If Americans have a cultural stereotype about Canada, it’s that we’re a land of ice and snow inhabited by “Eskimos” and policed by red-coated Mounties on horseback. (The Mounties drive in police cars and they have the same tools as cops in America… and the Eskimos, well, they are actually called Inuit, and live much closer to the North Pole).
But Canadians certainly do celebrate winter, and of course, skiing and snowboarding. Our resorts – though perhaps not quite as familiar or accessible as Vail or Tahoe — compare favourably in every way. Whistler, of course, is the most widely-known—the resort hosted the 2010 Winter Games alpine skiing events—and it’s continuously ranked highly amongst the (mostly) American readers in SKI Magazine’s annual resort poll. And Banff/Lake Louise are on the radar map—though most Americans (like Canadians) visit there in the summer months.
Resorts of the Canadian Rockies believes that the best discoveries in skiing are the unexpected ones—and, like siblings, their three resorts—namely, Fernie Alpine Resort, Kimberley Alpine Resort, and Kicking Horse Mountain Resort—offer a rootsy, authentic Canadian ambiance that makes each of them worth visiting—even on one trip.
Perched above a historic mining town that still relies on nearby natural resources, FERNIE ALPINE RESORT is all about powder and adventure. Poking skyward like a giant baseball mitt, the rugged Lizard range hauls in over 35 feet of legendary Rocky Mountain fluff annually and attracts freeriders from all over the world. If you’re lucky, you’ll be in town during the raucous Griz Days celebration that celebrates the mythic mountain man who makes it snow. Independent “non-chain” stores and restaurants thrive in the red-brick building main street of historic Fernie, once named the “Coolest Town in North America” by Rolling Stone magazine. Indeed, many Americans who visit here comment on how much it’s “like Telluride or Aspen used to be.”
KICKING HORSE MOUNTAIN RESORT west of Golden is a true “big mountain” experience, with 1,260 metres (4,133 feet) of vertical—fourth-highest in North America. Compared by those in the know to American resorts like Jackson Hole and Squaw Valley, Kicking Horse boasts 121 runs, four alpine bowls and 85 inbound chutes spread across 2,800+ acres of skiable terrain. No stay at Kicking Horse is complete without a visit to Canada’s most elevated restaurant: Eagle’s Eye Restaurant, a mountain-top, fine-dining experience. Four mountain ranges come together to create a mountain panorama that’s second to none.
Nestled in the majestic Purcell Mountains in BC’s southeastern corner, KIMBERLEY ALPINE RESORT receives more hours of sunshine than any other resort in the province. Its 80 runs range from open glades to gentle cruisers to thigh-burning bump runs. Dive into the Easter Bowl on the mountain’s backside or enjoy Kimberley’s front side cruising. Kimberley even offers Canada’s longest night skiing/riding terrain. Stay slope-side and ski from your door in the morning or enjoy the charming Bavarian-themed town just down the hill. Kimberley compares favourably to the family friendly vibe found at Snowmass, Keystone, or The Canyons—with a superb ski school and perhaps the most high-value vacation packages in North America.
Thanks to Canada’s devalued currency, Americans considering a ski vacation north of the 49th parallel receive a thirty percent discount, before they even start shopping for the best deals of lifts, accommodation, and lessons. “Our close proximity to the United States means that Fernie and Kimberley have always had visits from keen skiers in border states—folks who live in Whitefish, Kalispell, Sandpoint, and Spokane,” says “Powder Matt” Mosteller, spokesperson for the Resorts of the Canadian Rockies. Holidays at Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Martin Luther King Day, President’s Week and even Easter attract skiers and riders from a wider net, including Seattle, the Bay Area, Los Angeles and even major Midwestern and eastern cities.
And there are a few other differences. Take money, for example. Canadians use the same dollars and cents system that Americans have, but your wallet won’t be budging with one-dollar bills if you ask for change for a five. Canadians have “loonie” and “toonie” one-dollar and two dollar coins. Different denominations of dollars ($5, $10, $20, $50 and $100) are in different colours (and some words, such as ‘colour’ have an extra ‘u’ in them – don’t ask.) Gas (and all liquids) are priced in liters – $1.20 per liter equals about $4.00 per gallon of gasoline.
Snow depth is measured in centimeters (doesn’t “thirty centimeters” sound deeper than “eleven inches”?). And the outside temperature is in degrees Celsius. Don’t freak out if the temperature is minus 5, that’s only 23 degrees Fahrenheit, perfect skiing temperature.
Oddly, some things are the same. If you ask the bartender for a pint of beer, he’ll pour you a 12 ounce glass. And if you need anything else, just ask! To dispel another myth—not all of us speak French, (and we actually say ‘a-bout’, not ‘a-boot).’
Welcome to Canada, partner. Your powder is waiting.
Words: Steven Threndyle
Photos: Raven Eye Photography, Vince Mo, Brooke Wilson, Abbydell Photography
On B.C’s aptly-named Powder Highway, lifetime memories are created from epic moments that might only last a few seconds. Moments like that epic face shot at Fernie or Kicking Horse, when the snow fell like puffy diamonds from the sky and where your body was on auto-pilot, screaming straight down the fall line ais if guided by an invisible hand. Up and down, up and down. You’ve heard the clichés before—about needing a snorkel to breathe, and now you’re burrowing through a tunnel of white, crouching down to extend the fantasy for just a few seconds longer.
