THE FIRST TIME I strapped on a snowboard was in 1989. My first board was a Gnu; it was teal with pink writing and had these white straight-back bindings that didn’t fold down. I rode in knee high Sorel snowboots that were three sizes too big for me; I often came close to popping out of them. I loved it.
I grew up on the North Shore mountains of Vancouver — three of them within easy striking distance of the city. The close proximity was pretty much their only benefit. But this I didn’t realize until I started venturing out and tasting what other mountains had to offer, namely deep, consistent champagne powder. The North Shore mountains will always have a special place in my heart, but they just can’t compare to what I’ve experienced since then.
I’ve grouped together the resorts below by region for easy trip planning.
This mountainous region in southeastern BC is home to the Powder Highway, a collection of alpine, nordic, and backcountry ski areas that enjoy ridiculous amounts of the soft, white stuff.
I’ll start with my local mountain of the last couple years. You might laugh at the fact that Whitewater, located in Nelson, only has three lifts — two doubles, one triple, all slow speed — but you’d be a fool to give this a pass. Actually, I take that back. If you don’t come, that’s more powder for me, right?
The Glory Ridge chair first opened two seasons ago and it more than doubled the amount of ridable terrain. At its best, you will have untracked powder all day, either because of the relatively small amount of people spread over 69 runs, or because it’s snowing so much your tracks will be covered by the time you’re up the lift again. Take note, this is not a great beginner’s mountain as over half the runs are considered advanced. We’d appreciate a nod to Ullr before you came. Thanks.
Just over an hour from Nelson is Rossland, home to Red Mountain and “the birthplace of skiing in Western Canada.” This reviewer was stoked on it:
What a fantastic mountain. Dumped over 50 cm on us in 3 days! Combined with the 52 cm the week before, this was powder bliss. The lifts were slow, but the time was needed to recover for the next thrilling powder ride to the bottom! My 9 year old was shredding the BC the powder was so deep we got [buried] in it just by sitting down.
I had the pleasure of snowboarding here just a couple of weeks ago when I attended Canuck Splitfest in Rogers Pass. Over a full day of riding we didn’t even come close to exploring the whole mountain. It has the “longest lift-served vertical in North America” and is “one of the only resorts in the world to offer lift, cat-, heli- and backcountry skiing from one village base.” Even though they hadn’t received fresh snow in about a week when I was there, we still found some excellent and fun terrain to ride. My legs are aching just thinking about the length of those runs.
Another mountain that has a relatively high proportion of advanced runs (60%), this resort — located near Golden — is big mountain territory. It has 128 runs, including 85 inbound chutes. Did I mention champagne powder yet? One reviewer said:
Kicking Horse is a superb skiing mountain. One of the best I’ve ever seen…Craggy, steep, and intimidating, the Horse is really most suited to expert skiers. The terrain is “super gnarly” to paraphrase one of the locals I was skiing with, ranging from wide open bowls to numerous chutes…to really good tree runs.
Want some experience in the trees but a little sketched out? Kimberley might be the place for you. With four mountain faces to choose from, the resort claims to have the “most gladed terrain in North America,” with recent thinning making it accessible to varying levels of riders.
If you’re looking to up your run count, Fernie — at 142 runs — has the most of any mountain in the Canadian Rockies. And they’re accessible to a wide range of skiers and boarders, with 30%, 40%, and 30% of them dedicated to beginners, intermediates, and advanced skiers, respectively.
The “almost 100 wide runs and long cruisers” make Panorama appealing to beginner and intermediate skiers, which isn’t to say the experts won’t find a home here. Taynton Bowl is steep and deep and used to only be accessible by helicopter. This reviewer, like me with Whitewater, hesitates to spread the word:
Panorama is a great mountain to ski and ride. I hesitate to tell anybody about it, because it’s so [quiet] and lift lines are short. I’m planning my second trip this winter, because the last time I went I told myself I had to come back. Between the friendly staff to the Tayton bowl and everything in between Panorama is the place to go.
I met former NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe here. No joke. It was right after the Patriots won the Superbowl in 2001, when Tom Brady became a superstar. Drew was drinking beer straight from the pitcher. But in his hands, it looked like a pint glass. He’s a big dude.
Apex is located in Penticton. On average, it gets 6 meters (236 inches) of powdery snow every year. From what I remember, it was steep. Apparently my memory is good, based on this review:
It is small, it is quaint, it’s a locals hill 100%, and that is great. The snow quality was super nice, the runs vary from easy cruisers to some of steepest stuff I have ever seen in the world. If you can ride this hill, you can ride anywhere in the world.
Outside of the North Shore mountains, Kelowna’s Big White was always my ski hill of choice when I lived in Vancouver. Even more so than Whistler/Blackcomb. I had my first epic powder days there and always enjoyed the fun terrain (for me, that is glades). It’s very accessible to people of all skill levels, with a breakdown of 18% beginner, 54% intermediate, and 28% advanced. And no, I won’t talk about the hottub party we had one night where we may or may not have all ended up naked.
This mountain, located in Vernon, is home to the alpine and freestyle ski events of BC’s Winter Games (Feb 23-26). It has a ski in/ski out village and provides heli-skiing tours in the Monashee Mountains. This reviewer was a big fan of the village and the snow:
What a village, very relaxing, you feel very safe, the people are so friendly and happy there. There are plenty of activities to enjoy after the sun goes down, such as night skiing, tubing, snowmobiling, etc. very fun place. great for kids. The snow quality is very good, nice dry powder, great tree skiing however there is not much challenging terrain, the double blacks are very soft compared to other resorts.
Growing up in Vancouver I always heard about Mount Washington, located across the water on Vancouver Island near Courtenay. I’d hear about the epic amounts of snow it would get — in fact, it gets, on average, 11 meters (36 feet). The ocean and mountain views from its peak have won it this year’s “Best View” award from Ski Canada Magazine.
122 runs over three mountains gives the visitor to this Kamloops resort a lot of options. Wanna know why it’s called Sun Peaks? It averages over 2000 hours of sunshine a year. Blue bird day! If you really need to get your swing on, you also have the opportunity to do some snowshoe golfing.
I’m sure Whistler Blackcomb doesn’t need much of an introduction. It’s one of the world’s top ski destinations and was home to many of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games events. How’s this for an award: in 2011, it was named in National Geographic’s 10 Best of Everything list as “Best Ski Runs and Lodges.”
Editor’s note: This content was produced in partnership with Kootenay Rockies Tourism.