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B.C.'s POWDER HIGHWAY
 
(2015 - Fall/Winter Issue)

Writer: MARILYN GRIFFITHS



B.C.’s Powder Highway showcases some of eastern B.C.’s most exciting snow destinations, all accessed from Calgary’s airport and all strung along this lengthy scenic stretch of roadway.

We visited three of them, each with a diverse range of snow sport offerings, lodging and dining experiences.

Fernie Alpine Resort 

“Remind me again why we’re skiing in the dark?” asks one of my travel companions, echoing our collective thoughts. It’s mid-January and, at 7:45 a.m., still very dark. It’s so cold we would normally see our breath if we could only see anything. Will, our guide from Fernie’s snow school, is leading us in the total dark down to the first lift to connect with the second to get us to the top of Cedar Bowl by dawn. So why? Participants purchasing this program get to be right at the top of the bowl by daybreak, even before the lifts open to the public at the base. It’s well worth the effort on any fresh-powder morning, hence the name First Tracks. How is it? Amazing!

Following a well-timed 10:00 a.m. pit stop at the Lost Boys Café, the on-mountain meeting spot where locals gather for coffee and gossip over a pastry or lunch, we head out to explore the four remaining alpine bowls. The resort maintains at least one groomed marked run from top to bottom in every one of its five lift-accessed bowls so everyone, no matter their ability level, can enjoy the Lizard Range slopes.

We share a pitcher of icy beer and a plate of heaping hot nachos at The Griz, the resort’s original bar, before getting cleaned up to head into the town of Fernie, five kilometres away. Fernie is a thriving historic mining town, where locals work and play. It’s packed with shops, lively bars, cafés and varied dining options. 

Panorama Mountain Village

After two great days at Fernie and a three-hour drive, we move on to Panorama Mountain Village, near Invermere. It’s just dark when we check in at our slopeside condo in the upper village and head for drinks and dinner at Monticola, a casual Italian bar and eatery steps from the lifts. Having snowed overnight, in the morning we are treated to knee-deep powder under perfect blue skies. The resort features a well-appointed compact pedestrian village, huge verticals, extensive groomed terrain, learning slopes and, yes, spectacular scenery. But, what our guide Jason has in store for us, is to drop into Taynton Bowl, Panorama’s natural backcountry terrain, accessed from the very top of the mountain. Is my comfort zone challenged? You bet! Steep chutes, bumps, deep powder, glades. It takes us about one hour to negotiate the descent, but we all arrive back in the village in one piece.

Dinner is early today. Elkhorn Cabin is high on Panorama’s slopes, so we ski to it late in the afternoon. It’s a cosy log cabin, with two large communal tables, a miniscule bar and panoramic views over the distant peaks. The menu is Swiss-inspired with raclette and fondue in high demand. By the time dinner is over the night skyis dotted with bright stars. Everyone is issued a headlamp before we ski in single file behind our guide. He’s leading us to the top of Discovery chair, where wesurrender our headlamps and join Panorama’s night-skiing crowd enjoying the illuminated slopes above the village.

Kicking Horse Mountain Resort 

A two-hour drive from Panorama, the town of Golden is home to Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. From here, we’re closer to Calgary, three hours away, than from Fernie.

First off, Kicking Horse terrain is pretty hard core. The majority of its visitors are strong skiers and riders drawn to its challenging domain. Sixty per cent comprises single or double black diamond runs, the most difficult rating. The resort features tremendous verticals and no less than 85 chutes. Needless to say, on your first visit, take a complimentary guided tour with a Snow Host.

After experiencing a couple of fairly intimidating descents in the Redemption Ridge sector, trail map in hand, I do some exploring on my own. I discover a few fast cruisers and then spend some time honing my mogul skiing skills on a moderately steep run covered with fluffy, car-size bumps. A ski resort can’t survive on just tough terrain. Although not usually mentioned, there are green and blue runs too, and always a cat walk available to bail out or change runs. 

Fine dining at Kicking Horse is something I wasn’t expecting. That was before the night we rode the gondola to the top and experienced stylish Eagle’s Eye Restaurant. Perched at 2,347 metres, this is literally haute cuisine like no other. The food is nicely prepared with fresh ingredients and delicious. Just what you might expect from a high-end restaurant. It’s very popular so reservations are recommended.

Travel Planner

A road trip like this involves a fair amount of packing and unpacking. Should you bring your own skis or snowboards? Certainly not, if renting a mid-size car. Resorts offer high-end ski and snowboard rentals. You’ll sample newer models and save on baggage fees at the airport. But do take your own boots. For more information, visit:

Destination British Columbia: hellobc.com

Fernie Alpine Resort: skifernie.com 

Kicking Horse Mountain Resort: kickinghorseresort.com 

Panorama Mountain Village: panoramaresort.com 

Ski the Powder Highway: powderhighway.com  

 
 
 
 
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