That, in a brief paragraph, is what the B.C Powder Highway experience offers. The Powder Highway – originally a marketing vehicle cooked up by Chris Elder of Fernie Alpine Resort and Dave Nicholls of nearby Island Lake Catskiing – is a woven fabric of main roads, backroads, and sideroads in southeastern B.C that encompasses everything from deluxe cat-skiing operations to under the radar local ski hills to prestigious alpine touring lodges for skiers with big heart, lungs, and quads.
Start your exploration by flying into Cranbrook’s Canadian Rockies International Airport (YXC). Pile your baggage and gear into an SUV or well-equipped rental car for the short drive to Kimberley Alpine Resort, less than twenty minutes from the airport. It’s the perfect resort to get your ski legs under, with challenging glades, steep bump runs, and mellow cruisers.
Next, pack up and set your GPS coordinates for the powder-famous Fernie Alpine Resort. Here, the Lizard Range—the storm-battered alpine ridge above town that resembles a lizard’s back—catches over 11 metres (37 feet) of snow annually from passing storms. Similar to Colorado ski towns like Telluride or Crested Butte, the historic red-brick town of Fernie is an authentic Canadian winter sports town.
Further adventure awaits farther north at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort just west of the Continental Divide near Golden, B.C. Monster bowls, jaw-dropping steeps, endless cruisers, and the best mountain scenery in North America from the deck of the Eagle’s Eye restaurant await. Kicking Horse is a massive playground that offers big vertical, consistent steeps, and a terrific range of ski in and ski out options right up at the resort.
And those are just the lift-serviced resorts. Add in 13 cat ops, 9 heli ski companies, and a mind-boggling 21 backcountry lodges and you have likely the greatest concentration of powder options anywhere in the world.
Words: Steven Threndyle
Photos: Brandon Hartwig, Brad Lorriman, Abbydell Photography, Love Street Media, Antoine Caron Cabana
Words by Steven Threndyle
Photos by Trent Bona, Dave Best & Neil Jackson
OK, are we ready to go? We’ve got our boots, check. Goggles, yep. Gore-Tex jacket and pants. Uh-huh. The fat skis and poles with powder baskets are in the box. A couple of changes of long underwear, some jeans, fleece, and t-shirts – yeah, I think we’re good to go. Rental vehicle’s got good winter tires; GPS is set, side pocket is full of maps and brochures… We’re ready to roll, let’s see what this Powder Highway is all about…
The Powder Highway is a bit of a combination of myth and reality. Where a nose for adventure combines with the desire to make dreams come true. What is the dream? Free falling down a powder choked bowl or open glade, snow hissing and vanishing in a vapour trail behind you, turn after turn of what’s become known as “epic goodness,” a feeling sensation that powder skiing aficionados come from all over the world to seek.
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort just outside of Golden, BC, and Fernie Alpine Resort in the southeast corner of the BC Rockies, and a Powder highway sojourn to both resorts and their respective towns embodies what a great road trip should be all about.
Here are five great reasons for gassing up the rental SUV:
- Snowfall—and Plenty of It: Due to a winning combination of mountain locale and micro-climate weather patterns, Kicking Horse Mountain Resort has become known as Canada’s Capital of Champagne Powder. When snow falls here, it’s not light – it’s what powderhounds call “blower” – the result of cold air temperatures and low humidity.
- Stunning Mountain Scenery: There isn’t a superlative yet that matches the view from the top of Eagle’s Eye restaurant at the summit of Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. There are mountains in every direction, due to Kicking Horse’s unique location intersection four different ranges, including the world famous Rocky Mountains in Kootenay National Park. There’s literally a new mountain vista around every corner.
- Mountain Terrain for Experts…and Beginners: Next to snow, what makes skiing and riding at Kicking Horse so special? The myriad ways in which you can get down the mountainside, and the utter feeling of stillness and solitude as you descend turn after turn, powder boiling over the knees. The great part? You really don’t need to be a black diamond skier to start hooting and hollering. Intermediate runs groomed in late afternoon provide the perfect platform for a fifteen centimeter dump of downy powder. With the right gear (and maybe a good instructor, who will simply tell you to ‘keep centred over your skis’ and ‘relax’) – you could have a breakthrough day you’ll be talking about for year.
- Real Mountain Town Culture and Vibe: B.C ski towns don’t get more authentic than Golden. This is a place where you might rub shoulders with local guys who, plant trees in the summer time or ride in helicopters to fight forest fires to sock away enough money and time to ski over a hundred days each season (this is where the real ski bums live). The history of Golden – just eight kilometres away from Kicking Horse – is inextricably tied with the greatest nation building project in Canadian history – construction of the Canadian Pacific Railroad from Montreal to Vancouver. Swiss mountain guides were hired by the CPR to lead ambitious travelers from all over the world to the snowy summits which stretch in every direction. The town has a wealth of natural history and cultural heritage that rival the epic snow conditions and mind boggling mountain scenery. In the past two decades, this scenery has led to the development of a vibrant four-season tourist industry.
- Easy Access from Major Airports: Both Kicking Horse Mountain Resort (and Fernie Alpine Resort) are accessible through Calgary International Airport (YYC), a major Canadian gateway that also serves the regional Airport of the Canadian Rockies. A wide range of rental vehicles are available. High performance skis and snowboards can be hired up at the hill