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Our guide to the ultimate winter sports trip
In British Columbia, in deep midwinter, sky-blue and powder-white blend together like watercolours. Goggle-marked and nut-brown skiers bomb knee-deep through banks of fresh snow, talcum mists billowing in their wake. Winter sport lovers pray for snow days every season (some for their entire lives) but on the Powder Highway, a driving route that connects seven ski resorts, you never have to wait longer than a few days for the next perfect snowfall.
The resorts, a mix of loosely-connecting ski areas and mountain towns, are laid out in a roughly circular shape littered with glacial hanging valleys, steep cliffs and rugged peaks – and the roads are just as uncompromising. It is frontier-style geography of the first degree, free of the obsessive neatness that infests Europe.
For the novice, it’s a beautiful region of saw-tooth peaks and mysterious mountain ranges, with names like the Bugaboos, Purcells, Selkirks and Monashees, but for the hardcore, it’s a winter playground. Come nightfall, early morning alarms are set and moonlit skies light up contoured hills and milky-white evergreens. Here are our highlights:
Take the Crowsnest Highway to Red Mountain
Red Mountain feels like a secret. To get to the village from Vancouver takes a dogged eight-hour journey, but it’s worth it: you’ll find yourself on the road to a very special place.
The ski resort, blessed with 4,200 acres of wide-open groomed runs and an average snow-dump of 7.6m, is a triumvirate of mountains – Red, Grey and Granite – each connected by six bare-bone lifts. After an overnight snow fall, unrivalled tree skiing opens up in all directions from the tops, while the resort’s efficient snowcat shuttles skiers up Mt Kirkup into the backcountry for only £6 a run. (And despite holding the claim as BC’s first chair in 1947, it’s still eerily quiet.)
Hit Highway 6 for Whitewater
If Red Mountain is an old-timer, then Whitewater is the free-spirited wild child. It’s a medieval mountain zone on modern resort terms with acres of virgin terrain. There are only three rudimentary lifts, which float like suspended funfair rides above the swathes of evergreens, their bows hung low season-long with dry powder.
To get to the good stuff, buzz out of the frontier lake-town Nelson before breakfast – territory where people rise early and expressions remain fixed on the ridge-lines. Once there, you’ll ski past signs and trails reading Upper Powder Keg, Blasters Ridge and Caution Danger: Unexploded Shells, so don’t come with any other intentions than to ski or board backcountry all week. Piste map? What piste map? Afterwards, celebrate with craft beers from Nelson Brewing Company at Coal Oil Johnny’s Pub, then play punk rock bingo at the Hume Hotel back in downtown.
Follow Highway 1 to Revelstoke
A microcosm of the entire ski bum universe, Revelstoke is home to the largest amount of vertical terrain in North America: it’s the dirty, earthy root of everything the Powder Highway stands for. And while the secret has long been out – 1st Street is populated by dozens of ski outfitters and happy hour beer bars – the town has a newer label as the heli-skiing capital of the world. Here, the muted buzz of choppers overhead is as regular as the morning coffee run.
On the mountain, zip up the Revelation gondola and the quad Stoke chair, then pop off your skis for a hike to North Bowl. With 11 different black diamond-marked routes, most of which are barricaded from the piste by a razor-sharp ridge, it’s a sacred if steep initiation for powder hounds – the deeper your skis bite the snow, the bigger the smile on your face.
Finish up at Kicking Horse
Situated above the former gold-mining town of Golden, Kicking Horse is a sliver of a winter resort hidden along a road strewn with birch and conifers that seem to go on forever.
Once there, and after you’ve taken the Golden Eagle Express cable car from the parking lot, you’ll find Canada’s highest dining experience, the Eagle’s Eye restaurant, along with views that’ll put you in the centre of a life-size snow globe. You can be an avid hater of winter sports and still walk away with your jaw hitting the floor on your way out.
Listening to boarders or bar staff talk about how each resort along the Powder Highway has its own personality and charm – it feels like they are sharing their best secrets with you. You’ll be beyond thrilled if you can join them.
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