It wasn’t until I felt the wind of the rotor wash that I truly believed we were headed into the mountains to go heli-skiing that day. It started a few days before while sitting in my favourite ski-bar, The Village Idiot. Situated in the small downtown area of Revelstoke BC, the Village Idiot is the perfect location to wind down with some great food and drinks after a day in the mountains. The problem with the Village Idiot is that it’s located directly across the street from the offices for Eagle Pass Heli-skiing. After some amazing pizza and a few jugs of beer my friend Derek suggested we walk across the street and book a day of heli-skiing. It seemed like a good idea - what could go wrong?
Our Powder Highway adventure started off a couple of weeks earlier. To get there we flew into Kelowna, BC. You only have 2 good choices for airports if you want to travel the powder highway, Kelowna or Calgary. The international airport in Kelowna was our first choice because it’s directly on the powder highway and you’re literally in ski country in less than an hour regardless which direction you travel. We chose an all-wheel drive (AWD) minivan with snow tires for this trip. This turned out to be the perfect vehicle to live out of for the next 3 weeks.
We planned on making the 1 hour drive north on Highway 97 the first day to warmup at SilverStar Mountain Resort. We had to stop at the airport to pick up some of our luggage that didn’t make it on our original flights. While waiting for his skis at the oversize luggage area, my friend Brad struck up a conversation with a local who asked where we were headed. When he told him SilverStar, the man was nice enough to let Brad know that Big White received close to 2’ of snow the night before! The great thing about plans, they are meant to be broken.
Big White Ski Resort is less than 65km from the Kelowna airport, South on highway 33. We wanted our first day of this adventure to be more of a warm-up - we didn’t want to push ourselves too hard but when we got there the sign told us “46 cm in the past 24h”. It was game on! It was still storming and visibility was low so we stuck to skiing close to the tree lines as much as possible. Big White is famous for their “snow ghosts”. These are the tops of trees that have been encrusted in snow. The snow ghosts seem harmless enough until I caught my ski tip on one while trying to straddle it. I found myself tangled and inverted waiting helplessly until a passing snowboarder kindly stopped and flipped my ski loose for me.
The powder skiing was unbelievable. We couldn’t have asked for a better kick-off to our trip. Big White is a great family resort with many ski-in and ski-out options. The resort is part of the Monashee mountain range and averages over 24 feet of snow a year. We were lucky enough to have a friend who put us up in his “cabin”. What made this arrangement even better is that our friend, John Mooney, is like the unofficial mayor of Big White. He and his partner Anna run an amazing pizza shop, coffee shop and a fine dining restaurant, 6-degree bistro all at the base of the mountain. After an unforgettable day of skiing, John treated us to an amazing multi-course meal with carefully selected wine-pairings with each course. Big White is worth the visit just to eat at this restaurant.
Red Mountain Resort
Crowsnest Highway and Strawberry Pass are a couple of the names you will come across when making the 350km drive from Big White to Rossland, BC. Snow tires are mandatory for a trip like this as the road conditions can get treacherous at times. It’s always advisable to check road conditions and traffic cameras before heading off down the highway (www.drivebc.ca). Red Mountain Resort is located on the edge of Rossland, BC. Rossland’s history dates to the gold rush era so I’m not sure if it’s because I grew up in a small mining town myself, or the amazing ski vibe you feel there nestled in the Monashee Mountains, but for some reason, I feel at home here. No visit to Rossland is complete without a visit to Butch Boutry Ski Shop. Possibly one of the oldest ski shops still operating in Canada, this amazing little shop boasts an amazing linkage to ski racing along with its colourful owner Butch.
Red Mountain Resort is a skier’s mountain. With over 4200 acres of lift-access skiing, you can ski every side of the mountain from the lift. Chasing the sun? No problem, just plan your day to ski whatever side of the mountain the sun is shining on at that time. Red Mountain is where I really learned to love skiing trees. With close to 3000’ of vertical we were able to ski lap after lap of tree runs many times without seeing another skier. The lifts are slow at Red, and thank goodness! With the epic terrain and endless vertical, you need the rest that the lift gives you while on your way back up to make another glorious lap. Remember, there are rarely any lift lines!
