On this tour of whispered-about, endless-winter ski areas, you'll encounter no-quit mountain scenery, glitz and modernity at some resorts, creaking vintage chairlifts at others, and - the clincher - lineup-free, dry powder everywhere you go.
This trip can be done in 12 days - though we're not recommending you rush it - on the truly wild assumption of dry roads from beginning to end. At that pace, it is equally exhausting and exhilarating, in the same way a great powder day can turn giddy laughter in the morning into desire for only a hot tub by late afternoon.
For convenience and frugality, rent an RV in Vancouver (that way, there's no packing and unpacking, only constant mess). For comfort, rent a four-wheel-drive SUV and stay at ski-in/ski-out destinations.
This itinerary isn't for posers or the faint of heart. Survival means no clubbing: ski, après-ski, hot tub, dinner, good night's sleep and then hit the road, Jack. For who knows when you'll next be back.
Day 1 SUN PEAKS
Start from Vancouver with a four-hour drive east along the Trans-Canada to Kamloops. Veer north along a mildly curved road and you'll find a ski village painted in rich southwestern pastels, surrounded by three mountain peaks. Families easily spend a week skiing Sun Peaks but for this particular trip, it's the equivalent of a warm-up run. On many Saturdays, the Olympic champion, Senator Nancy Greene, will lead a tour of the resort, so start on the groomed runs of Sundance Mountain, finish the morning on Tod Mountain, grab lunch at Café Soleil in the Village Day Lodge, meet up with Ms. Greene at 1 p.m., then spend the rest of the day skiing the glades of sun-kissed Mount Morrisey.
Sun Peaks is an uncrowded Whistler alternative with six metres of comparatively dry powder annually, tons of sunshine and all the creature comforts … but little of the majesty. And, unlike Whistler, all chairs here provide access to a range of green, blue and black. From the top of Tod, for example, advanced skiers can catch powder or moguls in bowls and finish their runs scooting around Lodgepole Pine and spruce trees, while cruisers can opt to schuss down a groomed slope and meet at the bottom..
Après: Bottom's Bar and Grill in the Coast Sundance Lodge
Eat: Bella Italia in the Hearthstone Lodge
Sleep: Cahilty Lodge (www.cahiltylodge.com)
Lift ticket: $71
Snowfall: 559 cm
Vertical: 881 metres
Terrain: 3,678 acres
Day 2 SILVER STAR
Doubling back through Kamloops, we're driving south through hillside ranches toward Vernon and Silver Star. The upper Okanagan Valley is transforming into a haven for retirees, wine lovers and recreation enthusiasts. Silver Star's competition for those dollars, most recently in the form of two major housing developments, has rankled environmentalists over the issue of water usage. New residents and visitors alike are lured by the beauty of the semi-arid area, the village with its colourful Victorian-inspired architecture and 700 cm of snowfall annually, much of that dry powder that settles over 115 runs. On a powder day, the Powder Gulch Express and Summit Chair lifts access the Putnam Creek area with a steep, adventuresome back bowl. Recommended runs: Where's Bob, Black Pine and Look for Free Fall. For ski-out, check out an eight-km run to the bottom of the station. Styling? Powder Ridge runs under the Powder Gulch Express.
Après: The Saloon in Vance Creek Hotel
Eat: Bulldog Hotel Grand Café and Bar
Sleep: Pinnacles Suite Hotel
Lift ticket: $71
Snowfall: 700 cm
Vertical: 760 metres
Terrain: 3,065 acres
Day 3 APEX MOUNTAIN RESORT
From Vernon, it takes nearly three hours to crawl through the Kelowna traffic clog and then, along the highway skirting breathtaking Lake Okanagan, to resist stopping at tempting wineries such as Dirty Laundry (named after a house of ill repute above a laundromat in gold-rush days) in Peachland. From Penticton at the south end of the lake, veer west to the area dubbed "best small destination resort" by Ski Canada. Apex presents a small cluster of Old West timber frame-styled architecture in the village and four lifts on the mountain, one high-speed, to access vertical sufficient to have hosted this past year's Nor-Am Downhill and Super-G races. There are bowls to the south, glades in an area called Wild Side, and steep-and-deep runs to the north. Apex attracts mainly locals and Vancouverites with three terrain parks, six metres of annual snowfall, lots of sunshine, an ice climbing tower, outdoor hockey rink and Zamboni-maintained one-km skating loop, and unfettered whoop-and-holler skiing over untracked snow. Freestyle skiers headed to the Vancouver Games are intending to train at Apex in January.
