It’s snack time for Boo the Bear. Ross Prather approaches with a bucket of fish carcasses and kitchen compost. It’s a hot summer’s day and Boo has found a shady spot among the fir trees to laze away the afternoon. However the scent of a snack gets his attention; a grizzly’s sense of smell is so acute it can detect an animal carcass more than 30 kms away upwind. Under normal circumstances such proximity would be perilous – man with bucket of food, hungry 275 kg grizzly bear steps away – if it wasn’t for the electric fence separating the two.
Boo the Bear has made his home at Kicking Horse Grizzly Bear Interpretive Centre since first arriving in 2003, when he was orphaned after his mother was shot by a poacher. Over the years Prather, refuge manager, has gotten to know this wise old bear well. The specially built, 10-hectare fenced enclosure, found on the Eagle Express Gondola lift line and accessed in summer via the Catamount chairlift, provides a natural habitat for Boo, with forest, meadows and a running stream.
Ursus arctos horribilis – the grizzly’s Latin name is enough to strike fear into the hearts of even the most seasoned wilderness traveler. However the opportunity to observe this animal up close is a thrilling experience, enabling visitors like my family and I to better understand grizzly behavior and ecology with the help of Prather and his staff. At times Boo stays deep within the confines of his enclosure, perhaps eating dandelions and digging for springtime bulbs in a meadow, or hunting for squirrel or marmots. However when curiosity gets the best of him, or the dinner bell rings, he approaches the fence. We’re lucky today. Boo lumbers out of the forest, snout pointing upward, his powerful shoulders rippling, lustrous silver-brown fir gleaming in the sun. It’ hard to overcome the urge to retreat as Boo comes close, but the fence keeps us safe.
A male grizzly typically ranges a territory of between 350 and 800 square kms, but Boo seems content with his home at Kicking Horse Resort – for the most part. Occasionally his urge has gotten the best of him.
“Boo gets a little randy in springtime,” Prather says, adding that he has left his enclosure a few times in the past in search of a mate.
However he always comes back.
Meal time is over. A horsefly buzzes courageously nearby and Boo shakes his massive head. Oblivious to my family and I observing from a few metres away, he strides the fence line before angling back into the forest and finding a nice muddy pool in which to cool himself. He lowers into the brown water, rolls from side to side, then emerges again, fir dripping with water, then disappears into the cool of the forest. Life is good for Boo and we’re thrilled to share a few moments with him.
Disclaimer – Andrew visited Kicking Horse Mountain Resort to see Boo in 2016, Ross has since left his position with Nicole Gangnon taking over as Grizzly Bear Ranger Manager. Visit Kicking Horse this winter to see Nicole and her team caring for Boo.
Thirteen hundred vertical meters is a pretty daunting mountain of vertical for four year old legs. I’m sitting in the Black Diamond Cafe at the base of Kicking Horse Mountain Resort with my wife Lisa and two daughters Sabine and Zola, one soon to turn four, the other a few months shy of her seventh birthday. I point to the trail map unfolded on the table in front of us and pinned down with a few steaming mugs of espresso coffee.
“You see that green line that snakes down from the top of the mountain? That’s what we’re going to ski,” I tell them.
My kids are used to Mount Washington vertical, our home mountain – 505 metres. They look at me with those profoundly trusting expressions that can melt a parent’s heart. Moments later we’re sitting in the Eagle Express Gondola scraping frost off the windows so we can see the spectacular view of the Columbia Valley below. I point out the snowed under enclosure that’s home to a hibernating Boo, the resident grizzly whom we visited the previous summer. Then higher up the aforementioned green snake, otherwise known as It’s A Ten, crosses beneath the gondola lift line.
“There it is again,” I say.
“What?” Zola asks.
“The green snake,” I reply.
“Oh,” Zola says, shrugging her shoulders.
Before long we’re shuffling out of the gondola at the top station beneath high clouds and patchy blue sky. My goal was modest; to take my kids on an adventure from the top of the Eagle Express to the bottom. Like all adventures with kids, it had to include a small package of incentives. First stop would be the Heaven’s Door Yurt Cafe for a hot chocolate.
Clicked in to our bindings, I give our youngest a ski pole tow across the flats to where ‘It’s A Ten’, begins rolling down the ridge into Crystal Bowl. I assume the blocker position skiing close behind Sabine while she locks into that sustained power snow plow that only young malleable knees can sustain for any amount of time. Zola, three years older and three times faster, zips ahead already impatient with the pace being dictated by her assertive younger sibling. I was the youngest in a family of four and therefore like Sabine started things early whether I wanted to or not. So far, so good. No tears. The run opens up in Crystal Bowl into a wide strip of corduroy with room for the girls to roam. Zola and her mom are waiting outside the yurt awaiting incentive number-one. Sabine and I slide to a stop next to them a few minutes later and we shuffle inside for a hot chocolate, preceded of course by the unwrapping of kids ski clothing that we will soon be re-wrapping again. After a lazy pit stop in the yurt, it’s time to resume the adventure. Back on the green snake, Zola and Lisa charge ahead. Sabine and I fall in with another father and daughter duo descending at a similar pace.
