet their reputations on each other, so you’d better believe there are high standards.

How Wild do You Like it?

So you know where you want to be and you know who’s going to take you there—but how close to the edge do you want to go?

Perhaps your day begins in a wall tent set up in the mountains, chopping your own wood and cooking breakfast over an open fire before heading out to feed and harness your dog team. Wrapped up in warm clothes and equipped for any surprises, you head out for a day mushing over vast lakes and through the boreal forest, your call of “Hike!” spurring your excited dogs fast and furious across the snow.

Maybe you’d like to move even faster, piloting a snowmobile over hillside trails and frozen rivers, led by a local who knows all the best trails and won’t judge you if you get stuck in a snowbank.

It could be you’ve come north to leave the modern world behind and spend a day hiking through the woods by snowshoe, with a lifelong Yukoner by your side, there to identify animal tracks and tell you stories of the people who lived here thousands of years before the gold rush.

Your dream needn’t even be a workout. Perhaps your Yukon encounter is a soak in the Takhini Hot Springs, relaxing as you gaze at the northern lights above. Afterwards, enjoy a glass of wine with a homemade meal of moose stew, before settling into a cosy cabin to read a book beside the fire.

There’s no one way to know and love the Yukon. And there’s no telling what might capture your imagination. Many visitors find one trip isn’t enough and return to experience the wonders of each season. Like the gold stampeders before you, you may come in search of one treasure and leave with another.

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