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 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.
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.