Powder Highway - British Columbia
What is it that the Europeans know about the interior mountains of Canada's British Columbia that Americans don't? Masses of Swiss, Germans, Austrians, Italians, Brits, and Aussies flock to this secret region every year for their winter walk-abouts. Maybe it's because they have a historical connection through Swiss mountain guiding for the Canadian Pacific Railroad that began at the iconic Rogers Pass Glacier House in 1899, or possibly they are compelled to come after hearing for 45 years about the areas unique first-class powder that produces 90% of the world's heli-skiing. Whatever the inspiration, the Euros know that between the alpine bookends of Whistler/Blackcomb and Lake Louise/Banff lies the vast, underpopulated ranges of the Monashee, Selkirks, Bugaboo, and Purcel Mountains.
Laced with plentiful access options, this Kootenay Region boasts of powder fields packed with Continental crystal-light and little competition for turns.
Making the run up Canada's Highway 95 we head to our first stop, Kimberley Alpine Resort, about a 9 hour drive out of Seattle. Last season, having experienced its cross-valley sister area of Fernie, and nearby Island Lake Lodge, we've come to chase the rest of a secret discussed only in whispers – the Powder Highway. With old ski buddies Eric and Marilyn navigating the way, we roll through the quaint Bavarian mining town of Kimberley, and are instantly captured by its welcoming warmth.
Putting it in park at the Polaris Lodge we can't help but notice that they've kept the lights on for us – the North Star Express Quad Chair is fully ablaze until 8pm for night skiing. Eric and I drop our gear and make a quick-change exit hillside of the Village lodge to slice and dice a couple of hours of mountain magic. Floating high above the twinkling lights of town, it's invigorating as we renew a sacred bond from our Snoqualmie Pass youth of shadow-box turns.
The next morning, as a cobalt blue sky paints the day, Ted agrees to show us the between the ropes local perspective. We quickly discover that it's an area of Family Friendly Fun which packs plenty of bite. With the most extensive on-mountain slope-side accommodations in the region, many come from Calgary simply for the endearing family atmosphere.
As we head for the North Star we're intrigued by a lineup of NORAM CUP racers preparing for the day's Super G. With the best in the world competing, these para-Olympic skiers are here to make up points for cancelled Euro races, and during yesterdays downhill were ripping the course at 112 km/hr. Adaptive skiing is big at Kimberley to the point where the mountain maintains a race course all season long and a new conference / para-Olympic training facility has been built. In addition, with the World Cup starting in November at Lake Louise the German, UK, and Austrailian National Teams often come to the Alpine Resort for early season training due to its reliable snowmaking.
Sling-shotting to the top of Tamarack Ridge by its quick high-speed quad, we're soon connecting the dots on the "Backside" down canyon-like terrain heading for the Black Forest. In the Forest we get a taste of the extensive potential as we link day's old powder pockets and descend its deceptive steeps. Yah sure - you betcha, Kimberley gives you a bite in the 'Back' with open, gladded trees and German flair.
Still in our ski clothes, we find ourselves 90 minutes up Hwy 95 inching our way up the Panorama Canyon west of Invermere; holding our breath that we don't run out of gas. One thing is for certain. You don't know what you've got until you get there, and when you arrive at the Village Resort you get something the approach doesn't prepare you for. Emerging out of the black night an Alp-like mountain town reveals itself, stair-stepped upon the hillside complete with a people-mover tram. It's simply beautiful.
An Intrawest cast off just prior to the mind boggling - Olympic timed Whistler bankruptcy, the debacle is likely the best thing that ever happened to Panorama. With local investors acquiring a 5-star Village build out, high-speed quad infrastructure, and eased marketing pressure, the Mountain is virtually a private stash for those lucky bums in position to pick off its uncontested powder plums. Disoriented in the darkness we finally land at our digs at the Summit Lodge with its slope side Panorama Springs Pools beckoning for relaxation. Family focused the Resort goes out of its way to offer up a full complement of amusement for the whole family without the 'Theme Park' feel.
Morning comes quickly and Eric is chomping at the bit. We are one day behind a storm of 48 cm and hear, "there were lots of grins yesterday". We've noted that the legendary Taynton Bowl hasn't opened yet and we want to be in position. The Mountains 4,000 vertical is quickly swallowed up via the Mile and Champagne Quad Expresses with a roundabout diversion to the Summit Quad to tag the top. The closed signs are still up so we start dissecting the groomers in surgical order. 'Schober's Dream' reveal's a constant pitch high speed leg burner top to bottom, 'Millennium' is an entertaining "must do" of right trending directional jogs, and then there's unique narrow trail cuts like 'View of 1,000 Peaks' and its tributaries full of gullies and trimmed glades.
