Take Off: The West Kootenay Powder Plan - Ski Mag

Take Off: The West Kootenay Powder Plan

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Red Mountain

A week ago, you landed in Spokane, Washington, rented a car, and crossed the border into the land of eh. Driving north, you hit Rossland's Red Mountain, Valhalla Powdercats, and Fernie Alpine Resort. Now you're six days into your North Country epic, driving on fumes to your final destination: Canadian Mountain Holidays' Galena Lodge. Up ahead, and just a few more miles down the road, lies the tiny hamlet of Trout Lake—CMH's staging area for its experts-only heli-access lodge.


You curse yourself. Running out of gas in British Columbia's Kootenay Region midwinter can mean sharing pillows with your buddies in the back of a trucker's cab. Or worse—trading your last beers for a ride back to town. It's a place where 60 feet of snow falls on 15,000 square miles of ground-ripping peaks and remote wilderness. Here lie the Selkirk, Purcell, and Valhalla mountain ranges, where the vertical relief can exceed 7,000 feet from peak to valley floor, and where a town is a surprise.

The dirt-road town of Trout Lake finally materializes and you coast to a stop in front of a hand pump gas station circa 1915. It works… Your buddies crack a cold one to celebrate. But before you go, you stop to consider the pump, which, like the Kootenay region itself, is rare but reliable. There's a reason why the world's first heli and cat operations started here. Why people from around the world drop their sweethearts at the altar for a chance to ski famed "Kootenay Gold. Wake up. The Kootenays are your recurring ski dream.

STARTING POINT: Spokane, Washington
TOTAL MILES: 635
RESORTS/OUTFITS: Red Mountain, Valhalla Powdercats, Fernie Alpine Resort, Canadian Mountain Holidays heli-skiing
MINIMUM # OF DAYS NEEDED: 14 (including a mandatory weeklong package at CMH)
ROAD INFO: 800-550-4997; drivebc.ca

--Mitchell Scott

["Red Mountain Resort, Rossland, B.C."]
RED MOUNTAIN RESORT, ROSSLAND, B.C. (right)

ELEVATION: 6,800 feet
VERTICAL DROP: 2,909 feet
SNOW- FALL: 270 inches
SIZE: 1,585 acres
CONTACT: redresort.com

THE LOWDOWN
Rossland, three miles from Red, is like Crested Butte 20 years ago: quaint, mellow, and barely developed. The terrain is also similar to CB's—North America's steepest tree stashes fall off the summit of Red's Granite Mountain, so get ready for some ski-inspired vertigo.

FIRST TRACKS
Locals spin laps off the Motherlode chair. Charge Cambodia and The Orchards—two 35-plus-degree tree stashes recently thinned by Red's new owners. (The effort increased Red's skiable terrain by 25 percent.)

GIVE 'ER
Hop Red's original double, the Red Chair, if you want access to steep bump lines and wide-open trees like Towers of Red and Hole in the Wall. For long-preserved powder stashes, slip into Poochie's Trees and Upper and Lower War Eagle.

BEER-THIRTY
Drink Kootenay Mountain Ales at Rafter's, home of the Old Bastards ski club, at the base of the hill. You'll be surrounded by people drinking great beer while talking about how great it is to ski and drink great beer. The nachos kick ass, too.

TIP FROM A REAL CANADIAN
Red's touring terrain is some of the best in B.C. Hike 45 minutes from the Paradise Lodge to Mt. Roberts, the definition of Kootenay gnarl: 45 degrees of sustained steepness. Then rip Mt. Grey, Mt. Kirkup, and Record Ridge, with sporty cliff bands and booters to, well, boot.

["Fernie Alpine Resort, Fernie, B.C."]
FERNIE ALPINE RESORT, FERNIE, B.C. (right)

ELEVATION: 6,316 feet
VERTICAL DROP: 2,816 feet
SNOW- FALL: 370 inches
SIZE: 2,504 acres
CONTACT: skifernie.com

THE LOWDOWN
Just 40 miles north of the border, Fernie used to be a blue-collar town. Then RCR Corporation bought the resort, and now there arbillions of Swedes. The reason? The skiing: five bowls demarcated by ridgelines that each offer two different aspects, an average vertical drop of 2,000 feet per run, and chalky, steep tree shots that go and go.

FIRST TRACKS
If it dumps, head to Old Fernie and take the Boomerang triple and Great Bear Express quad to 35-plus-degree King Fir and North Ridge. Thread 'em through the trees. Then plunder the meadows below until the rest of the mountain clears avalanche control.

GIVE 'ER
While Fernie's Face Lift—a one-at-a-time platter lift—might look sub-par, it dumps you on half-mile-wide, two-mile-long Cedar Bowl. Don't miss Sky Dive, Stag Leap, and Decline, a trio of near-40-degree, 2,000-foot-plus lines cut through a steep forested knob that'll make you beg for Ma.

