Canada’s Ski-Bum Shangri-La

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Royce Sihlis / Revelstoke Mountain Resort

To the uninitiated, the Powder Highway sounds like some sort of mythical, ski-bum Shangri-La. Based in the Kootenay Rockies of interior British Columbia (BC), this remote 680-mile stretch of blacktop connects some 64 snow-laden ski operations: eight alpine resorts, nine heli-ski operators, 10 nordic trail systems, 16 snow cat guides, and 21 backcountry ski touring outfitters. Add in the smattering of small, funky, authentic, and relatively cheap mountain towns to stay in along the way, and this snow-hound fantasy starts to just sound ridiculous.

It used to be the only way to even determine if the Powder Highway was real or not was to take a leap of faith and quit your job, load up your rig, and head north across the U.S/Canadian border to Alberta and continue up toward Fernie, BC. Nowadays, thanks to a new flight from Delta, you can also jump on a plane from Salt Lake City to Cranbrook, located in the heart of the Kootenay Rockies and then just rent a car and strike out from there. Regardless of how you get there, once you’re on the Powder Highway (better known by the more official Route 95A), the options are as expansive as the untracked peaks surrounding you. It’s possible to spend an entire winter season on the Powder Highway and barely scratch the surface of its potential.

If you only have a couple of weeks, don’t miss spending a few days shredding the chutes and pillow lines of Fernie Alpine Resort. Or Kicking Horse‘s expert-oriented 4,100 foot vertical drop. And, of course, there’s Revelstoke, a relatively unknown monster that boasts the biggest vertical drop in North America, with more than 5,000 vertical feet of bowls, glades, and groomers. It’s notable that all of these resorts offer lift tickets for around $60 per day, or about 40 percent cheaper than most large U.S. ski areas. If you’re in the mood for something mellower, check out the ski and soak packages available at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort, a great option for beginners and young families.

Spend the money you save on the cheap lift tickets and reasonably priced hotels like The Sandman Hotel ($129/night) in Revelstoke and the Red Tree Lodge ($90/night) in Fernie by splurging on a couple of days cat- or heli-skiing in the mountains where they were both born. The world famous CMH (Canadian Mountain Holidays) was founded along the Powder Highway 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 ($568 to $848/day) or Mustang Powder Cats a try ($600 to $900/day) – disappointment simply isn’t an option with either. For the backcountry purist, there are tons of options from basic self-guided huts like Asulkan Hut Cabin ($36/night) to luxury backcountry lodges like Ice Creek Lodge ($200 to $300/day) that you access via helicopter and use as a base for guided day tours.

Our only caveat is that after two weeks, you may find yourself contemplating leaving your job to finish out the season on the best powder of your life, which, come April, inevitably leads to a further truck up the Powder Highway until you hit Southeastern Alaska, where it really gets amazing. You’ve been warned.

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