With equal entertainment mountain side, the Panorama 'Amusement Park' keeps our interest piqued, and then we off-load the Summit Chair just as the Patrol opens Taynton Bowl. After a short, mostly level ridge boot we're conflicted by too many options. Chanting, "never leave powder to find powder," Eric and Marilyn spy the first down-ridge and drop in, hooting and hollering. Gladed with stepping drops the terrain constantly morphs and keeps the mind calculating about the next lap during the Taynton Trail return to the base. Cycling the Bowl with new lines and freshies on every turn we move with purpose, but at a casual pace. If we were back home the goods would simply be gone in two hours. Here it lasts all day, and there's a lot to consider. A couple of groomers cap off our experience. then we reluctantly pack to leave. Staying for a couple more days at this Fun Park would have been ideal, but we've got more places to go, things to see.
Ninety minutes north we find our way to the Mountaineer – Glacier Lodge at Kicking Horse Resort outside of Golden. The compact Resort is just ten years old with all the amenities contained conveniently within the base of the classic lodge architecture. In the past 6 weeks the locals say that there have been lots of epic powder days, but only 4 days of sun over the duration. In the morning we wake to the fifth day with glorious blue bird skies and 50 cm of new laying in wait for the taking. Being slope side, we frantically throw our skis on and skate over to the Golden Eagle Express Gondola 'the heart of Kicking Horse' to queue up. It seems universal that most have called in sick - texting buddies whose conscious have got the better of them, and even with all these anxious powder hounds with a mountain this big it could hardly be called a crowd. Soon the Eagle Express sucks up the masses, and those in the back of the pack get a bird's eye cabin view as first trackers put on a good show below.
Topping 4,000 vertical, the 'Main Run' under the Gondola is arguably the most difficult 'Home Run' slope in North America, giving Kicking a reputation for being tough. However, with ample powder and/or good grooming most of the terrain is something an intermediate would be comfortable with. Snatching our skis from the Gondola door, we lay down our signatures across the convoluting landscape during an unforgettable day. Line after line of diamond and double-diamond runs that crease the Main Side, Bowl Over, Crystal Bowl, and Feuz Bowl give up delightful untracked through their light crystal carpets.
Throughout the day we keep our eye on the closed sign for Super Bowl, but alas by late afternoon it appears that today is not the day. No worries, there's plenty of face shots …"we didn't leave pow to find pow". In the morning we wake to another 6 inches in an intensifying storm. As Marilyn takes a weather rest, Eric and I ventured out into the blanketing overcast, throw up our hoods, sticking to the trees for contrast visibility. In a couple of hours semi-parting clouds greet us as we make a mad dash for the top of T1 Ridge, just in time for the opening of Super Bowl. We chose wisely and descend…it was epic… a wow moment!!
Needing to check out of the Glacier Lodge by 1pm, we make the drive over Roger Pass to Revelstoke Mountain Resort in the afternoon, so we could take in the breathtaking Selkirks along the way. Luckily, we get a weather break at the top of the Pass, where the view never disappoints. Spectacular mountain monarch's crowned by Mt. Sir Donald dominate the scene where backcountry skiing is topped by none.
Dropping into the town of Revelstoke, which is nestled along a part of the Columbia River known as the Arm, we're fortunate to have secured the house of Eric's friend, Peter, as an alternate stay to the booked Resorts Nelson Lodge. Only 4 years in the making, the village is growing and partnering with the town of Revelstoke to manage the surging skier interest. An impressive region chock-full of outdoor variety and opportunity, the secret is out for those adrenaline and aerobic junkies on a natural high seeking to live the life. In that regard, Revelstoke Mountain Resort carries the torch right from its doorstep with a unique blend of world class heli-skiing from Selkirk Tangiers, designated side-mountain Cat Skiing, guided backcountry, and of course the Mountain itself. With the biggest vertical in North America of 5,600 ft. and a professed 47% of advanced terrain with 45% left for the intermediate, this is a skier's mountain that packs a lot of punch.
