photo by BRUNO LONG COURTESY OF KOOTENAY ROCKIES TOURISM
Set against a stunning backdrop of the peaks and valleys that form the Kootenay Rockies, the legendary Powder Highway circuit is a 630 mile drive. And, oh what you get along the way: eight alpine ski resorts filled with champagne powder and a cornucopia of terrain diversity with more backcountry helicopter, snowcat, and touring operations than any other region in the world.
Don’t be scared of by how big of that trip sounds. Resort ticket prices are far lower here than in the states. Plus, the exchange rate currently favors the U.S. dollar, so you’ll pay half—yes, half—of what you’ll pay back home for lift tickets.
If you can’t take a month away from work to properly enjoy a few days at each resort, pick three or four (we suggest Fernie Alpine Resort, Panorama Mountain Resort, and Kicking Horse Mountain Resort) and spend a week on part of the loop. Here’s our inside take on each stop.
Fernie Alpine Resort (skifernie.com) offers everything from family-friendly fun with powder-bowl skiing to come-to-Jesus inspiring chutes like the “Corner Pocket,” which requires a backwards, rope-aided lower to gain entry to its floaty passage. Five vast, glorious alpine bowls spill down from the serrated limestone backbone of the Lizard Range. A 3,550-foot vertical drop complements the 2,500 acres of fresh-snow paradise.
Fernie is the only city in British Columbia that is completely encircled by the Canadian Rockies. It’s an authentic mountain town complete with turn-of-the-century buildings, engaging history, and a captivating setting. Don’t miss a stop at the legendary Griz Bar. The locals may encourage you to partake in the naked slip ‘n’ slide shenanigans atop the bar’s well-varnished extra long table, though, so proceed with caution.
At Panorama Mountain Resort, (panoramaresort.com) you’ll find a powder playground spanning nearly 3,000 acres with a 4,000-foot vertical rise. The expansive terrain may leave you wondering if you have the place to yourself. The longest run, Never Never Land, is three-and-a-half-miles long in the Taynton Bowl, a former heli-skiing-only area that is now an avalanche-controlled in-bounds area popular with expert skiers. First-timers and families will appreciate the Discovery Zone area that caters to double-green circle skiers and snowboarders.
High Alpine dining at Panorama’s Elkhorn Cabin includes Swiss raclette and a host of British Columbia craft beers and liqueurs. This summit hut may offer you the best view you’ll ever have with your lunch.
If you’re more of a crack-of-noon skier than a first tracks person, you’re in luck, Panorama also offers night skiing. You can ride the Mile 1 high-speed chairlift to lap the mile-long run after the sun sets.
Warning: Attempting to ski in a “snake” formation with your group after dark (with the aid of a dodgey headlamp) after indulging in a specialty drinks at the Elkhorn Cabin is dangerous. And ridiculously fun.
If the steep-and-deep terrain calls to you, head to Kicking Horse Mountain Resort (kickinghorseresort.com) in Golden, British Columbia. Three hours west of Calgary, you’ll find the “Champagne Powder Capital of Canada,” which has unparalleled access to chutes you won’t believe are in-bounds. You can hire a Big Mountain Guide to show you where the good stuff is and how to get there. At 4,133 feet, Kicking Horse has the fourth-highest vertical drop in North America with 120 runs and 85 marked inbounds chutes. If you stand up real tall at the Blue Heaven Peak you’ll get a view of six National Parks.
Apres ski, dine at Eagle’s Eye Restaurant, perched at 7,700 feet. Considered the crown jewel of resort dining in Canada, this is a truly unique experience. Overachievers can rent out the place and stay the night at the two-room suite upstairs. Take a helicopter to the summit, have the mountain to yourself all night, and enjoy first tracks the next morning. Doesn’t that sound nice? This opportunity isn’t on the menu, though—you just have to know about it. You’re welcome.
Melissa McGibbon is an editor for Outdoor Sports Guide, a Lolë Women Ambassador, and a member of the Society of American Travel Writers.