Ski Canada: Discovering all that Kicking Horse and Revelstoke have to offer

With more than 3,10 acres of fall line skiing, high alpine bowls, and gladed terrain, Revelstoke also is the only resort to offer lift, cat, heli and backcountry skiing and snowboarding all from one village base. (Photo by Ian Houghton / Courtesy Revelstoke Mountain Resort)

Boasting more than 3,100 acres of fall-line skiing, high alpine bowls and gladed terrain, Revelstoke also is the only resort to offer lift, cat, heli and backcountry skiing and snowboarding all from one village base. (Photo by Ian Houghton / Courtesy Revelstoke Mountain Resort)

By Bob Goligoski

Like most of you, we’ve been to Mammoth, Squaw Valley, Heavenly, Sun Valley, Jackson Hole and other big-name resorts around North America.

This winter, some friends and I decided to do something totally different and visit Kicking Horse and Revelstoke in British Columbia. These are a couple out-of-way sprawling ski resorts southwest of Banff and surrounded by awesome, cloud-piercing peaks that remind one of the Alps.

Both have at least one thing in common: they have the two highest vertical drops among all Canadian ski resorts. Revelstoke, in fact, has the biggest vertical drop of any resort in North America at 5,620 feet.

How does this translate to the skiing? We took one endless intermediate run at Revelstoke that rolled on for 4,200 vertical feet. That is comparable to skiing top-to-bottom at Lake Tahoe’s Alpine Meadows not once but twice.

At Kicking Horse (4,133-foot vertical drop), where we started our four-day adventure, the 16-year-old resort is 15 minutes outside Golden, British Columbia, which is about three hours west of the Calgary airport.

Kicking Horse is a two-and-a-half-hour drive out of Calgary and is surrounded by six national parks. (Photo by Jeff Bartlett / Courtesy Kicking Horse Mountain Resort)

Kicking Horse is the first four-season mountain resort to open in Canada’s Rockies in 25 years. (Photo by Jeff Bartlett / Courtesy Kicking Horse Mountain Resort)

Kicking Horse has 128 runs, an eight-person gondola, three chair lifts and more than 85 in-bounds chutes.

There is plenty of skiing here for all ability levels, but with all the steep terrain (60 percent of the slopes are rated expert or advanced), this place is a mecca for powder-hungry experts.

Resort owners state that “in recent years, we have been focusing developments on softening the ski experience with increased winter grooming and ongoing slope development projects.”

Perhaps the best vantage point to enjoy the stunning scenery is the Eagle’s Eye restaurant. Located at the top of the gondola, it sits at 7,705 feet and is the highest-elevation restaurant in Canada, offering commanding views of five national parks.

The Golden Eagle Express offers a quick trip up to the mountaintop Eagle's Eye restaurant at Kicking Horse. (Photo courtesy Kicking Horse Mountain Resort)

The Golden Eagle Express at Kicking Horse offers a scenic trip to the mountaintop Eagle’s Eye restaurant. (Photo courtesy Kicking Horse Mountain Resort)

Down lower on the mountain, you can visit with Boo, the on-slope, 900-pound resident grizzly bear. Boo was orphaned in 2002 when his mother was illegally shot by a hunter. He lives in a 22-acre enclosure and has lots of company during warm months when he is not hibernating. Last year, 27,000 people took the chairlift to check out Boo.

If one does not alpine ski or snowboard, you have a choice of Nordic skiing, tubing, snowshoeing, dog sled riding, snowmobiling or ice skating at the rink in the heart of the village. Hotels, B&B’s and condos dot the landscape around the base of the peak.

Nearby Golden is a bustling industrial hamlet of 4,000 souls. It has a large lumber mill and is a transportation hub with the Trans-Canada highway and the east-west railway line running through. It boasts a number of highly acclaimed eateries including Eleven22, Whitetooth Bistro Cedar House and Turning Point.

Next, we headed up the highway for a 90-minute drive to the town of Revelstoke.

The ski resort, which has only been around since 2007, sits just outside of the town, which has a population of 8,000.

Both Kicking Horse and Revelstoke top out around 8,000 feet, so altitude sickness is not much of a problem. Revelstoke has a vast amount of terrain fed by two chairlifts, a gondola and a magic carpet.

