If there’s one skier’s road trip to put on your bucket list, it’s Canada’s Powder Highway. This journey travels 622 miles (1000 kilometres) of linked roads in British Columbia’s snowy south-eastern corner and leads to no less than eight world-class alpine resorts including terrain headliners Revelstoke, Kicking Horse, Panorama, Fernie and Red Mountain. The Powder Highway also leads to over a dozen cat-skiing and helicopter skiing operations. You cannot lose.
The route’s ski resorts are markedly different, too, assuring plenty of variety. Most offer more than the usual proportion of challenging slopes within their boundaries. Time it right with big snowfalls and this trip is guaranteed to knock your ski socks off.
The Powder Highway can be accessed from any of three airports – Calgary, Kelowna or, in the United States, Spokane in the state of Washington. Cars can be hired at all. Calgary is the most popular and generally most convenient starting point. Here’s what you will find along the way…
Already a legend in its own lifetime, Revelstoke Mountain Resort gives you the chance to experience North America’s longest vertical – 5620 feet (1713 metres) – and get your thighs burning on 3121 acres (1263 hectares) of eye-popping terrain from plunging fall line skiing to high alpine bowls, glades and seemingly endless groomers with panoramic views across the river valley far below and the ranges beyond. A sole gondola accesses the main slopes which lie high above in the peaks, where you’ll find a few more chairlifts to access the higher reaches.
Revelstoke offers plenty of side country and back country to sample too, which bundled together with the sensational inbounds terrain saw Ski Magazine the first to tag Revelstoke Canada’s answer to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. As with Jackson Hole, be sure to follow all rules regarding back country access and take every safety precaution when leaving the resort boundary. This is serious mountain country.
Far below the ski mountain, Revelstoke town is a sizeable settlement with every convenience. There are plenty of good restaurants, even excellent sushi for somewhere so far from the sea, and lively hotels and pubs. The plushest and newest accommodation, The Sutton Place Hotel, sits right at the base, so if rolling out of bed and wandering a few metres to a gondola that accesses some of North America’s biggest skiing, this is where you want to be.
Like Revelstoke, Kicking Horse is one of those ski resorts where you quickly notice almost everyone here can ski pretty damn well. You will get here by driving 90 minutes east of Revelstoke to Golden, a town on the Canadian Pacific railway line. Kicking Horse lies 8.6 miles (14 kilometres) beyond Golden along a winding mountain road. Golden has in the past two decades become a mecca for rock climbers, skiers, and ice climbers who have made their homes here and brought a fresh new vibe to the industrial town.
Kicking Horse possesses the two extremes of gentlest of groomers to the scariest of steeps, the kind of slopes that make even experts think twice. Most of the black and double black diamond terrain here is of the kind where falling is not an option, or at least not a good idea. Terminator Peak, CPR Ridge and Redemption Ridge are all aptly named. Don’t ski out to these areas expecting to find an easy way down. These ridges run out onto the intermediate slopes from where less experienced skiers and boarders are often entertained by all the action above.
The grromer riders among your Powder Highway posse will feel right at home here as about three quarters of the slopes here are wide open cruisers for intermediate and advances skiers. Novices will be in their element swooshing away amid the stunning alpine scenery, no danger of them accidentally finding themselves anywhere they can’t handle on the lower slopes of Pano. Black diamond runs are quite separate, over in the Taynton Bowl area that offers 750 acres of backcounty skiing in bounds. Panorama offers helicopter skiing right from the base area via RK Heli skiing with 1,500 square km of terrain with 120 landings and 900 runs and, for non heli skiers, a heli fondue/flight seeing trip that includes a fondue up at Panorama’s Summit Hut.
Time to ramp it up a notch or three. Fernie is a super fun resort which lends itself to much exploring and poking around off ridges to drop into yet another snowy glade. Nestled amid high peaks and renowned for being particularly scenic, its five alpine bowls offer much to excite strong skiers, so much so that Fernie has reached somewhat cult status evidenced by the large numbers of internationals here. Intermediates have lovely long groomers to slide around on and beginners will be just as happy thanks to Fernie’s well-sized learners-only area.
Ask visitors their impressions of Fernie’s town and the most common answer will be that it feels like “the real Canada”. There are lively bars, good restaurants and quality snow sports stores to cater for the many enthusiasts.
Red Mountain is flanked by Rossland, a classic Canadian alpine town filled with dedicated mountain people. It’s also a funky kind of place where cool cafés and boutiques co-exist with well-equipped snowsport’s store and chic dining spots have taken shape within historic buildings. For a true Canadian pub experience, visit the Flying Steamshovel, one of the country’s oldest hotels dating back to Gold Rush days.
While Rossland has much to offer, you will probably want to stay close to Red Mountain’s renowned slopes about five minutes’ drive up the road from town. The resort’s base area comprises a cosy settlement of mostly ski-in ski-out modern chalets, stylish hotels and excellent restaurants and bars.
Above them is a rider’s paradise, an abundance of terrain ranging across three distinct peaks – Granite, Red, and Grey mountains. In some places it’s possible to feel like you’re skiing out in the wilderness before popping back out onto a run. Good skiers will spend most of their time on Granite, where virtually all runs are advanced. The particularly gnarly parts of Granite mountain play host to annual extreme freeriding competitions, where participant’s hucking rocks and nailing steep tree chutes make perfect eye candy for those on the chairlift above. Lovers of smooth slopes and big wide turns can have their fill on Red Mountain.
If you’re still chasing more snow – and why not ?– give Big Red Cats a call or simply drop in: the snowcat skiing operation is based right in the resort, and as a long-established outfit accesses the best nearby terrain. There are also several other heliski and snowcat skiing operations in proximity to Red Mountain.