At our home mountain in southern Montana, even on the cloudiest day, we always knew our way. But on that morning at Fernie Alpine Resort, I felt a little shaky. The clouds hooded the lift towers. From the chair, we could barely see the skiers below. And it was the first time in years that any of us needed a trail map.
It was day two of our ski trip that began at Whitefish Mountain Resort. We would be chasing British Columbia’s Powder Highway for the next 11 days. Photo guy Kene Sperry was our pilot, Shane O’Connell our ski hero, and Chad Robbs our social director.
Fernie’s Boomerang Lift is a triple. Kene, Shane, and I waited at the top for Chad, who rode the next chair. Catching up, he nodded toward a darkly dressed skier beside him.
“Met this dude who’s gonna show us something.”
The new guy said not a word, but invited us by raising his eyebrows. We would have introduced ourselves, but he passed us. Then he dropped 100 vertical feet into the fog. Don, whose name we would learn later, did not care to know our names if we couldn’t keep up. He guided us through low light, under the flank of Grizzly Peak, and down steep slopes scattered with blurry rocks and jagged shrubbery. This was Don’s mountain and he skied it proudly. Naturally, we offered to buy our tour guide a frosty one.
A Motown Band had the Griz Bar packed, but we scored a table. When Don took off his helmet, I expected to see a mohawk. Instead, this badass was twice our age with receding gray hair. He’d seen it all, from naked après skiers sliding over tables to his son boosting in the half-pipe. By the time the music ended, we could have called him Uncle Don after listening to his stories of the good life, the ski life.
We half-jokingly asked him to follow us to Golden. But Don had different plans. He had a local hockey game to watch.
We knew Kicking Horse Resort for its rowdy terrain and easy backcountry access. Our plan was to pass the resort boundaries and find the many white channels that waited calmly in this winter abyss. It hadn’t snowed for days.
On the GE Gondola, we met a solo rider equipped for the backcountry. A local ski guide is always better, and this quiet guy in wired glasses seemed a possible candidate. We introduced ourselves before the ride ended and asked where he was going. Hugh was his name.
“Staying in bounds,” he said. Three days prior, he’d been caught in an out-of-bounds avalanche with two other friends. They managed to dig out 61-year-old Pete Bowle-Evans, but neither could revive him.
“Funeral’s tomorrow,” he said.
After a moment of silence, Kene cleared his throat. “Skiing today?” It seemed too soon after such tragedy.
“It’s what Pete would have wanted,” he answered.
And that’s what we did for three days—skied untouched snow beyond the resort’s perimeter, ending each day when the sun left the sky. At moonrise we motored through Canada’s Glacier National Park toward Rogers Pass, a mountain range so prominent it could have been the earth’s crown. On the west side of the pass was the quiet town of Revelstoke, a short drive from big, backcountry fall lines and even closer to Revelstoke Mountain Resort—a resort building the longest lift-access vertical drop in North America.
Rogers Pass is a powder preserve. After every hike, we were rewarded with thousands of vertical feet that belonged to no one but us.
At Revelstoke’s main pub, the Regent Inn, a stranger gave us directions to another backcountry access point farther south. No stranger had done us wrong thus far, so we went searching the backwoods for this country ski town.
I didn’t think anyone had electricity until we spotted a saloon doorway lighting the porch of the recommended hotel, a green and white building resembling a Colonial home. Of the ten vehicles parked in front, we were the only one not toting a snowmobile.
We entered a dining hall full of bear rugs and bearded men watching heavy-metal snowmobile flicks. Most were in flannel; we, in puffy colored jackets.
Thumbing snowmobile rides wasn’t exactly common. I was sure we would have to move on. But in a room full of snowriders, our ride appeared. The bartender’s brother used to live with our friend Norm in Revelstoke. By morning, we were riding tandem with a snowmobile posse, skis bungeed to the seats.
Six miles in the Selkirk Mountains, we plateaued above tree line and cut the engines. The mountains gathered around us like metropolitan cities draped in white sheets. We gaped in unison. You couldn’t ski it all in a lifetime. It was ours for a day, thanks to our new friends. If it weren’t for headlamps, we wouldn’t have found our way back. Our chauffeurs throttled home, and we never saw them again.
Kene took the wheel and sped our ski chariot toward Nelson, a ski town with all the perks—a brewery, organic food, and a dance club with an equal ratio of women to men. After ten days of skiing, reaching the parking lot that snowy afternoon was a relief. We packed away our skis with the many other snowriders in the lot. These planks that we heaved onto our vehicle had brought us to this new ski country. And if it weren’t for the many characters who owned a pair, we would have never found our way north of the border.
A Few Suggestions
We skied nine consecutive days in B.C. at six different locations, some with lift access, some without. Driving occurred at night, and we ate every meal in ski pants. We can only mention five areas, because the locals asked us to shut up. Besides, there are too many ski spots to not find your own.
Take 93 through Kalispell, and don’t fear traversing at Whitefish Mountain Resort. Stay in the cozy Kandahar (kandaharlodge.com), a ski-out/stumble-in lodge next to the lively Bierstube (skiwhitefish.com/dinelife.php). Remember your passport.
Stop in Fernie or find more ski opportunities northward. Farther up 93, there’s Banff and Lake Louise. Veer onto 95 to reach Kicking Horse. The drive time will stir your appetite, so dine and lounge at the Voodoo Café just before Golden. At Kicking Horse, we stayed in the Mountaineer Lodge (kickinghorsevacations.com).
Head over Rogers Pass toward Revelstoke (britishcolumbia.com/regions/towns/?townid=3496). Revelstone Resort is massive, but represents only a sliver of the surrounding terrain. You could ski life twice and still not explore it all. Check the ferry ride schedule across Galena Bay (th.gov.bc.ca/marine/ferry_schedules.htm). Hit Ainsworth Hot Springs (hotnaturally.com) before Nelson to recoup. You’ll need energy to dance at Spirits, play billiards in Mike’s Pub (humehotel.com), and explore Whitewater Resort. Remember, the towns are small and far apart. Keep the tank full.