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Winter in the Cariboo is no place for cats and dogs

BY STEVE BERGSMAN Modified: November 15, 2012 at 3:35 pm •  Published: November 19, 2012

Even in Canada, when it's 40 below zero, everyone talks about the weather. And for good reason. At 40 below strange things happen. First, it's the point where Celsius and Fahrenheit merge, so Americans don't have to try and figure out the conversion formula. And second, things break down.

My wife and I were in the Cariboo Region of British Columbia, a five-hour drive northeast of Vancouver, when the temperature took that dive. We had begun our winter vacation at Hills Health Ranch, about an hour south of the nearest local airport at Williams Lake.

And this is where our cold weather story begins. In the swirling flurries and deep negative temperature, the van that picked us up at the airport refused to heat up, no matter how hard the driver pushed the heater. It was minus 26 degrees outdoors, and inside the van l could feel that chill creeping through my clothes the whole journey.

When we stepped out of the vehicle the air stung our faces, and our jeans felt like they had frozen to our legs. It wasn't far to walk to our room, but the cold was quick and painful.

It would only get worse.

The Hills Health Ranch, with its lodges and chalets, sits on about 600 acres of rolling mountains sliced by wooded valleys, lakes and meadows. In the winter, the small log cabin-designed resort runs a full slate of outdoor activities, such as skiing, snowshoeing and dog-sledding, but with an indoor pool, hot tubs and workout rooms, there's a lot to keep guests busy without going outside.

What had attracted my wife was its spa treatments that use the fruit of the rose flower (called rosehip), which grows wild in the Cariboo.

Hills Heath was founded and is still managed by Pat and Juanita Corbett. When I met Pat for breakfast on the first morning, he mentioned he had to do some road grooming and asked if I wanted to be his co-pilot in the Sno-Cat. I immediately said yes because these tread-driven vehicles fascinate me. I'd heard them work through the night when I'd been to ski resorts, grooming the inclines despite the frigid temperatures and extreme slopes.

Pat's Cat was a Bombadier, and the cab, thankfully heated, looked like the cockpit of a plane. After letting it warm up for about 45 minutes, we climbed aboard. Outside the oversized windows, the temperature had dipped to 30 below, but we were comfortable. The vehicle lurched forward and we were on our way, but we hadn't gone very far when it stalled.

Here in the Cariboo, the Cat had met something worse than a steep slope — a frigid temperature. The fuel line became sluggish, and when Pat the tried to get it started again, the batteries quickly ran down. We had to abandon the vehicle and make the short hike back to the lodge

By 1 p.m., the sun had come out and was casting a hazy, erratic glow over the snow. When the temperature rose to a balmy minus 20 degrees, my wife and I decided to take the planned afternoon snowshoe walk.

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