On our first day, British Columbia delivers exactly what we came for. We find ourselves slashing fast arcs through sun-splashed powder in a ghost forest of charred spruces. It’s a typical day at Rossland’s Big Red Cats—fun people, gorgeous Monashee Mountain views, a few inches of overnight freshness atop a deep snowpack. And it’s an auspicious start to our Powder Highway mission.
With eight resorts and 25 heli and cat outfits, the Highway, a 680-mile circuit tracing a roughly rectangular shape through the interior ranges of southeastern B.C., is sometimes more highway than powder. Unless you have a winter to burn, it needs to be attacked in sections. Many start in Calgary, plunging westward through Banff to Kicking Horse and Revelstoke on the north side of the box. Others fly to Cranbrook and work the east side: Fernie, Kimberley, Panorama. On this trip, we rally in Spokane—four mature, good-looking guys—and head for the west side. Judging by reported snowfall totals, we’ll hit the Highway’s snowiest sections. At the same time, we’ll connect three of B.C.’s coolest ski towns:
Rossland»There’s industrial smelting in nearby Trail, but Rossland, two hours’ drive from Spokane, is a cute and quiet mountain town with magnificent skiing. Red Mountain is one of Canada’s most historic resorts (home of Nancy Greene, host of early World Cups), and its Granite Mountain terrain challenges the most demanding experts. Stuff that would be roped off at other mountains just makes the local kids tough. Liftlines do not exist. From the summit ridge, countless crazy-steep lines descend through cliffy forests. Efficient traverses lead quickly back to the lift. We hit Rossland’s famous Flying Steamshovel for beers that night, but we’re too tired to get anything going.
Nelson» Do the people living in this beautiful mountain-lake town pinch themselves daily? Mining and lumber barons built the fine historic buildings, but today it’s artsy, outdoorsy people who shape Nelson’s sensibilities. (Still, the girl skinny-dipping in broad daylight at the waterfront surprises us.) Whitewater, 25 minutes away, is the biggest little locals’ hill you ever saw, especially since the Glory Ridge expansion. The snow is so deep they have to dig out the lift towers.
Revelstoke» Logging, hydro, and tourism coexist peacefully in this mountain-rimmed Columbia River crossroads. In the morning, vanfuls of CMH and Selkirk Tangiers clients drive to helicopter landing zones. Guests at Revelstoke Mountain Resort emerge from sleek slopeside lodgings to tackle the continent’s highest lift-served vertical. At night, everyone mingles loudly in the streets, bars, and bowling alleys of downtown Revy.
A laid-back vibe permeates all three towns. The other common denominator: reliably deep snow. During the seven-hour drive back to Spokane, there’s plenty of time to reflect. And to plan next year’s attack. Fernie, perhaps?