Northeast of Vancouver and west of Pemberton, the Pemberton Ice Fields has 26km of groomed snowmobile trails. The elevation of the routes ranges from 2000 to 8000 feet. The region averages around 360 inches of snowfall annually. The Pemberton Ice Cap is primarily above the 1,800-metre elevation level. It is known for its panoramic vistas, and also for unmarked crevasses. While there are some groomed routes leading up to the area of the ice fields, the ice fields and surrounding mountains contain a lot of dangers, including avalanches.
There are three access points to the Pemberton Ice Fields, one near Brandywine Falls, one near Callaghan Lake (both just north of Whistler) and the other by the Rutherford Creek bridge (between Whistler and Pemberton). All three are located off the Sea to Sky Corridor (Highway 99). The Brandywine and Callaghan trailheads are the most heavily used, especially by commercial tour companies. However, these access points are a long ride from the ice cap.
The Rutherford access point is less known and has less grooming. No commercial operators are using the trail. The parking area can accommodate a few dozen vehicles. The trail to the alpine is about 16 miles, following a logging road through the scenic Rutherford Creek valley. The last few miles consist of several moderate climbs to the top of a logging slash, then into the trees and up to the snowmobile club safety cabin. The trail is maintained and groomed by the Pemberton Valley Snowmobile Club. The trail goes past the cabin and opens up onto a large meadow. The meadow is filled with large open holes and creeks. Be very cautious going through here in the early season. Past the meadow and over the first climb is Appa Lake. This is the play area for those that are a little timid about venturing up onto the glaciers. Appa Glacier is the first of a series of interconnected glaciers that make up the Pemberton Ice Cap. There is a very steep climb up the toe of the glacier and then it is wide open, full throttle, untill you need more gas. Appa Glacier is about a 1/2 mile wide, five mile long expanse of gently rising play area. The top is known as the Gas Drop, where everyone drops their spare fuel to go play. From the Gas Drop riders can head south down onto Longspur Glacier, then west over the glacier to Ryan Lake. It is about a twenty minute, full throttle pull to Ryan Lake from the Gas Drop. This is a favourite play area for the local riders. It is far enough in that not many people unfamiliar with the area can find it. This is not an area for the un-initiated. Large wind holes and crevasses can be found quite unexpectedly. In the past, a seriously injured person was found on the side of Longspur that needed to be heli-evacuated from the site. She was riding with a partner that probably didn’t know the area as well as he thought. She drove off a 35 foot cliff into a large wind hole. From above, the hole was invisible until she was in the air falling into it. Avalanches are a frequent occurrence on the ice cap. It is extremely important that when riding there, you are properly equipped. Most of the local riders are equipped with avalanche beacons, shovels and probes.
To reach the Rutherford trailhead from Pemberton, head southwest on Highway 99 for 4km to Rutherford Creek logging road.
Note: A local guide is recommended.