Who would have thought you could take public transit and hike to fresh powder just an hour out of Montreal? That’s exactly what Jason Roussel did at Mont Alta in Québec! Learn more about this unique, exclusive experience.
Big White, BC:
Big White sits on the edge of the Okanagan Valley in the middle of British Columbia. It may technically be in of some kind of desert, but that doesn’t stop Big White from being the third largest resort in BC, with endless glades of all levels and a small bowl serviced by a two-person chair. The maze-like glades keep things interesting, but also make it hard to retrace your shreds.
It has the most night skiing in Western Canada, and the crew does a good job of maintaining a very decent terrain park even during hard weather.
The city of Kelowna is a university town just a short drive away but slope side accommodations, including a hostel, are available at Big White. Its proximity means lift lines can be long at times. Kelowna is sprawling rapidly, with lots of big box stores dominating the landscape, but the walkable city centre and downtown waterfront make up for it.
When developers started building this resort less than a decade ago, they planned for the largest ski area in North America. While still far from it, Revelstoke does boast the most vertical drop, making for lots of long runs. However, the bottom part of the mountain gets a little dull and most riders will stick to high altitude. From the top chair a number of short hikes ranging from 5 to 30 minutes will easily find you some powder with the back bowl highly recommended as some of the best inbound skiing in Canada. Even on busy weekends and days after a snowfall, freshies can be found. This season Revy will be laying out a fresh fleet of terrain park features.
The town of Revelstoke has been around for much longer than the resort, but skiing has been big here since it was brought over from Norway by Nels Nelsen at the turn of the 20th century. He also set the 1925 world record for ski jumping just outside of town in Revelstoke National Park while having influenza.
Revelstoke has a strong sense of community, and most residents welcome the new ski resort in town. Expanding the resort hasn’t gone as quickly as planned, but this has allowed Revelstoke to keep its small town vibe while still offering some of the best skiing in North America. Grizzly’s Bar will quench your thirst and the Taco Truck will fill you up even late at night!
Kicking Horse, BC:
What Kicking Horse may lack in variety, it makes up in quantity. Four parallel ridge lines make three bowls stripped with endless chutes and glades to choose from. Hard to pick a favourite and hard to pack them in all into one day. The view south down the Columbia River valley is amazing and one-lane bridge to the resort keeps crowds and lift lines small.
Golden is 14 km away and although you won’t find a shuttle bus, if you’ve got a thumb, friendly locals will be happy to bring you to and from the resort. This has become a town custom ever since the shuttle service stopped a few years back, and even local teenagers will hitch a ride on snow days. A small bar called Taps is where you can rub shoulders with the locals and even sing your heart out at the weekly open mics—you can easily get the whole town cheering for knowing how to play three chords on a guitar.
Field is a small town just a short drive into the mountains. If you want to see one of the most picturesque places in Canada take a day off skiing and head over there for lunch. Emerald Lake is just outside of town, where you can rent some snowshoes or cross-country skis and head over across the lake to take a sip of glacier water (you know, ’cause they are melting what with the global warming and stuff).
Banff & the Big 3, AB:
Banff National Park is the oldest of Canada’s Parks. Located in Alberta on the border with BC, the park and town with the same name have been a hot spot for nature lovers and thrill seekers since hot springs were found by railroad workers at the turn of the century. The indigenous people were unfortunately displaced from the area, and the locals are now mostly employed by the tourist industry and often party before tourists arrive for the weekends on Thursday nights and when they leave on Sunday night. Two hours from Calgary, Banff is a small town with lots of tourists, but plenty to see and do and a thriving arts community at the Banff Centre. Lake Louise another tourist hot spot is just a few minutes down the highway. More of a hotel complex than a town, it’s still worth the trip. Banff has three ski resorts serviced by frequent shuttle buses at $15 for a return trip.
Lake Louise ski resort sits across the valley from the actual Lake Louise and glacier, making the front slope side one of the best panoramic views you’ll ever see while shredding. It can be a hard mountain to navigate, but this keeps some spots crowd free. Locals all have their own personal secret on where to find the best snow. Powder Bowl area is probably the most interesting, take the Summit Platter lift to reach the peak. Traverse and hike a couple of minutes on skier’s left into the Boomerang Bowl and Hector Ridge and you’re sure to get into some fresh chutes. Those less confident in their skills can take mellow green and blue runs down the same area and still catch all the action. A little lower down into the Powder Bowl, the Ptarmigan and Larch chairs will meet your steep glade needs. The terrain parks are our favourite from the list and you can easily line them all up in one run while ripping carves down the Women’s Downhill run in between.
Sunshine Village is a large resort straddling the continental divide, with a meadow nestled in the middle. Probably having the most variety of the Big 3, but the slopes are prone to flat spots where you’ll see trudging snowboarders. With all four slope sides facing down into the meadow, its easy to navigate and scope out the entire resort from any location. Lift lines can get long, but snow is plentiful and the mountain has lots of variety. Every slope side has its own personality and crowd. Goat’s Eye is by far the underdog, along with the extremely long Banff Ave. and Canyon runs are a perfect way to end the day, bringing you down to the parking lot. If you want to get to the huge area of lift-serviced backcountry, you’re required to have avalanche gear and a equally equipped partner.
Norquay has nowhere near the vertical or terrain of Lake Louise and Sunshine, but it’s the closest to the town of Banff—a short 10 min drive or shuttle bus ride—and the only one offering night skiing. Under appreciated by tourists, locals know they can beat the crowds on busy weekends by heading here. The North American chair services some pretty impressive expert terrain for such a small mountain, and probably the best view of the town of Banff anywhere around. Look out for $2 Day once a month to shred for pocket change.
Author Jason Roussel spent last winter backpacking around Western Canada looking for steep, good times, and writing his blog fox-trotting.tumblr.com. He is also Director of the Skiboarding Riders’ Choice Awards.
The couch surfers around me are slowly waking up one at a time. Two of them appear in their early 20’s and are speaking to each other in German, I can’t understand them but I know they are talking about skiing. The camper they just purchased is parked out front ready for them to take off to backcountry ski BC after the New Years Eve party this communal house in Vancouver is throwing.
The night before everyone was sitting around trying to get over the awkwardness of sitting in a room with a dozen people you just met 10 minutes ago. “How many people live here?” One of the German asks the room, unsure of who actually is living here and who is a couch surfer. A guy with his hood pulled over his head and red glazed eyes from smoking bong hits all night starts counting on his fingers. “6.. I think, maybe 7” he answers. He was unable to remember all the names of the room mates, but assuring us he was one of the people living here.
I’ve been checking snow reports multiple times a day, hoping that it would be worth it for me to head up to one of the North Shore Vancouver mountains. The start of the season has been slow, and I’ve only manage to skiboard a hot minute while passing thru Colorado, and one washed out day in Whistler, not much of a skiboard tour yet. With some convincing, maybe the Germans have a seat for me to the Kootenays, where snow is plenty and I can continue on my way on my winter long back packing skiboard tour.
Follow more of my skiboard travels on fox-trotting.tumblr.com