Fernie, Revelstoke, and Kicking Horse, B.C.
Backcountry junkies know it as the powder highway — a 680-mile stretch of blacktop in the Kootenay Rockies of interior British Columbia that connects some 64 ski operations: eight alpine resorts, 10 heli-ski operators, 10 Nordic trail systems, 13 Sno-Cat guides, and 23 backcountry-ski-touring outfitters. Add in the funky, authentic, and relatively cheap mountain towns and a couple of picturesque, muscle-soothing hot springs resorts along the way, and this powder-hound fantasyland just starts to sound almost unreal. "The powder highway is one of those magical places where it's always snowing somewhere," says Griffin Post, a top-ranked professional big-mountain skier. "Something always seems to be coming out of the sky. One week on the powder highway can make up for a season of subpar snow at home."
Accessing the road (less poetically known as Route 95A) used to mean a long drive to Fernie, British Columbia. Nowadays, you can hop a flight to Calgary or Cranbrook, rent an SUV, and start from there. Spokane, Washington, is also within striking distance.
Understand that unless you plan to quit your job and truly commit for a season, you'll never experience the whole thing. So here are a few highlights that should be part of any pilgrimage.
The Resorts: You won't want to miss the chutes and pillow lines of Fernie Alpine Resort, or Kicking Horse's expert-oriented 4,100-foot vertical drop. Revelstoke, a relatively unknown monster, boasts the biggest vertical drop in North America, with more than 5,000 vertical feet of bowls, glades, and groomers. All of these resorts offer lift tickets for about $60 per day — 40 percent cheaper than most large U.S. ski areas. "While Cat- and heli-skiing are always a nice option," Post says, "if you don't have the coin for it, there's more than enough terrain to max out your powdometer."
The Backcountry: Both Cat- and heli-skiing were born in these mountains, and you'd be a fool not to indulge. So use the funds you save on the cheap lift tickets and reasonably priced hotels. The world-famous resort CMH (Canadian Mountain Holidays) was founded in 1965 in the Bugaboo Mountains and now operates 11 heli-ski lodges in the surrounding mountains that access every type of terrain you can imagine. If steep and deep tree skiing is your jam, give Retallack or Mustang Powder a try. For the backcountry purist, there are tons of options, from the rustic and simple Asulkan Hut Cabin on Rogers Pass, to luxury backcountry lodges like Ice Creek Lodge, which you access via helicopter and can use as a base for guided day tours.
Off the Slopes: Be sure to stop and check out the Ainsworth and Halcyon Hot Springs resorts and spend a night or two in genuine mountain towns like Golden and Nelson. In fact, all of the small towns on the highway are cool throwbacks to a time when the major employers of many mountain hamlets were railroads and lumber mills.
On the powder highway, they still are.
Best For: The powder quest.