Powder, Steeps, and Trees: Next-Level Skiing in BC

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When cameras follow professional skier and The North Face athlete Christina Lustenberger tipping her skis off a precipitous BC wilderness summit, flowing down a knife-edge ridge, vaulting over a cliff, sluicing through billowing powder then bounding down snow-capped boulders through the forest, the first thought that comes to most minds is not “I totally can do that same thing. For sure. No problem!”

But the mountains and terrain that shaped Lustenberger into the extraordinary skier she is today are equal opportunity skill builders. Whether the next step in your skiing or snowboarding progression is making a first descent in the wilds or linking turns in boot-top powder, British Columbia is the place to level up. From powder to steeps to trees, from on-piste to off-piste to backcountry, the big mountains of BC naturally build better skiers and boarders. It’s all a matter of knowing where to go.

Panorama Mountain Resort | Kari Medig

Panorama: Gateway to Big-Mountain Skiing

Panorama Mountain Resort is where Lustenberger grew up skiing—and an ideal place to start taking on-mountain skills to the next level.

Dry snow and 1,300 vertical metres (4,265 vertical feet) of manicured avenues set the stage. Between the pistes, glading delivers a tree-skiing learner’s bonanza. “There’s a freedom in there, but the right sense of exhilaration,” says Jason Simpson, Panorama’s Director of Mountain Sports. “And there’s lots of opportunity to move off the runs into the trees and then back again.”

Taynton Bowl’s 304-hectare (750-acre) expanse is the place to step up to steeps. “It shows all double black on the map but there are ways to access it that feel very blue,” Simpson says. Plus boosts from a snowcat cost just $15 per ride.

Near Panorama’s base is RK Heliski—a great entry point into the most coveted of BC’s signature snowsports experiences, helicopter skiing. RK Heliski has been providing powder skiing and snowboarding adventures for more than 50 years; offerings include single-day experiences appropriate for first-timers (30 per cent of RK Heliski’s customer base). Those wanting more focused preparation can take a Prep lesson at Panorama Mountain Resort before undertaking a heli adventure with RK Heliski.

Fernie Alpine Resort | Dave Heath

Fernie: Big Bowls, Deep Powder

Fernie Alpine Resort is the stuff of powder legend. Five big bowls divided by skiable, forested ridgelines fill with snowfalls that regularly defy meteorologist’s predictions. “We call it the Fernie Factor,” says Kathy Murray, founder of Fernie’s Steep & Deep programs. “We get these amazing snowfalls, and it can happen very randomly.”

Whether the powder is ankle or waist deep, exploring with locals (like Murray’s team, or the guides of First Tracks) is a game-changer. “Fernie has 100 runs but 1,000 lines,” Murray says. “There are all these hidden pockets.”

Dylan Siggers, a Fernie-grown pro skier and action filmmaker, says the natural lay of the land fosters progression. “The way the bowls wrap, you move over slightly and the bowl ramps a bit steeper, then a bit steeper,” Siggers says. “You can get yourself into some gnarly terrain, but it is fun and playful.”

RED Mountain Resort | Ryan Flett

RED: Steep Trees and Snowcats

RED Mountain Resort in Rossland excels at terrain for the adventurous—including steep skiing through tight trees, moguls mixed with steeps and trees, and in-bounds cliff bands and drops mixed with (you guessed it) steeps and trees. “If you can ski RED, you can ski anywhere,” says Kirsty Exner, a Rossland-raised former competitor on the Freeskiing World Tour.

For a mellower adventure, hand 10 dollars to the snowcat driver atop Grey Mountain for a ride to RED’s fourth peak, Mt. Kirkup, where 81 hectares (200 acres) of user-friendly gladed powder skiing feels like a backcountry experience but lies entirely within ski area boundaries.

For real cat-skiing, walk a few strides from RED’s day lodge to the office of Big Red Cats. Like heli-skiing, accessing the powdery wilds by snowcat is a coveted and signature BC experience. Big Red is the largest snowcat operation anywhere—and the only one to offer both single-day cat-skiing and separate snowcats geared to different powder ability levels, from intermediate to “uber expert.”

Whitewater Ski Resort | Kari Medig

Whitewater: Cold Smoke and Ski Touring

Whitewater Ski Resort is a day ski area with a destination following. Like RED, the ski area itself is located below treeline, with pitched tree skiing and pop-to-drop action. But like Fernie, Whitewater also occupies its own microclimate that dishes big, frequent helpings of fresh, dry snow. Really big helpings.

“People think of cold smoke as being this fictitious thing,” says Colby Lehman, Whitewater’s Outdoor Operations Manager. “But it’s dry and so deep that you actually draw it into your lungs. I’ve had days where I have my face buried in my jacket and I am just waiting to get to a spot where I can take a breath.”

