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What makes a ski vacation in British Columbia so amazing? Let’s start with the basics: reliable snowfall, dazzling panoramic views, and a sense that you, as its treasured guest, come first.
But there’s more to it than that. If you prize discoveries like small town businesses owned by a husband and wife team (when they’re not raising three little rippers) and getting tips from ski instructors who regularly shuttle from B.C. to New Zealand as the seasons dictate, then you’ll love Whitewater Ski Resort, RED Mountain Resort, and Mount Washington Alpine Resort.
At these three lesser-known resorts, you’ll likely meet eccentric folk who have found their way to hidden folds in the B.C. mountains primarily to ski deep powder and build a life in a less hectic world. Like donning yellow-lens goggles on a snowy day, this piece should give you a better view of what skiing in Canada is really like.
Snow like you’ve never experienced before
Whitewater and RED are in B.C.’s Kootenay Rockies region, not far from the American border. Mount Washington is on central Vancouver Island, three hours north of Victoria but just outside the regional airport of Courtenay and Comox. Though they may differ in location, these three resorts share one thing in common: abundant snowfall.
Whitewater depends 100 percent on Mother Nature to supply the moisture, meaning you’re guaranteed fresh, natural powder on its slopes. It packs tremendous variety into a relatively modest 2,044 feet of vertical. The stately pyramid of Mount Ymir towers over the resort, which sees over 40 feet of snow annually—most of it diamond dust powder.
Long a favorite of “glade warriors” who seek powder from its innumerable tree lines, RED is one of those resorts where you might end up inadvertently falling asleep around dinnertime because your legs are so thrashed (an old version of their trail map used to list triple-black diamond runs).
From the south and west, low pressure systems strike Vancouver Island’s highest mountain chain, dumping copious amounts of “snowball sticky” snow that Mount Washington’s ski operators prize for its ability to pile up quickly, especially in the early season.
Views that go from here to eternity
Of course, skiers don’t want it to snow all the time. They want a place to reconnect with nature and to embrace a view that Instagram could never capture. The dazzling summit view from Mount Washington combines the deep-blue ocean water of the Strait of Georgia with snow-covered peaks and the glaciers of B.C.’s Coast Mountains.
RED and Whitewater are both located in the southern Selkirk Mountains, part of the vast watershed that drains the mighty Columbia River. The topography here ranges from craggy peaks to rounded, forest-covered hills. At RED, you can peer straight over the 49 parallel and into the U.S. where you’ll see… more mountains!
Towns with good vibrations
Historically, most communities in B.C. had a small ski hill that was owned and operated by the local townsfolk. Today, this means the communities surrounding B.C.’s best resorts are quaint, friendly, and authentically Canadian.
In 1897, Western Canada’s first ski competition was held in the mining town of Rossland, which is now home to RED Mountain Resort. While the mines have long since shut down, Rossland itself is a true ski town. Olympic champion Nancy Greene Raine, Canada’s Female Athlete of the 20 Century, grew up taming RED’s fierce slopes!
Located twenty minutes outside of Nelson a town famous for its arts and culture scene and quirky locals, Whitewater Ski Resort isn’t a resort at all, really. There’s no village and no overnight accommodation—there isn’t even cell phone coverage or Wi-Fi, which contributes to the idea that you’re here to ski, not scroll. Whitewater astonishes in other ways, too, particularly with its on-mountain restaurant; its menu of locally-sourced food is so good that it’s been written about in the New York Times.
Over on Vancouver Island, Mount Washington is a truly secluded, authentic place. Until the early 2000s, the access road from nearby Courtenay wasn’t even paved. The resort is a chaotic jumble of old cabins and new condos which often lie hidden by fifteen-foot snowbanks. Snowmobiles or snowshoes are more useful for getting from point A to point B, but much of the accommodation is ski-in and ski-out.
Quirky people, places, and packages
Just how eccentric is the Kootenay region of B.C.? Enough to have its very own high-gloss, award-winning magazine, Kootenay Mountain Culture, that’s largely devoted to showing how weird and wonderful this part of B.C. is. “KMC,” as the locals call it, celebrates not just deep powder snow and single-track mountain bike trails, but local stories (such as the farmers who operate Frisbee golf courses as a side gig).
Kootenay folk are a resilient bunch; but they also love their coffee, craft beer, and international cuisine. Nelson boasts two coffee roasters (one brand, Oso Negro, is sold at specialty grocery stores throughout Canada) and Nelson Brewing Company, which was one of the province’s first small craft breweries. Try the aptly named Faceplant Winter Ale if you know what’s good for you.
RED has successfully bucked the tide of ski resort takeovers. Their innovative “Fight the Man. Own the Mountain” crowdfunding campaign put ownership of the hill into nearly 800 pairs of hands from all over the world, securing its funding for the future and serving as a nod to the community-oriented resort’s roots.
Finally, how’s this for uniquely Canadian? Mount Washington offers a four-day and four-night vacation package that combines skiing and surfing. Enjoy a two-night midweek ski package up on the mountain at either Deer or Bear Lodge and then head to Tofino for a two-night stay at Middle Beach Lodge, situated on 40 acres of secluded west coast ocean front. Experience true Canadian hospitality while taking in an unparalleled view of the winter storms that pulse out of the Pacific.
Plan for Ski Adventure in British Columbia at