The “glasses” at Red Mountain’s first annual Beer Goggles Craft Brew Festival hold only three ounces. Which is, apparently, enough. Keri Bascetta, SKI’s staff photographer, and I are standing around in ski clothes in a party tent on a wood-chipped parking lot with, well, pretty much everyone within a 50-mile radius of the place, drinking tiny beers and laughing our butts off. We are freezing, but we don’t care. Snow has started to accumulate outside—a light dust that coats the plastic tent windows and picnic tables.
We’ve come to check out Grey Mountain, the 1,000 acres of new terrain that Red opened last season, one of the largest expansions in North America in more than 40 years. Grey itself is roughly the same size as Mt. Baker, Wash., and, with the new cat-skiing terrain on adjacent Kirkup, the resort as a whole now boasts more in-bounds acres—2,877—than Jackson Hole, Wyo., and nearly as many as Breckenridge, Colo. Grey adds more intermediate terrain, for which Red is absolutely not known, and even more steep chutes and trees, for which Red absolutely is.
Though we didn’t time our trip well as far as snow is concerned—which is rare for powder-laden Red—we apparently timed it well for beer. The crowd is getting rowdy now, and the cop who gave us a ticket last night for not turning on the headlights in our rental car just posed for Keri’s camera wearing a bunny suit.
We spent today sampling some of Red’s goods with local pro Vinzenz Keller—who, incidentally, opted out of beer fest to do some more night skiing (#kidcantgetenough). We skied the trees of Roots over to Grey, sweet chalky steeps into a mystical forest draped in mint-green moss, and then made a couple laps on the groomers. Unknown Legend was perfectly pitched, and Limelight and Corduroy right off the nose were wide-open and rife with possibilities for either steep, short chutes to the left or long meadows of mellow blues to the right. At the top, we eyed the 200 acres of mellow, gladed runs on adjacent Mount Kirkup, which this season is accessible by a snowcat for $10 per run. Plans call for another lift here, adding a fourth peak to Red’s impressive inbounds lineup.
Red’s current three mountains are Red, Granite, and Grey. There are also three additional easy-to-access backcountry peaks just outside its boundaries. Red itself is a small, steep slice of mostly glades with a groomer or two cut out. Granite, the largest peak, offers any kind of expert terrain you could want (and very little of anything else) on the front and north side, and the back is a playground of sun-soaked blue to double-black glades and groomers. And then there is the new Grey, whose blue squares probably won’t attract a more diverse fan base, but they might help Red cease discouraging it. Maybe it’s the sheer size of the place, or the less than stellar conditions today, but Red also seems to be completely devoid of people. We skated onto every lift we hit today.
In fact, looking around at the mob in the tent, I can’t imagine where all these people came from. I thought the town of Rossland was sleepy, though now I wonder if that just means everyone’s well rested enough to party. I’ve never been in a friendlier crowd. We showed up knowing no one but now seem to be drinking buddies with pretty much anyone who will drink with us. Which is, well, everyone.
The beer festival is part of Red’s new initiative to make this place more than just an amazing ski mountain. According to Fran Richards, the resort’s director of marketing who joins us at the beer fest, “We’re doing all the things people love: music, food, entertainment, adventure.” The goal is to create an experience that’s not “so crazy gentrified,” he says. A big part of that is keeping Red affordable. “We have a partner who’s building a beautiful four-star hotel”—a William Cole property that will open in the winter of 2016–17 with 100 rooms—“but we want to make sure there are options in the youth-hostel price range.” To that end, a new online lift-ticket program lets visitors ski Red for less than US $60 per day. “The exchange rate is at an all-time low,” Richards says. “But all of Red’s pricing is inexpensive. Even the grocery stores.”
So why is it, then, that so few U.S. skiers come here? It seems exotic and hard to get to, Richards says, but he quickly points out that that is a misconception. “We are two miles farther from Spokane than the Lionshead gondola is from DIA. Gate to gate, we’re an hour closer to landing and skiing than Vail.” However, the fact remains that Red does feel a bit off the map, and many skiers are looking for resorts that have some nightlife, too. Aside from Rafters and the Royal Canadian Legion on Thursday nights, Red and its town of Rossland are about as far away as you can get from Vail’s Bridge Street bars.
But Red’s lack of crowds, as so often happens, is also its biggest selling point. And luckily for those of us who know about it, that’s not likely to change all that much, regardless of expansions or festivals. “Our market will always be to serious ski and snowboard families,” Richards says. That, Keri and I agree, is certainly worth a cheers, no matter the size of our beers.
Idgies: Tucked into a cozy little house in downtown Rossland, Idgies is warm and casual, with beautifully crafted pastas, seafood, and meat. Order the fresh B.C. halibut or rack of lamb, and pair it with a local B.C. wine.
Rafters: We’ve said it before, but we can’t help ourselves: Rafters might be the Best Ski Bar Ever. Its colorful patronage isn’t unusual for ski towns, but the friendliness sure is.
Slalom Creek: Slalom Creek is one of Red’s newer properties, with one- to four-bedroom units that boast big, open kitchens and living rooms and private hot tubs on the decks.
Cat and heli skiing:Chances are you’ll get plenty of untracked on the hill. But then again, you can never get enough. There is a high concentration of cat and heli ops in the area—Big Red Cats, Baldface Lodge, Snowwater Heliskiing, Valhalla Powdercats, and Retallack Lodge, to name a few.
>> 2,877 skiable acres
>> 6,807 summit elevation
>> 300 annual inches
(Photos from top: Keri Bascetta, Keri Bascetta, Red Resort)