There is plenty of mountain to share, but it’s as if the two youngsters are magnetized, turning toward rather than away from one another. After a few near misses I urge Sabine to ditch pizza for French Fries and zoom past her rival to give herself some space. Speaking of French Fries, that’s our next incentive – chicken strips and fries.
“I love skiing,” Sabine says, looking up at me as we glide past the steep drop of ‘Bubbly’ and onto the wide open ‘Blaster’.
Music to my ears. By the time she power plows her way cross slope to where ‘Downshift’ rejoins ‘It’s A Ten’, the mood suddenly shifts the way it can unexpectedly with children. Sabine suddenly sprawls on the snow and refuses to get up. Lisa produces an emergency granola bar ration.
“We have to keep going Sabine. See the lodge way down there? That’s where we have to go,” I say, unconvincingly, realizing that is must sound like work to her.
It’s hard to imagine how far that must appear to Sabine at this point, bushed from a week of family Christmas late night celebrations. Lisa and I take shifts skiing ahead with Zola and coaxing Sabine down the last few pitches. By the time we reach the ski rack in front of Whitetooth Grill, she is flailing on the snow in a spectacle that would kill any aspiring parent’s desire for a family.
All is forgotten minutes later when we’re seated in the warmth of the Whitetooth Grill around plate of nachos and a basket of chicken strips and fries. Therefore, I’ll chalk it up as a successful family adventure.
Words & Photos by Andrew Findlay
Follow Andrew’s adventures on Instagram – @afindlayjournalist
Imagine arriving at a crossroads and finding a sign that reads Powder Highway. What would you do? Well, you’d take that road, of course. Say it once or twice out loud. “Powder Highway.” It has an alluring sound, doesn’t it? A sort of “I dare you not to drive it,” quality that spells road trip.
There are few things I enjoy more than loading skis into the roof box, packing a change of long underwear, extra gloves and toques, bags of chips and whatever other road trip indulgences you desire, then hitting the highway. The Powder Highway cuts through the Canadian Rockies and Columbia Mountains, a region of such staggering density in skiing and snowboarding opportunities, be it resort, cat, heli and backcountry, that you’ll be struck with an option paralysis of the favorable kind; a too-much-of-a-good-thing problem that we skiers and boarders love to have. Assemble your favorite winter superlatives – steep, deep, blower, big vert, cruisy, epic, etcetera – and that pretty much sums up the Powder Highway.
At Fernie Alpine Resort, the lifts service five alpine bowls in the legendary Lizard Range of the Canadian Rockies blessed with snow as light as the down in your puffy jacket.
Kimberley Alpine Resort, a little off the beaten track, has always been a breeding ground of ski racing talent with its fall line groomers and spacious terrain.
At Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, the Eagle Express Gondola shuttles skiers and boarders to the top of the Dogtooth Range in the Purcell Mountains in a more than 4000 vertical foot butterflies-in-the-stomach ascent. From the top terminal, choose your adventure. A cruisy top to bottom groomer that will have the legs burning, or perhaps a boot pack to the top of Feuz Bowl or T1 followed by a drop into a spicy 45 alpine chute.
Then there are the towns, archetypal ski communities. Not cookie cutter prefab creations but towns with heart and history.
Fernie, with its main street lined in heritage buildings, steeped in the tradition of 19th century mining, where skiing has a long history dating back more than 50 years. Kimberley and its quaint Bavarian motif, also oozing with colourful mining and pioneering history.
And Golden near the confluence of the Kicking Horse and mighty Columbia River and at the foot of Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, where a tradition of mountain adventure has its roots in the golden era of railroading in Canada when Swiss guides arrived in the late 1800’s to explore the vast wildness of Canada’s mountains, many of them settling in and around Golden.
While a love of skiing will lead you to the Powder Highway, the towns, real mountain towns full of real mountain people, will steal a piece of your heart. On a rest day, after exploring between Fernie and Kimberley, drive up the beautiful Columbia Valley, next to frozen lakes and wetlands that spring to life in summer. Pull into the HQ of legendary Kicking Horse Coffee in Invermere, where the smell of roasting beans drifts in the air. Fill up with a mug of Kick Ass coffee, relax, and dream about the turns and terrain that awaits at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. A little further north, slip into Radium Hot Springs, and watch wild Big Horn Sheep scale the surrounding cliffs. How many more reasons do you need to explore the Powder Highway? Next step – pack your ski bags, load the vehicle and hit the road – your idea of the perfect winter road trip will be changed forever!