Après: Gunbarrel Saloon
Eat: Lake Breeze Winery ( www.lakebreeze.ca)
Sleep: Apex Mountain Inn ( www.apexmountaininn.com)
Lift Ticket: $60
Snowfall: 600 cm
Vertical: 609 metres
Terrain: 1,112 acres
Day 4 Travel or bonus ski
Day 5 RED MOUNTAIN RESORT
Hold your breath and maybe even pray a little. Better yet, bring chains. Back in Penticton, turn south along the flat Highway 93 past pastoral vineyards such as Noble Ridge and Tinhorn Creek to the town of Osoyoos. Pleasant enough, that drive. Coming out of Osoyoos there's a steep climb eastward to Highway 3, a hint of the long ups-and-downs to come in the Kootenays to get to Rossland. Think of it as driving's equivalent to 10,000 feet of vertical on a ski hill. Blizzard ahead? Wait it out. On the road you'll encounter a mere half-dozen pit stops, the last being Christina Lake before reaching the Highway 3B cutoff. A downhill stretch outside Rossland named after Nancy Greene is your first hint that the toughest drive of this journey is over. Greene and Kerrin-Lee Gartner, both Olympic champions, skied as youths on Red, and if that isn't sufficient hint of the advanced terrain awaiting, know that the Canadian freeskiing championships are held on Mount Roberts, a.k.a. "Robbie." Off either Granite or Red peaks, you'll find acres of open glade skiing through evenly spaced trees, steep chutes and backcountry, too.
Après: Rafters Lounge
Eat: Idgie's Restaurant Sleep: Prestige Mountain Resort ( www.prestigeinn.com/rossland-prestige-hotel.php)
Lift ticket: $64
Snowfall: 750 cm
Vertical: 880 metres
Terrain: 1,685 acres
Day 6 WHITEWATER WINTER RESORT
Less than an hour drive from Red, Nelson became a hippie haven in the 1960s and 70s, a place for draft dodgers to go and for "B.C. bud" to grow. Sloping down to the west arm of Kootenay Lake, the town of 10,000 is home to restored brick heritage buildings, microbrew excellence, a thriving arts community, and one of B.C.'s better summer festivals. Come winter, on legendary powder days, a horde of ski bums makes the 20-minute pilgrimage along Highway 6 and up an intimidating access road. From the parking lot they gaze up an open bowl framed by ridges to the top of 8,000-foot Ymir Peak. There's nothing resort-like about this hill, notably a complete lack of accommodation - cat skiing with lifts is how it's fairly described in a tourism brochure. Two vintage double chairlifts and a handle tow serve a seemingly innocuous 1,300 feet of vertical. But when the snow comes, it falls in heaps. Whitewater is well reputed as a portal to the backcountry, and avalanche awareness courses are offered.
Après: Last Run at Coal Oil Johnny's Pub (on the hill); Mike's Place (in the Hume Hotel)
Eat: All Seasons Café
Sleep: Hume Hotel ( www.humehotel.com)
Lift ticket: $57
Snowfall: 1,200 cm
Vertical: 396 metres
Terrain: 1,180 acres
Day 7 Travel or bonus ski day
Day 8 FERNIE ALPINE RESORT
Claw your hand through a mound of soft clay and you've got a rough idea of the Fernie layout, a series of bowls separated by ridges, all offering fall-line tree skiing and chutes of varying difficulty. Son Ted finally went where I would not go - through one of these rock-strewn skinny chutes, a transformational day in our father-son relationship. For the great majority of advanced skiers with their thighs intact, Fernie is navigable throughout. On powder days, listen to the locals. Mystically attuned to the avalanche-clearing operation, they will move from one bowl (Currie, for wide-open powder, for instance) to another, usually in east to west fashion, to get first tracks. For fall line turns, you can't beat Boomerang Ridge..