Whitewater also is renowned for ski touring and split-boarding. Wilderness peaks high above treeline can be reached in as little as 45 minutes from the resort’s crest—and that’s only the start. “Our terrain is a big conduit into the backcountry,” Lehman says.

Whitewater embraces this role with initiatives focused on education, safety, and inclusivity. Courses range from single-day backcountry fundamentals to multi-day immersions in avalanche skills, route finding, and rescue. A free beacon training park allows groups to practise before heading out for adventure. And ski patrol’s open-door policy encourages dialogue and information exchange.

“We’ve never had an intimidating environment or an elitist approach to entering the backcountry,” Lehman says. “We take people under our wings.”

Kicking Horse Mountain Resort | Nick Nault

Kicking Horse: Steep Couloirs and Hidden Basins

Big-mountain freeskiing gets a giant step wilder at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, known for its champagne snow, beautiful views, and dozens upon dozens of radical alpine chutes. Located near the town of Golden, the mountain rises well into the high alpine, where ridgelines separate five bowls. The bowls themselves are open playgrounds. The ridges are the realm of technical steeps.

These steeps include ramps and chutes newcomers can readily finesse, particularly with tactical guidance from the coaches of the Big Mountain Centre or Girls Do Ski. But there also are chutes pitching 50 degrees, studded with occasional cliff bands requiring mandatory air.

For powder lovers more into burning kcals than hucking cliffs, Kicking Horse has a secret stash. Three of the mountain’s five in-bounds peaks can be reached only by boot hikes, which means the fresh snowfall stays untracked for days.

Meanwhile, a helicopter lifts guests out of the ski area’s parking lot. Purcell Heli-Skiing offers single-day heli-ski packages—and dedicates its helicopter and guides to just six skiers and boarders total per day, ensuring a white glove experience attuned to the skill and comfort level of the group.

Christina Lustenberger at Revelstoke Mountain Resort | Solos Productions

Revelstoke: Big Vertical, Big Powder, Big Trees

Revelstoke Mountain Resort is the mountain Christina Lustenberger now calls home. Its big 1,713 vertical metres (5,620 feet) make it the tallest lift-served ski area in North America. Top-to-bottom grooming (and the brand new Stellar Chair) give mid-level and on-piste skiers plenty of action (and leg burn), but Revelstoke’s true strength is off-piste.

Glading throughout the mountain’s temperate rainforest has created expanses of tree skiing for different skill levels. Normal mortals wanting to take things up a notch can dip in and out. Pros like Lustenberger can go deep, sluicing through billowing powder, vaulting over the occasional cliff band, and bounding down those wild snow-capped boulders through steep woods.

Either way, frequent snowfall means Revelstoke’s hybrid powder—a ski-like-a-hero mix of coastal and Rockies snow crystals—is a regular part of the experience. Try First Tracks for just $49 to get it while it’s freshest, or saunter to the lifts after the morning frenzy passes and still find plenty of untracked snow in the woods.

Whistler Blackcomb | Randy Lincks

Whistler: Everything, All the Time

Whistler Blackcomb is the place to put it all together. From its expanse of high-alpine basins studded with ridgelines, couloirs, and glaciers to its mid-mountain trees and lower mountain cruisers, North America’s biggest mountain playground has every type of next-level skiing and snowboarding in spades. Ride long enough at Whistler Blackcomb and you’ll naturally become a strong, capable skier who can manage any terrain and any snow at any mountain in the world.

Or, you can strategically accelerate your learning pace: Hone mogul skills and overall ski agility with Olympian John Smart’s Momentum clinics. Step up your big-picture all-mountain abilities with The Camp. Find and navigate the best in-bounds off-piste steeps with the expert freeride coaches of Extremely Canadian. Skin into the backcountry or get a decadent lift from a helicopter. You’ll definitely level up—and have big BC fun in the process.

Header video: Christina Lustenberger skiing at Panorama Mountain Resort

Header image: Revelstoke Mountain Resort | Andrew Strain

POSTED BY: Susan Reifer Ryan

Susan Reifer Ryan has always led a dual life while working as an editor and writer—half in Los Angeles, and half in the mountains. She began her journalism career in the early 1990s covering sports, culture, and information technology before breaking into national U.S. magazines penning Hollywood celebrity profiles, then shifting to coverage of travel, adventure, skiing, and mountain life. These days her writing spans a broad spectrum—but she remains one of North America’s leading authorities on smart ski-related travel around the globe, and is the executive editor of Modern Interest Media’s SkiTravelGo.com, a guide to experiencing the best of mountain destinations worldwide.

Revelstoke Mountain Resort in the Selkirks | Andrew Strain

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