Words: Andrew Findlay
Photos: Love Street Media, Raven Eye Photography, Antoine Caron Cabana, Henry Georgi, Brooke Wilson & Tourism Golden
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort has the reputation as a proving ground for big mountain skiers seeking out big vertical, steep chutes and alpine bowls. It’s true, Kicking Horse has no shortage of skill and fitness testing burly terrain – the mountain wears its reputation proudly.
However, much less known is the fact that this resort in the Dogtooth Range above Golden also has families in mind with a ski in -ski out philosophy that exemplifies its base area chalet and hotel accommodation. You can literally ski to the front door of the Palliser Lodge or Glacier Mountaineer Lodge, without even double poling or skating. The same goes for many of the plush rental condominiums and homes that are artfully constructed in the woods next to the ski area boundary – if it’s not ski to the front door convenience, then it’s the next best thing.
When I go to a ski resort with the family I want to park my car in the underground lot, hang up the keys next to the entrance of the chalet and never have to think about driving for the rest of the stay. At Kicking Horse , you can spend your time doing what you came to the mountain to do; ski and ride, dine and drink, and relax with a post ski Jacuzzi or sauna. Riding up the Eagle Express Gondola is an exhilarating feeling as it delivers you nearly
1300 vertical metres uphill to the crest of the Dogtooth Range. The vastness of the terrain below fills you with anticipation. One thing you thankfully don’t have to anticipate at the end of day, is a long walk to the hotel or condo, which can feel like a desert trek or an Arctic slog depending on the weather. It takes one trip to a ski resort with kids to realize that a winter experience is about much more than lifts and vertical, vibrant après ski diversions and a cozy place to put your down for the night. It’s about how all these elements work together to create a seamlessly enjoyable ski in-ski out experience. Kicking Horse Mountain Resort has it dialed. Trust me, I’m a veteran of the family ski adventure.
Words by Andrew Findlay
Words & Photos by Andrew Findlay
The only thing between me and countless free falling vertical metres of alpine air are some rungs of steel drilled into the rock, and a climbing harness tethered to steel cable. I grasp a rung, scuff a boot onto a ledge as wide as a deck of cards, then pause to study the quartzite in front me, its surface checked and split like a well used map.
I’m clinging to the face of Terminator Peak following what the Italians refer to as a via ferrata, or “iron road.” It’s the latest addition to Kicking Horse’s menu of summer alpine experiences and it’s a winner and today one half of an alpine duathlon of sorts – via ferrata in the morning, bike park in the afternoon. Via ferrata originates from World War I when Italy clashed with the Austro-Hungarian forces in the rugged Dolomite Mountains that divided these two powers. Italian soldiers equipped the mountains with fixed lines and ladders, an ingenuous and much safer way to scale difficult or otherwise un-climbable cliffs. When fighting ended the via ferrata was forgotten, until mountaineers began restoring and repurposing these routes for recreation, launching a new form of mountain adventure. Via ferrata consist of steel rungs drilled and glued into the rock, suspension bridges, and steel cable bridges spanning chasms that can feel like tiptoeing a cross a thread of silk. With a harness, a leash that’s connected to the cable for safety , some sturdy hiking shoes, helmet, and a little coaching from an experienced guide, pretty much anybody from grandmothers to grandkids can experience the thrill of scaling alpine rock.
“We hatched the plan to develop a via ferrata last year, and our crews started working last spring scaling loose rock from the route, then drilling and installing more than 800 metres of steel cable,” says Max Cretin, director of business development and guest experience for Kicking Horse Resort, who has joined me on this new via ferrata.
I pause on a ledge and turn to face the precipice below. The roof of the Eagle’s Eye Restaurant is a splash of red next to the gondola top station. A group of hikers, ant like from these heights, follows the trail descending from Eagle’s Eye to the meadows and alpine pools at the foot of Terminator. I’m accustomed to climbing mountains the conventional way, burdened with an arsenal of shiny metal tools and implements. This is only my second kick at a via ferrata, and for the first 15 minutes I feel sort of naked. However soon I’m enjoying the fluidity and relative unencumbered simplicity of the activity. Grab the metal rung, step upwards until the specially designed aeroligne carabiner slides up the paralleling cable and passes over the steel plate affixing the cable to the rock. At the crest of a 10-metre slab of vertical quartzite I hesitate, to rest my calves.