BEER-THIRTY
Party at The Griz, an A-frame at the base, with Swedes, Australians, and Canadian girls dancing in toques and ski pants (and not much else). The hill closes at 4 P.M. The bar closes at 2 A.M.

TIP FROM A REAL CANADIAN
Stay at the resort—instead of in Fernie—for guaranteed quick access to the goods, and to avoid plunder-happy Calgarians in minivans.

["Valhalla Powdercats, Nelson, B.C."]
VALHALLA POWDERCATS, NELSON, B.C. (right)

MAX ELEVATION: 8,200 feet
MAX VERTICAL DROP: 4,000 feet
AVERAGE VERTICAL/DAY: 17,000 feet
PRICE: from US$ 299/day
CONTACT: valhallapow.com

THE LOWDOWN
Some call the unruly Valhalla Mountain Range the beating heart of the Kootenays—it makes Fernie feel downright swanky. Here, granite walls shelter steeply angled forests an hour's drive from Nelson. Forty feet of eiderdown falls annually here, where B.C.'s most famous cash crop wafts on the thin winter air. Valhalla, I am coming.

THE TERRAIN
Valhalla runs both cats and helis and serves 125 square miles encompassing hundreds of different bowls, where cliff bands, glades, and big timber get stuffed with powder snow. Expect to score 12,000 to 18,000 vertical each day.

THE SNOW
Tucked halfway between the coast and the Rockies, Valhalla's snowpack—which usually tops out at 480 inches—stays fairly stable and deep for days on end. Come in late December and early January, when it can dump up to 70 inches.

DIGS AND GRUB
Expect lunch and treats on the cat. In Nelson, stay at the newly renovated Hume Hotel and make a reservation at the All Seasons Café, where a sophisticated downtown menu and award-winning wine list play out in a small-town space.

TIP FROM A REAL CANADIAN
If you like hosing beers, bring a twelver for the cat ride home. (Translation: Load a 12-pack in the trunk to share with the guides.) If you're just looking to cat-ski, go standby and pay $100 less than regular day rates.

["CMH Heli, Galena Lodge, Trout Lake, B.C."]
CMH HELI, GALENA LODGE, TROUT LAKE, B.C. (right)

MAX ELEVATION: 10,200 feet
MAX VERTICAL DROP: 5,000 feet
AVERAGE VERTICAL/DAY: 25,000 feet
PRICE: from US$4,350/week
CONTACT: canadianmountainholidays.com

THE LOWDOWN
Galena is situated smack-dab in the middle of what the guides call "vertical inconveniences. You'll meet the bird 2.5 hours north of Nelson at a pit stop on Highway 31, power through deserted townships like Meadow Creek, Howser, and Kaslo, and land amid deep trees and splayed glaciers.

THE TERRAIN
Galena accesses 450 square miles in a Selkirk subset known as the Badshot Range. And the Westfall Drainage, reputed to be one of the top three tree-skiing regions in the province, makes you feel like a superhero. Land at Lake Avenue, a six-mile-long 2,500-foot burn riddled with cliffs, chutes, pillows, and gullies. It's your dream line—again and again.

THE SNOW
"This is where weather starts, says guide Peter Harvey. Seven hundred annual inches of light- and-dry fall mostly between the months of December and April. Keep an eye out for loonie-size flakes. (They're like 50-cent pieces, only worth more and fluffier—and Canadian.)

DIGS AND GRUB
The sturdily built Galena Lodge isn't luxurious per se, though there is an in-house masseuse, hot tubs, and big thick quilts. The European cuisine is just as fancy. A keg of Kokanee awaits.

TIP FROM A REAL CANADIAN
Don't head back to Spokane without stopping at Ainsworth Hotsprings, 15 miles south of Kaslo. Soak away a week of hedonism in the natural limestone caves and underground waterfalls of piping-hot, crystal-clear water (hotnaturally.com).ays guide Peter Harvey. Seven hundred annual inches of light- and-dry fall mostly between the months of December and April. Keep an eye out for loonie-size flakes. (They're like 50-cent pieces, only worth more and fluffier—and Canadian.)

DIGS AND GRUB
The sturdily built Galena Lodge isn't luxurious per se, though there is an in-house masseuse, hot tubs, and big thick quilts. The European cuisine is just as fancy. A keg of Kokanee awaits.

TIP FROM A REAL CANADIAN
Don't head back to Spokane without stopping at Ainsworth Hotsprings, 15 miles south of Kaslo. Soak away a week of hedonism in the natural limestone caves and underground waterfalls of piping-hot, crystal-clear water (hotnaturally.com).

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