One could spend virtually all day here on one run. The Last Spike, a winding novice choice, rolls on for 9.5 miles before it hits the bottom. Revelstoke’s 65 “named runs” includes a good mixture of green, blue and black-diamond runs. Some come here just to ski the trees as the glades are everywhere, both tight and fairly wide open.

The Revelstoke area is known as the capital of helicopter skiing in Canada. The resort is the only ski resort in the world to offer lift, snowcat, helicopter and back-country skiing from one village base.

There are rooms at the base but the clear winner appeared to be the 221-room Sutton Place Hotel, which opened about six years ago. It boasts “luxury ski-in/ski-out condo-style accommodations” with daily rates ranging between $250 and $1,200 during the winter. Food tip – the Thai curry soup at the Revelation Lodge is a 10.

Skiing in Canada is easy on the wallet right now as the exchange rate is quite favorable for Americans. The adult, walk-in, lift tickets at Kicking Horse, for example, are priced at 92 Canadian, which works out to about $65 in U.S. coin. Lift tickets at Revelstoke are even cheaper.

Information
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort: kickinghorseresort.com
Revelstoke Mountain Resort: www.revelstokemountainresort.com

Planned gondola linking Alpine, Squaw resorts moving closer to reality

There's plenty to love about the skiing at Alpine Meadows, and once the gondola between the resort and Squaw Valley is operating it will open new opportunities for skiers and snowboarders at both resorts. (Photo courtesy Alpine Meadows)

There’s plenty to love about the skiing at Alpine Meadows, and once the gondola between the resort and neighboring Squaw Valley is operating it will open new opportunities for skiers and snowboarders at both resorts. (Photo courtesy Alpine Meadows)

By Bob Goligoski

The long-awaited gondola between Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows has been put on a fast track to completion, with resort officials saying that once construction starts it will take only about 10 months to finish the job.

Work cannot start until the owner of the two resorts – Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, LLC – wins approval from Placer County and the U.S. Forest Service. Applications were submitted to the county and agency, but it is unclear how quickly they will act on the proposed gondola.

I don’t know of any major opposition to the project. It does not appear to be controversial, so I suspect approvals may come quite quickly.

The gondola, which would run between the base areas of both resorts, would entail putting up about 37 lift towers and be some 13,000 feet in length. The land on the Alpine side is covered by a use permit on the Tahoe National Forest while the Squaw part of the ride would glide across lands owned or leased by Squaw Valley Ski Holdings.

No skiing, snowboarding or other on-the-snow activity would be permitted along the gondola route. Standing at the top of Squaw and gazing down into the Alpine base area, one is impressed by the steepness of the terrain going down to the Alpine lifts.

Resort officials pledged to take many steps to reduce the environmental impact of the gondola. The eight-passenger gondola will be operated at a relatively low speed; skiers and riders will have about a 13-minute trip to get from one resort to the other.

A typical high-speed lift transports at least 2,000 people per hour, while initial plans call for the gondola to move 1,400 people an hour. This is being done to minimize the number and height of the lift towers.

The gondola cabins will be removed from the gondola cable each summer to “reduce impacts on the surrounding view shed.”

A Q&A document released recently by the project builders would be of interest to many who frequent the slopes of Alpine and Squaw.

That document states that there are no plans under which the gondola cost would result in any increase in lift ticket prices or season passes. The gondola, it states, “would simply make it easy for skiers and riders to explore both mountains with a single lift ticket or season pass, without needing to travel between the two by car.”

It also notes that guests will be able to disembark at the Saddle mid-station on the Squaw side and then ski or snowboard down to the bottom of Squaw Valley.

Some skiers and riders like the slower pace on the slopes at Alpine Meadows but bemoan the fact that the resort has limited commercial activity. Once it starts operating, they will be able to ride the gondola to the Squaw Valley village and enjoy the 50 to 60 restaurants, bars, shops and art galleries located there.

When the link-up is completed, visitors will have access to 42 lifts and 270 trails spread across more than 6,000 skiable acres.

Bob Roberts, longtime ‘voice’ of California skiing, calls it a career

In his roles as manager of the Mt. Shasta Ski Area and, later, leading the California Ski Industry Association, Bob Roberts Here, he meets with Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1984, the same year Schwarzenegger starred in "The Terminator."