Kicking Hores offers two via ferrata options. Ascension delivers you to the summit of Terminator Peak. For the less ambitious, or beginners, Discovery provides a shorter option that exits lower down Terminator’s easy ridge. However both routes start with an exhilarating crossing of a 30 m long suspension bridge that spans a steep chute that skiers know as Think Twice in wintertime. After two hours, we top out on Terminator’s summit, with time left to scramble down the ridge and back up to Eagle’s Eye for a 12:30 lunch reservation. I keep it simple, a juicy Alberta beef burger and garden salad, accompanied by a glass of cabernet sauvignon.
After lunch I switch modes for the second half of my alpine duathlon. I strap on some shin and elbow pads and full face helmet, then saddle up a DH bike for the 4000 foot vertical descent to the base village. My guide Ryan Harvey, who works mountain safety in the winter and patrols the bike park in summer, has a route planned, that showcases what Kicking Horse’s park is renowned for – sweet alpine riding. After a quick zip down the loose and rocky cat track, It’s a 10, we roll into smooth and flowy Pipestone, which feeds quickly into the swooping burmed chicanes of Dragon Chaser. Western anemones and Indian Paintbrush blossom trailside. Chute to View drops us into the subalpine forest, followed by Home Run and then Showdown, which descends in big loops skier’s right of the Gondola. By the time I pause to summon courage at the top of the black diamond- rated Rock and Roll, a steep rock slab, my forearms burns from squeezing brake levers. I’m an XC rider at heart so I do whatever it takes to keep the rubber on the ground. Next up is LYM, built by Harvey and his crew; it’s a fantastical corkscrew of elevated ramps that defies logic but works. It’s 2:30 pm when we roll to a stop in front of the Black Diamond cafe. I opt to perk up with an afternoon espresso, before reloading the gondola for another ride. Why not? It’s summer, the days are long and this alpine duathlon isn’t over.
Words by Andrew Findlay
Photos by Kicking Horse Mountain Resort
A horse gave the boots to an explorer on the Great Divide back in 1858, giving Kicking Horse Pass its name. In the 1990’s skiers with vision gazed up at the rugged Dogtooth Range and dreamed of a ski resort that would match the impressive topography of these Purcell peaks above the town of Golden, laying the foundation for Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. It’s been 15 years since the first lifts cranked up at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, transforming what was then a mom and pop local hill into an internationally renowned ski destination that challenges the best and inspires the rest. So, if you haven’t yet carved tracks into Kicking Horse this season, book your trip now. I’ve been fortunate to ski at many resorts around the world, some little more than bumps in the boreal forest, others alpine to valley bottom village thigh-burners. Yet Kicking Horse never fails to get my adrenaline pumping. Perhaps it’s the view from the Eagle’s Eye restaurant at the top of the gondola looking west at the Matternhorn-esque spire of Mt. Sir Donald. Or the scene that unfolds below as you ride up the Golden Express Gondola, the Columbia River a vertical mile below and snaking northward against a backdrop of endless Rocky Mountain summits. But really it’s about the skiing, all 2,750 stunning acres of it.
Kicking Horse embodies what I love in a ski resort- a big mountain alpine experience bundled into a resort kept safe by a crack team of avalanche and snow safety experts. A resort like this that puts the adventure back into lift skiing is fitting for Golden, the heart of mountain sports in Canada where turn of the 19th century Swiss guides working for CPR’s luxury hotels once chose to settle. For a skier like me, the geography of the Dogtooth Range is tantalizing. A series of three ridges plunge down from the Dogtooth Range crest, dividing the terrain naturally into four prominent features – Crystal Bowl, Bowl Over, Feuz Bowl and Super Bowl. Together these bowls offer a tasty selection of wide gullies, steep pencil thin couloirs, benevolent open basins and rolling groomers that will test your stamina and leave the thighs feeling like rubber by the time you etch turns for 4,200 vertical feet all the way down to the ski racks outside Peaks Grill.
The folks at Kicking Horse realize the resort, though it’s well equipped with family friendly blue runs, can be overwhelming for the uninitiated. You might gaze longingly down the cat track carved out of CPR Ridge knowing that sweet lines tip off either side, or secluded glades of well preserved powder await just beyond view. However you’re gut might caution you not to commit without knowing what you’ll find. That’s the thrill of Kicking Horse. For the advanced skiers, enlisting the services of an experienced instructor and guide through the Big Mountain Centre is the perfect way to get straight to the best goods. It’s like flying first class. You get priority lift access while exploring Kicking Horse’s bounty and sampling some favorite local stashes, without the second guessing and route-finding challenges. So don’t let another day go by; plan your Kicking Horse Mountain Resort getaway and find out for yourself what inspired the resort’s founders to tap the potential of the Dogtooth Range.