Unless you're planning to come back to Fernie via Calgary for a week, you won't regret this detour, which will require a double-back on Highway 3 to reach Kicking Horse. Calgary oil money has transformed Fernie's Old West brick buildings into modern lofts, restaurants and pubs, including one of the best sushi houses east of Vancouver. For a touch of Canadiana, the junior hockey team, the Ghostriders, plays at an old-fashioned barn of an arena downtown.
Après: The Griz
Eat: Yamagoya Japanese Restaurant in Fernie Alpine Lodge
Sleep: Cornerstone Lodge ( www.cornerstonelodge.ca)
Lift ticket: $75.95
Snowfall: 875 cm
Vertical: 857 metres
Terrain: 2,504 acres
Day 9 KICKING HORSE RESORT
Heading north on 97 through the easily navigable Columbia Valley you'll pass turnoffs for Kimberley (beginner/intermediate mountain, glades, lots of sun) and Panorama (groomed cruisers with a back bowl) to reach Golden, a crusty old railway town. Invitingly visible from the valley floor is Kicking Horse in the Dogtooth Range of the Purcell Mountains, reached by an easy 20-minute drive up a snaking road to a modern condo/lodge base village. A young, continually building resort, Kicking Horse offers truly wondrous views from its peak of national parks Jasper, Glacier and Yoho. The Golden Eagle Express gondola traverses an awesome 4,133 feet of vertical -in the spring, that distance can represent a 30-minute, thigh-screaming extravaganza that starts in dry fluff up top and finishes in slush below. No wonder one magazine suggested the resort be nicknamed Charley Horse. The mid-mountain Stairway to Heaven high-speed chair, the way to skip the long haul back to the base, presents steep, rocky chutes off Redemption Ridge, glades off one side and hiking access to Whitewall on the other. Kicking Horse is already well-known for splendid backcountry skiing including three bowls - Bowl Over, Super Bowl and Molar Bowl. Avalanche gear required.
Après: Day Lodge
Eat: Eagle's Eye Restaurant
Sleep: Copper Horse Lodge (www.copperhorselodge.com)
Lift ticket: $73
Snowfall: 800 cm
Vertical: 1,260 metres
Terrain: 2,750 acres
Day 10 Travel or bonus ski day
Day 11 REVELSTOKE MOUNTAIN RESORT
Did you keep the chains? From Golden, Highway 1 takes sightseers through the Rogers Pass and the avalanche territory of Glacier National Park (enough said) to Revelstoke, the city. Revelstoke, the new ski resort, is already known as the next Whistler, only impervious to the wretches of global warming with elevation at the top of the Stoke Chair of 2,225 metres (7,300 feet) and bottom elevation measured at the ski-in, ski-out Nelsen Lodge of 512 metres (1,680 feet), which translates to a whopping 1,713 metres of vertical. Located in prime Selkirk Mountain heli-skiing territory, Mount Mackenzie's annual snowfall ranges between 1,200 and 1,800 cm, or basically an average of a dump a day. Beginner? Well, have fun on the 7 per cent of the mountain set aside for you. Otherwise, there are glades to be discovered in 13 different areas, five bowls (three in designated cat-ski areas) and one run called the Last Spike that goes for 15.2 kilometres (yes, Pierre Berton fans, you read that right). So far, three (one gondola, two high-speed quads) of a planned 20 lifts serve this bounty.
Eat: Woolsey Creek Café
Sleep: Sandman Inn ( www.sandmanhotels.com)
Lift ticket: $74
Snowfall: 1,524 cm
Vertical: 1,713 metres
Terrain: 3,031 acres
Day 12 Back to Vancouver. Sorry.
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