If you want your skiing steep, deep, and powdery, forget the oft-visited, rain-drenched ski runs of Whistler and head east into the frosty splendor of Kicking Horse, Canada’s coolest ski resort
NEED TO KNOW
LOCATION Kicking Horse is set amid high mountains and forests above the Columbia River Valley and the town of Golden in southeastern British Columbia
SKIABLE AREA 4 sq miles (11 sq km) SEASON Dec–Apr
ACCESSIBILITY Roads are well maintained, although access may be difficult in snowy conditions
For years, Whistler has been the big boy of the Canadian ski scene, and with its hosting of the 2010 Winter Olympics, that situation is unlikely to change soon. Yet, on the opposite side of British Columbia (BC), there is a far smaller resort which proves that big isn’t necessarily best.
Kicking Horse, in the Canadian Rockies, has skiing that will challenge the very best, is surrounded by classic mountain wilderness and, to top it all, even has the finest mountain restaurant in Canada, when you need a break from the action. You can sit in said Eagle’s Eye Restaurant at a height of 7,700 ft (2,350 m), gaze out across the snow-draped Selkirk, Purcell, Kootenay, and Rocky Mountain ranges and wonder about all the fuss over the big guy to the west.
Whistler may have vast amounts of terrain and the famous big vertical, but who wants to ski if it’s raining on the lower slopes and draped in clouds on the upper slopes? Kicking Horse is the skier’s ski resort – the focus is on those wanting to push themselves on challenging terrain, where the skiing comes first and everything else, from nightlife to ease of access, is secondary. And, because of its ideal location, you often get the light, dry snowfall referred to as “champagne powder,” which is great for skiing.
Just getting here is a mini adventure in itself – the spectacular drive from Calgary takes you through the kind of scenery that was made for
Mounties and grizzly bears. The resort’s satellite town of Golden may not live up to its name, but it is a utilitarian blue-collar logging town that is far removed from the glamor that defines much of Whistler (so much the better, some might say).
The real gold however, lies 7 miles (11 km) uphill from Golden, where Kicking Horse’s small selection of recently built hotels, bars, and restaurants greets you, and the powder-white bulks of the 8,035-ft (2,450-m) Blue Heaven and 7,900-ft (2,410-m) Terminator Peak loom above.
From these radiate a series of ridges from which deep chutes descend, attracting keen skiers from all over the world. Almost every run off the two main ridges, CPR and Redemption, is a double black diamond and the exciting descents that they offer take you into snowy bowls, where a good, hard turn will see the powder arcing over your shoulder into a long, dry plume that hangs in the air for several seconds after you’ve passed by.
Who wouldn’t travel to the other side of British Columbia for all that?
THE BUILD-UP Huge vertical, a massive off-piste area, great lift system and buzzing nightlife make Whistler one of the world’s most popular ski resorts – you’ll literally encounter skiers and boarders from every corner of the globe on the resort’s slopes.
THE LETDOWN Being so popular means it’s often busy on the lifts, on the slopes, and in the bars and restaurants. So if you like peace and quiet, this may not be for you. Whistler is located relatively close to the Pacific Coast, which means the frequent snowfalls here can be heavy in every sense of the word. While bluebird days and powder are not uncommon, you may also spend day after day under leaden skies and maybe even rain.
GOING ANYWAY? Travel outside peak holiday periods to avoid the crowds; plan for alternative activities, should the weather turn bad. Fortunately, Whistler has heaps of options.
Getting There and Around
The nearest international airport is at Calgary, about a 3-hour drive to Golden. Shuttle services from the airport to the resort are also available. The road is well maintained but the drive may be difficult in heavy snow.
Where to Eat
The dining is just adequate, except at Eagle’s Eye Restaurant
Located at the mountaintop and only accessible via the Golden Eagle Express Gondola, this is an absolute must for its sensational locally produced food and magnificent views.
Where to Stay
The award-winning Copper Lodge is boutique hotel accommodations at its best, and it’s just a short walk from the Golden Eagle Express Gondola.
When to Go
The season runs Dec–Apr. Skiing is possible before and after the “official” season, but there will be no lift access.
Budget per Day for Two
US$280 including food, lift pass, ski rentals, and lessons.