If somehow you are still not satisfied with the massive terrain available to you by lift, Red Mountain offers 1 ride Cat Skiing from the top of Grey Mountain. For only $10 you can catch a ride over to the top of Mt. Kirkup to shred some fresh lines that will take you back to the base of the mountain. With an average snowfall of over 300”, Red Mountain Resort is one of my all-time favourite places to ski.
Whitewater Ski Resort
Whitewater Ski Resort is another reason I love Red Mountain so much, situated less than 90 km away from Rossland. Whitewater is an authentic ski mountain that offers you more variety when skiing the Kootenay region. Located on the on the edge of Nelson, BC, Whitewater is at a higher elevation than Red and averages over 40’ of light dry snow every year. You won’t find fancy condos and restaurants at the base of this mountain. What you will find are epic chutes, tree skiing, and bowls all to the backdrop of the most picturesque mountain peaks you will ever see.
We decided to change things up with our visit to Whitewater resort. We hired a guide to take us ski-touring on the back side of the mountain. For only $25 we purchased a 1 ride ski ticket that took us to the top of Silver King lift. From there we attached our skins to the bottom of our skis and “skinned” up the rest of the mountain. Imagine cross-country skiing with downhill skis - we use specialized bindings that release in the back to allow the heel to come up and we attach skins that allow our skis to move in a forward motion without sliding back. As we got closer to the top we reached a section that was too steep to continue skinning so we removed our skis and attached them to our backpack and continued our climb by “boot packing” a knife edge ridge the rest of the way. This climb was not for the faint of heart! It seemed that the mountain disappeared beneath us to our right as we gingerly made our way to the top. Our guide assured us that he hasn’t lost anyone over the edge yet. Once we made it to the top it was time to catch our breath, remove our skins and prepare to ski untracked powder as far as we could see (which wasn’t too far that day as it was still snowing). We spent the day skiing powder laps and finished it off by skiing back into the resort where we celebrated our efforts with a cold beer and great food at the base lodge which sits in the shadow of Ymir Peak. The people here are amazing and the skiing is world class. Whitewater mountain is a mandatory stop for anyone touring the Powder Highway. But be warned, you might not want to leave.
Lussier Hot Springs
Located in Whiteswan Provincial Park, Lussier Hot Springs offered a welcome reprieve on our 4 ½ h drive from Nelson to Panorama. Lussier Hot Springs can be tricky to get to - snow tires, chains, and 4WD are all highly recommended. The Hot Springs are located 17 km off Highway 95 on a windy, sometimes treacherous logging road. The road itself is narrow and absent of any guardrails to protect you from the long falls to the valley floor. There is parking and outhouses available for those visiting the hot springs. We were hoping for a secluded experience where we could quietly enjoy a couple of beers while soaking alone in one of the three natural hot springs that sit just off an icy river. On this day, the hot springs were busy, including a 60 year old hippie from Calgary bathing in the nude with his Chihuahua while smoking some of BC’s finest. The experience was surreal, complete with a visit from “Ranger Rick” forcing our Hippie friend to begrudgingly put his shorts on. I would highly recommend this stop for anyone looking for a recharge during their Powder Highway adventure.
Further up Highway 95 is Panorama Resort. “Pano” is another family friendly resort with many ski-in/ski-out options at the base of the mountain. On this visit, we were fortunate enough to crash at a friend’s who was renting a condo for the season. We only skied 1 day at Pano and it provided us with a variety of skiing. We started the morning skiing some of the highest speed groomer runs that I have ever skied, with over 4000 vertical feet this was fast! We moved over to Taynton bowl later in the morning and were surprised to still find left over untracked powder from the previous day’s snow storm. Panorama Ski Resort, with 3000 skiable acres provides plenty of options for skiers of all abilities.
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort
Golden, British Columbia - home to one of the most picturesque mountains on the Powder Highway. Boasting 4,133 ft of vertical and more than 2,800 acres of skiable terrain, it’s the 120 plus inbound chutes that make Kicking Horse Mountain Resort a must stop for any advanced skier. Love this mountain! We started our day with a ride up the Gondola followed by a short hike to Terminator Peak at an elevation of 7900’. The T1 South Ridge exposes you to a series of steep shoots that often carry powder days after the last snow fall. We continued our day with another hike over to the Terminator 2 Peak. We found ourselves drawn to untracked powder beyond the ski resort limits. This is not advisable! While we did get a few great turns in, it was followed by an exhausting hike out. We unnecessarily put ourselves at risk here - there is an abundance of excellent inbound terrain. One of my ski partners found himself in a tree well, we quickly pulled him out and there was no harm done - but this served as a stern warning to us.
Revelstoke Mountain Resort
The drive from Kicking Horse to Revelstoke takes approximately 2 hours and brings you through Rogers Pass (more on that later). Revelstoke Mountain Resort is one of my favorite ski areas. It doesn’t hurt that it is host to North America’s greatest vertical at 5620 ft. The first time I visited Revelstoke Mountain I was reading a ski magazine on the flight out. The writer wrote “..The 3 biggest complaints about Revelstoke are the runs are too long, the lines are too short and there is too much snow.” You don’t understand that statement until you ski the mountain. The runs are steep from top to bottom, you rarely wait in lift lines and the snow can be epic. Bring your A game and buckle up for an amazing ski experience. If you like skiing the trees this mountain is perfect for you. With an average of 40-60‘ of snow a year, glade skiing is often the best option. Revelstoke has over 3,121 acres of skiing and again offers a variety of slack country options. I have a familiarity now with “Revi” so skiing here is like coming home.
Conveniently located between Golden and Revelstoke, Rogers Pass in the Selkirk Mountains is often considered the ski touring capital of Canada. We decided to hire a guide from Capow guiding to take us up to the pass for the day. We met our guide bright and early at a local coffee shop where we stocked up on caffeine and snacks. The drive to the pass is less than an hour from Revi (depending on weather). There is a large parking lot at the summit of the pass that also services the Rogers Pass Discovery Centre. Rogers Pass is located inside of Glacier National Park so a park pass is required for your vehicle which is available for purchase in the discovery centre. This is also a great place to get information as well as up-to-date avalanche conditions. Touring Rogers pass isn’t for the uninitiated. The terrain can be complex with varying avalanche conditions, difficult glaciated ascents and steep skiing. There is terrain available for an intermediate skier but if you don’t have extensive back country experience don’t attempt this without a guide. Ski touring Rogers Pass was the highlight of this trip for me. We started at the Balu Pass Trailhead (elevation 1315m) then followed the Connaught Creek to Balu Pass (elev 2070m). This was approximately a 4km approach, I quickly developed blisters on my heels that didn’t slow us down after a quick duct tape repair. This approach challenged my fitness level, but the breathtaking views and the silence of the back country made this a spectacular day. The approach also exposed us to dangerous slide paths aptly named “frequent flyer” and “grizzly bowl slidepath”. I was thankful for our experienced guide Ali who took all the necessary precautions to limit our exposure during this trip. We did a quick warm up run down the Balu Headwall and were treated to champagne powder. We climbed back up the Balu Headwall and continued our hike up the west ridge of 8812 Peak to 2235m. The stoke level was high. After a quick mountain lunch, we skied into 8812 bowl and back to the trailhead. It’s difficult to describe the feeling of being in the mountains under your own power. The expansiveness and beauty is breathtaking. You don’t hear chair-lifts or other skiers, it’s just you, your partners and the mountain. It doesn’t get better than that.
Eagle Pass Heli Skiing
The Village Idiot, beers and heli-skiing. I wonder if the name of my favorite ski-town bar was born from the idiot plans that were hatched over beers inside of this establishment. Our plan was simple, walk across the street and see if we can get in on a day of heli-skiing. As luck would have it, they had a cancellation and room for our group. After much deliberation, the decision was made to end this trip with a bang. I have a bit of experience with heli-skiing having over 30 flights including a visit with Eagle Pass once before. Based on this experience I was skeptical that we were going to be able to fly as the skies were dark on this morning. When we arrived at the day lodge for Eagle Pass there was some discussion around the weather but we continued with the day’s preparations in case there was a window to fly. The staff at Eagle Pass are terrific and the pilots are world class. We could fly that day but were limited to lower alpine tree skiing because of the weather. It was amazing to experience this day with my friends who were heli-skiing for the first time. The skiing was terrific and Eagle Pass is a first-class operation. They provided us with an amazing mountain lunch complete with warm soup. The day ended with beer and laughs back at their day lodge. What a perfect end to our Powder Highway adventure.