How to Go Deeper on Your Ski Trip to BC

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A skier hitting the snowy slopes at Sun Peaks Resort | Reuben Krabbe

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“Going deeper” might be the perfect blanket term for the ski milieu. First and foremost, it summons visions of the powder snow that makes skiers and snowboarders go ga-ga. But it also conjures another meaning that goes beyond the sensation of barreling down a snowy slope to the broader sphere of accompanying experiences—exploring the mountain world beyond the pistes, the self-improvement that can help you to do that, the exposure to local cultures and customs that ski travel brings, and a general communing with winter through the unique range of outdoor activities constellating the ski-resort galaxy.

As a ski destination, British Columbia’s calling card has always been to deliver on the deep powder side. Yet in doing so, it has also become one of the best places to go deeper in the other sense: it’s the world capital of both mechanized and non-mechanized backcountry skiing; the top place in Canada for alpine skills development and avalanche instruction; host to a diversity of ski towns that blend both mountain and regional cultures; and a litany of winter activities to rival, well—anywhere. When you’re planning a ski vacation to BC it’s worth considering each of these.

A group of heli-skiers descending in the backcountry near Revelstoke | Blake Jorgenson

Explore Beyond the Resort Boundaries

Stand on the summit of any of BC’s major resorts and you’re greeted by a similar vista: A sea of mountains stretching to the horizon. You know what lies beneath your tips, but what’s out there? Or the next valley over? Unlike many ski areas in the western U.S., in BC it’s surprisingly easy to find out.

Take Revelstoke Mountain Resort (RMR) for instance. Renowned for the most vertical of any North American ski area at 1,713 metres (5,620 feet), RMR features 3,121 acres of terrain, four alpine bowls, and world-famous tree-skiing spread over 75 runs and zones. But the town it rises above is also celebrated for being the oft-cited heli- and cat-skiing capital of the world. A range of operators in both departments are based here but Selkirk Tangiers, an RMR partner, has offered heli-skiing for over 40 years in 500,000 acres of prime Selkirk Mountain terrain that consistently receives 12 to 18 metres (39 to 59 feet) of powder every year. If you want to find out what the word “bottomless” actually means, this is the way to go. Though it boasts its own lodge, K3 Cat Ski is also a good day-ski option, and Great Northern Snowcat Skiing, an hour-and-a-half south that includes a scenic a ferry ride across Arrow Lake, offers deep and delightful removal from the lift-served fray.

If self-powered travel is your thing, Revelstoke Backcountry Guides offers custom small-group ski-touring and split-boarding with IFMGA and ACMG-certified guides in historic Rogers Pass, in remote heli-assisted backcountry terrain, and in the RMR backcountry.

Further south, RED Mountain Resort in Rossland may famously offer 360-degree skiing off of Granite Peak, but it also offers its own inbounds cat-skiing at $10/ride—the best stepping stone imaginable to its backcountry Kootenay neighbour Big Red Cats just down the road. Like many of BC’s resorts, touring out of RED is also bountiful, with four different, easily accessible peaks and custom trips with Summit Mountain Guides.

Steep and deep Kicking Horse Mountain Resort | Ryan Creary

Level Up: Find Your Ski Legs

Backcountry, of course, is a step beyond, and it makes sense to tune-up your skillset before taking that stride. Just over Rogers Pass from Revelstoke is the town of Golden and Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, riddled with high-alpine chutes that host the Freeride World Tour and surrounded by sharp peaks and national parks. Both on- and off-slope experiences at Kicking Horse are exceptional, which is why its TELUS Winter Sports School is dedicated to helping folks get the most out of both the mountain and its Great Beyond.

Whether learning to ride steeps or a quick tour of the goods with a few hot tips for navigating each, there are specialized clinics for anyone who wants to challenge the alpine terrain of the Dogtooth Range. These include Women’s Only powder and big-mountain steeps instruction, the unprecedented expert clinics of Big Mountain Club Sunday’s, and two-day Big Mountain Ski or Snowboard Camps. And if indeed it’s off-piste travel you have your heart set on, Kicking Horse’s Big Mountain Centre offers two-day formal Avalanche Skills Training (AST) courses—the best way to learn how to make safe backcountry decisions.

Après beers at the Village Idiot pub in downtown Revelstoke. | Andrew Strain

Touch the Heart of Mountain Culture

Revelstoke, Golden, and Rossland are all located along BC’s famous “Powder Highway,” a grand, eight-destination circuit looping through the province’s south-central tier. Linking world-class powder skiing both inside and outside of resorts, this asphalt belt also cinches together eight of the funkiest, big-personality ski towns you can imagine, each with its own unique look, feel, customs, and cuisine—a draw for ski bums who call them home and a smorgasbord of cultural offerings for visitors.

One lesser-known stop is laid-back Kimberley, home to Kimberley Alpine Resort, tucked into the southern tier of the Purcell Mountains and regularly visited with—as one wag put it—“fresh powder so light you could stuff pillows with it.” With views of jagged, mineral-streaked peaks that conjure its mining history, today’s village is quirky and quaint with Canuck charm, hosting an abundance of good food, craft beverages (think: Grist and Mash Brewery, Bootleg Spirits, and Over Time Beer Works), and diverse boutique shops and galleries. The Sullivan mine, where lead, zinc, silver, and tin were extracted for a century, can be visited by unique underground train in summer, but the legacy of a worldly mining centre lingers through winter as well.

 

While vibrant and outdoorsy, Kimberley also bears an endearing gingerbread, Bavarian-inspired architecture, including Canada’s largest freestanding cuckoo clock; insert a coin and Happy Hans, a mustachioed character clad in lederhosen and clutching a beer stein, emerges (replace the lederhosen with GORE-TEX and Hans wouldn’t be far off the après characters you might meet at the ski hill’s Stemwinder Bar & Grill). On the mountain, try out a truly local tradition on select days—night skiing. After a few runs off the North Star Quad, find your way to “Kootenay Haus,” a warm-up hut with designated daytime hours.

Outdoor ice skating rink at SilverStar Mountain Resort | Blake Jorgenson

Enjoy Snowy Adventures, On and Off the Slopes

While Kimberley also abounds in companion winter activities, other resorts are renowned for their multifarious offerings. As befits BC’s ski diversity, Sun Peaks Resort near Kamloops in BC’s Interior, and SilverStar Mountain Resort in the Okanagan Valley’s midsection outside Vernon, are as different as two mountains can be, yet have some things in common: They’re both great ski-in/ski-out destinations whose villages one can slide right through. While roomy, consistent skiing remains a central draw (and a blessing in pandemic times), Sun Peaks offers oodles of other activities, from dog-sledding to horse-drawn sleigh rides, backcountry tours and avalanche training, fat biking, guided ice fishing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, ice skating, and cross-country skiing. There’s also the chance to engage with history by skiing with Canadian Olympic doyenne Nancy Greene Raine, who lives there year-round and can be found on the slopes most days.

Likewise, SilverStar over-delivers on the activity front with access to Canada’s largest groomed-daily cross-country ski network (105 km or 65 mi), ice skating, hockey, snowshoeing, tubing, night skiing, horse-drawn sleigh rides, snowcat and snowmobile tours, mini-snowmobiles for the kids, art and history showcases, and even intimate snowcat dinner tours to the backside, Putnam Creek.

One thing’s for sure, going deeper at any of BC’s ski resorts means never wanting for things to do. And it all comes with the fluffy bonus that this discussion started with: If you’re at any one of these more than a few days, chances are it’s going to snow—and that’s as deep as it gets.

Revelstoke Mountain Resort | Andrew Strain

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