It’s time to hit the Powder Highway and explore the Kootenay region of British Columbia.
Think of the ski resorts that populate the Kootenay region of southeastern British Columbia as the antithesis of Whistler-Blackcomb’s mega-resort experience further to the east. The resorts, loosely based around the quaint town of Nelson, are more mom-and-pop than high-end partying and luxe amenities. Here, it’s the skiing that reigns supreme, paired with a handful of good restaurants, dive bars, and easy access into the backcountry via snowcat or—if you’re feeling indulgent—helicopter.
Reaching the region is equally simple. Fly into Spokane and drive north for a few hours over a route that passes through the Canadian border but doesn’t navigate through any treacherous mountain passes, and you’re there, immersed in a snow-choked realm that sits at the start of the famed Powder Highway.
Located in the small town of Rossland, the resort boasts 2,682 skiable acres and 2,919 vertical feet spread across 110 runs with everything from steeps to glade skiing to wide groomers. Only 18% of the terrain is suitable for beginners, and most sit on Granite, the largest of the resort’s three peaks—but you’ll find plenty of runs to turn your novice legs to jelly.
Experts meanwhile can navigate through the tight trees in War Eagle, pick their favorite double-black lines off Granite Mountain, or brave the bumps that run below the main Red Mountain lift, branching to the left off the resort base. Rafters Lounge, which is housed in a 19th-century mining structure, echoes the region’s history while also providing solid après options.
The resort recently added a new quad chairlift, replacing the iconic Summit double-chair built when the resort opened in 1976. Nostalgia be damned—this upgrade makes it far easier to get into the deep stuff, in this, one of the region’s sleepier ski resorts.
They average 40 feet of snow annually, along with a terrain park, and multi-use trails that branch out from the mountain base, perfect for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Nestled on BC’s Selkirk Mountains, the resort has 1,184 acres of skiable terrain, a vertical drop of 2,044 feet, and 81 named runs. They average 40 feet of snow annually, along with a terrain park, and multi-use trails that branch out from the mountain base, perfect for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Experts and beginners don’t get a lot to work with on the established runs—only 11% and 10% respectably. But intermediates and advanced skiers will have a play day, with a total 64 runs. The resort also offers daily shuttle service to cover the 22KM between its base and Nelson.
Fernie Alpine Resort
This southeastern BC resort is the eastern-most resort on the Powder Highway, about 40 miles from Alberta, with a pretty even division of terrain for beginners, intermediates, and advanced skiers across its 2,504 skiable acres. Experts only get 5% of the named runs, but trails through Sierra and Tiber bowls, as well as short burners on the ridge skier’s left off Polar Peak can be lapped with glee. With 3.350 vertical feet and an average annual snow of 37 feet, you’ll get the goods. The resort also has 14KM of Nordic skiing as well as ski-in/out accommodations. The historic town of Fernie lies three miles to the west, with a charming turn-of-the-century downtown and plenty of dining and additional lodging options. Better still, the Greyhound bus runs twice daily between the area and Calgary.
Located in the northeastern region of the famed Powder Highway (which includes a total of seven resorts), Revelstoke is worth the long trip north. With 5,620 feet of vertical, it ranks as the highest vert of any North American resort, with a 3,121-acre footprint and average annual snowfall of 400 inches.
With 5,620 feet of vertical, it ranks as the highest vert of any North American resort, with a 3,121-acre footprint and average annual snowfall of 400 inches.
Skiing from top to bottom is a rite of passage; thankfully two groomed runs, Snow Rodeo and Devil’s Club, make it a bit easier. Want more? Consider hiking for 15 minutes from the top of the Stoke lift and you’ll get a full 6,000 feet of top-to-bottom glee/punishment. This resort has it all, including cliff bands, double-blacks that get choked with powder, and hike-only access to the North Bowl, which accesses some crazy-steep terrain. Thankfully, the resort offers a beginner’s guide for the trepidations.
Valhalla Snowcats and Snowwater Heli-Ski
All this resort skiing will likely whet your appetite to explore the many lines that aren’t lift-accessed. Thankfully, the region provides. Valhalla Powdercats, centrally located between Nelson and Rossland, offers snow-cat access to terrain that’s six times the size of Whistler-Blackcomb, an ideal expanse for seasoned skiers to engage in guided exploration of high-alpine bowls, steeps, old-growth forests, and acres of untracked powder. Day trips include lunch. Or up your game by joining Valhalla’s sister operation Snowwater Heli Skiing.
All this resort skiing will likely whet your appetite to explore the many lines that aren’t lift-accessed.
Take a snow-cat or heli from their pick-up spot just outside of Nelson and spend a few days at their remote complex, a series of guest cabins anchored around a charming, cozy main lodge. And if the weather grounds the birds, their fleet of snowcats will access the backcountry, meaning no lost days due to mother nature. Better still, sign up for the Kootenay Sampler, a seven- to eight-day package that includes skiing at Whitewater, two days with Valhalla Powdercats, and three or four days with Snowwater, along with one down day at Ainsworth Hot Springs. Lodging at Nelson’s Lakeside Prestige Resort is also included for those nights when you’re not in the backcountry, dreaming of big powder turns.