Continuing the rhythm, we are once again one day behind a 50 cm storm, but not too bummed about it. With nominal skier visits the powder of Separate Reality/Vertigo, North – Greely – South Bowl, and all points in-between, hold the soft fluffies for days. We jump on the Revelation Gondola and get an eye popping view of the vast valley left behind, the sculpted mountains beyond, and an intense perspective of the humorously named 'Kill the Banker' run below (you wouldn't want to lose an edge).
A sideways jaunt past the Mackenzie Outpost Hut and we're into the meat of the front side on The Stoke Quad. Having gained significant vertical this is where the quality goods are stashed. Being prudent poachers we mostly endeavor to not give up altitude, but traverse the region to seek out and destroy the powder pockets. We uncover lots of grins down 'Critical Path', which lays in full view of The Stoke. 'Clyde's Secret Glades' gave up the pow with luge-like pathways laced through the trees. Of course we hit the iconic North Bowl off the shoulder of Mt. Mackenzie and cruised the protected trees of The Ripper Quad. The best was certainly not last as we booted up Sub Peak and chose the less traveled 'Upper Southside'; where in a cloud of euphoria Marilyn loses a ski to the powder depths upon encountering a traverse track. When searching for wayward ski parts it's always amazing that you know the ski is right there, but it's nowhere to be found as anxiety builds sensing the day slipping away. Then, when discovered, life is good and the moment of hesitation vaporizes in a cloud of cold smoke.
Revelstoke Mountain Resort has come a long way in an incredibly short time. The potential is seemingly unlimited, and it's a mountain worthy of watching for future returns. We could have ripped the slopes for days, but again the Powder Highway was calling for more exploration. Typical protocol recommends a left hand turn at Revie down Hwy 23 to Whitewater and Red Mountain ski areas, or possibly at Sicamous a Hwy 97A alternative down the Okanogan to Silver Star, Big White and Apex Resorts, but we break with tradition and head for Sun Peaks within easy striking distance of Kamloops.
Arriving under a cloak of darkness we sniff out our digs at the Delta Sun Peaks Hotel, which is a little bit of a first timers challenge. Reminiscent of a Whistler/Blackcomb Village, but not on its steroids, we find the Hotel slope-side anchoring the recently incorporated municipality. A unique community blending Resort amenities with town living US expats, Brits, and even the famed Olympic Gold medalist, Nancy Greene have made it home. Hitting a big weekend, the Telus sponsored Nancy Green Corporate Challenge is in full swing with auctions and races accumulating benefits for a much needed medical clinic.
With the morning breaking in brilliant, crystal clear blue with a bit of -10 F bite, we join Jim Pedersson, a long time Denmark transplant, for a passionate mountain tour. Days after the last storm Jim seeks out the goodness of soft pow that gets little competition from visitors. Most skiers here are groomer groms that frequent the weekends and are content with the corduroy. The gargoyles of rimmed summit conifers call out for caricature identification, as we weave together runs off the Burfield Chair (the longest in North America, and an upgraded carryover of the original Todd Mtn.), then arc carvers down the Elevation Express Quad, which was inspired by the Austrian National Team for early season World Cup training. We explore the very European-like West Bowl T-bar, rip an abundance of quality groomers such as Spillway, the Headwall, and Exhibition, then poke our noses down Challenger (a serious double black), which on tour Jim is not supposed to take us down; he doesn't, but follows just to make sure. Before our exit back across the border we ski the next morning with our expat friends Tom and Dave. We're envious of why they made Sun Peaks their winter home: a welcoming first class village and community, easy 5-6 hr driving access from Seattle and Vancouver, quality skiing experience with two-mountains and x-country variety, and most of all they've got it all to themselves mid-week.
When you go looking for the meaning of life, sometimes it is written between the alpine pages of a limitless mountain landscape. A place less cluttered and engaging that gives back all that you put into it and more. Commit thy heart, and the Inter-mountain's of British Columbia will deliver 'life well lived' inspiration. That's what the Europeans have discovered.
Best ski-in / ski-out lodging - Trickle Creek or Polaris Lodges
For Reservations Please Call:
1 (250) 427-5175 or 1 (877) 282-1200
Best ski-in / ski-out lodging - Summit or Panorama Springs Lodges
For Reservations Please Call:
1 (800) 663-2929
Best ski-in / ski-out lodging - Glacier – Mountaineer Lodges
For Reservations Please Call:
Best ski-in / ski-out lodging - Nelson Lodge
For Reservations Please Call:
1+800+SANDMAN (726 3626)
Best ski-in / ski-out lodging – Delta Sun Peaks
For Reservations Please Call: