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It’s a familiar story: new owners, new lifts, new lodgings, new restaurants, fancy new real estate and big hopes. Like many other ski resorts in British Columbia, Red Mountain and the town of Rossland are busy bringing amenities into the 21st century. But like most things in this rugged, century-old ski town, Red and Rossland are doing it their own way.
“This is the only ski area in North America where the lifts are getting slower,” says Red Mountain’s ski patrol director Peter “Potsie” Crawford. He isn’t joking. Roomy slopeside condos with gourmet kitchens and steam baths may now be steps from the slopes, but the recent replacement and realignment of a lift has transformed a 20-minute ride from base to summit to 22 minutes. If that sounds strange, consider this: At the hard-skiing, easygoing cult favorite, a longer ride is not only fitting, it’s preferred.
Red Mountain Resort—which rises above a Telluride-style historic mining town nestled in mountainous eastern British Columbia, 10 minutes from the U.S./Canada border and 135 miles north of Spokane, Wash.—is best known for its serious treeskiing and funky, unpretentious vibe. Skiing has been part of life here since 1897, when rugged gold miners began hiking uphill for turns
on their days off.
In recent years, while other ski destinations have modernized with base villages and day spas, gourmet lunches and high-speed lifts, this skier’s mountain and its colorful town remain under
financed and economically depressed. Talk of Red’s potential—“This place could be so great!”—was as common as rundown buildings and cheap beer.
Then, in 2004, a ski-loving venture capitalist from San Diego purchased the area. “It’s a little piece of paradise, an authentic place,” says CEO and president Howard Katkov. While his master plan is ambitious (1,400 new slopeside lodging units and nearly triple the count of both skiable acres and number of lifts by 2024), his intention is straightforward: Help revitalize the local economy by stimulating tourism and improving the destination ski experience without mucking up what made this Canadian mountain outpost so appealing to begin with.
Now, five years into a 20-year plan, Rossland and Red already deliver on the promise. From the moment a visitor lands in low-key Spokane International Airport there’s a feeling of ease, an immediate downshift. Two and a half hours north, downtown Rossland’s brick and clapboard core is newly alive with innovation and buzz. At The Old Fire Hall, jazz lovers choose from 40 wines by the glass while listening to live bossa nova in a historic firehouse. At Idgie’s, a classically trained French chef who fled Whistler puts a “locavore” twist on haute bistro cuisine in the front of the house while sending Rossland’s best pizzas out the back door.
Two and a half miles uphill at Red, new condos and homes in a range of prices share the base area with old bunkhouses and Red’s no-frills daylodge. There is no base village, per se, just as there are few crowds. The skiing? Don’t be fooled by the leisurely 9 a.m. lift start time. With three separate peaks packed with trees, bumps, steeps and groomers, skiers welcome the extra sleep.
The primary playground is Granite Mountain, a three-faced wedge with well-pitched intermediate boulevards on one face, a former World Cup women’s downhill run on another and couloirs that descend into forests on the third. “You can ski 360 degrees off the top, and you can ski everywhere,” Potsie says. After 20 years, he’s still discovering lines on Granite he’s never skied.
Red Mountain proper is similar to Granite, but smaller, not as steep and best in the late-afternoon sun. Mount Roberts—another wedge, graced by steep, technical chutes on its frontsideand towering 400-year-old spruce on its flank—is within the patrolled ski area boundary, but can be reached only by hiking.
Which is why Red’s slightly slower lifts are a good thing. As is recuperating in the daylodge’s Rafters Bar, where the local chatting you up is just as likely to be a PhD turned ski bum as he is to be a laborer at the zinc-lead refinery down the road. It’s only when you wander, rubber-legged, back to your condo’s steam bath that the realization hits: Perhaps this is not such a familiar ski story after all.
SIGNPOST: Red Mountain, B.C.
Lodging Slalom Creek offers ski-in/ski-out access ($213–$888; redpropertymanagement.com); Ram’s Head Inn serves up gourmet breakfasts ($129–$599; ramshead.bc.ca).
Dining At the mountain, try Gypsy for big servings of innovative continental. In town, head to Drift Izakaya for Japanese or Old Fire Hall for gourmet burgers or Idgie’s for French with local flair.
Après-Ski Rafters, in the daylodge, for beers with the locals; Fire Hall’s wine bar is the place to sample B.C.’s best.
Don’t Miss Lunch on the sundeck at Paradise Lodge
Must Ski Granite’s north side trees on a powder day
Getting There Fly to Spokane International, then drive 2.5 hours north.