In his roles as manager of the Mt. Shasta Ski Area and, later, leading the California Ski Industry Association, Bob Roberts, left, has met with many movers and shakers. Here, he visits with Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1984, the same year the actor starred in “The Terminator.” Nineteen years later, Schwarzenegger would become California governor. (Courtesy photo)

By Bob Goligoski

After 40 years as the “voice” of California skiing and snowboarding, this is the first winter in decades without Bob Roberts as president and CEO of the California Ski Industry Association.

As chief strategist and lobbyist for the organization’s 29 California and Nevada winter resorts, the 78-year-old Roberts has played a major role in the development and success of resorts across the Sierra Nevada.

In a long-ranging interview, Roberts reflected on his many years at the helm and talked about what he sees in the future for the winter resorts.

“The drought,” he said, “is the biggest problem facing the resorts. People who own resorts tend to think that the glass is half full, not half empty. They are usually very creative and inventive in solving problems. But if the drought continues, we could lose a few resorts. There will be a shakeout, I suspect.”

In recent years, two Colorado-based corporations – Vail Resorts and KSL – have acquired major California ski resorts, including Heavenly, Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, Northstar and Kirkwood. He does not see that trend continuing and does not expect other out-of-state corporations to acquire and consolidate resorts in California or Nevada.

California ski resorts are a key component in the state’s tourism boom. Some 7 million skier visits to the resorts are recorded every winter. It’s a $1.5 billion business that generates more than $100 million per year in state and local taxes. Some 16,000 people work full-time and seasonal jobs at the resorts every year.

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Heavenly Mountain Resort zips into summer

Riders speed down a four-line zip line at Breckenridge, Colo. When a similar attraction opens this month at Heavenly, riders will be able to race down the four parallel lines at top speeds of 40 mph. (Vail Resorts photo)

Riders race down a zip line at Breckenridge, Colo. When a similar attraction opens at Heavenly, riders will be able to take the four parallel lines at top speeds of 40 mph. (Vail Resorts photo)

By Bob Goligoski

Heavenly Mountain Resort has started construction on a major expansion of its summer attractions that will include a new alpine coaster ride, an extensive zip line network, mountain bike park, multi-use trails and tree canopy tours.

The project, which has been in the works for many years, has steadily been gaining the approval of various governmental agencies. Last month, the final OK came when the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board voted “yes” on the venture, which is dubbed Epic Discovery.

“This is going to revolutionize the summer guest experience at Heavenly,” said Pete Sonntag, Heavenly COO and vice president. “It is about more than the individual activities; it is a cohesive plan that brings together all components under the unified theme of learning about and engaging with the National Forest.”

Construction on the alpine coaster, similar to those at Park City and Breckenridge, starts this month. It will operate year-round after opening late this year at the South Lake Tahoe resort.

Guests ride individual sleds down an elevated track that winds down amid the pines and rock formations. Gravity takes care of the descent while riders maintain control of how fast they want to go.

Also this month, the resort debuts a new four-line zip line called the Hot Shot Zip Line. An existing zip line, dubbed Blue Streak, is slated to re-open late this month.

Some of the zip lines at Heavenly will incorporate tree canopy tours.

Bikers have long eyed the vast slopes of Heavenly, which stretch for miles across California and Nevada, as a place where they might some day peddle to their heart’s content. They likely will have to wait another couple years as the new mountain bike park will take time to develop before it opens.

Work crews currently are busy toiling on a new permanent 35-foot-tall rock climbing wall, which is slated to open in August. It will feature 18 climbing routes with automatic belay systems and a quick-jump 35-foot rapid descent that emulates free-falling.

Another lane has been added to the tubing hill and will be open late this month.

In September, Heavenly will offer mountain excursion tours via 4×4 vehicles. These guided tours will feature narrations on the mountain with information about the history, culture and environment of the region.

And children will have a crack at the zip line experience when a smaller kid-specific 150-foot long zip line opens later this summer.

Information: www.skiheavenly.com

Bob Goligoski, a former newspaper reporter, has been writing about the ski industry for various newspapers and magazines for 45 years. He has skied at more than 125 resorts around the world.