By Todd Plummer
Updated February 21, 2020
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Credit: Dave Heath

More often than not, a ski trip can easily get bogged down with nightmare traffic, impossible lift lines, and overpriced everything — so much so that it sometimes feels as if ski resorts have forgotten about the skiing itself. Set your sights just a bit north, however, and you’ll find what insiders have long considered one of the best regions in the world for true snow sports connoisseurs, a place where untamed adventure thrives: the Kootenay Rockies, nestled in the southeastern corner of British Columbia. 

True, it requires just a little more travel time to visit our neighbor to the North than it takes to get to, say, Mammoth or Park City — and you’ll need a passport. But with favorable exchange rates, some of the deepest snow on the planet and thinner crowds, the time feels right to head north for a Canadian ski trip. 

Credit: Dave Best

This corner of British Columbia offers an impressive array of snow sports at all levels for downhill, cross-country, and backcountry enthusiasts alike, with 8 of the country’s top alpine ski resorts, 16 backcountry huts, 23 backcountry serviced lodges, 15 cat-ski operators, 20 heli-ski operators, and 16 nordic centers — all of which are neatly organized along a 630-mile driving loop adorably referred to as the “Powder Highway.” If you were to draw the route out on a map, in the most general of terms, it goes from Revelstoke, south along the Columbia River to Rossland, east to Cranbrook and Fernie, then all the way north through Golden, and finally back over to Revelstoke. It would take many visits to experience every attraction along the Powder Highway, and a lifetime to learn the nuances that make each destination along the way unique. But if you’ve got a winter-ready rental car and a can-do attitude, you can do a “greatest hits” tour in just under one week’s time.

In terms of how to get there, the good thing is that this region is serviced by a number of international and regional airports, making it possible to customize your itinerary and also price-compare the best flight that works for you. Castlegar, B.C. for instance, is physically closest to the route itself, but is a small regional airport, meaning flights can be pricey and unreliable if the weather is inclement. Spokane, Washington, on the other hand, is just 2.5 hours from the Powder Highway route and is easily reached from a number of major U.S. airports. Kelowna, B.C. and Calgary International Airport are also reliable options — it just depends which mountains you want to prioritize and for how long you want to enjoy the open road. 

Once you’ve picked up the rental car, loaded it up with your gear and maybe grabbed a Tim Horton’s coffee for the road, it’s time to choose your own adventure in this high-octane winter wonderland. Take your time to enjoy the journey — because by the time your trip comes to a close whether you hit all the stops or not, you will certainly be looking for an excuse to come back. 

Here, a beginner’s guide to making all the right stops along the way.

Revelstoke

Credit: Royce Sihlis

Numerous ski guides and competitive winter sports professionals call Revelstoke home, and for good reason — Revelstoke Mountain Resort offers the highest lift-accessed vertical in North America, as well as some of the most challenging terrain you’ll find anywhere. But you need not be an Olympian to make the most of Revy. New this winter is the Stellar Chair, a new fixed grip quad opening up new beginner and intermediate terrain, making an excellent playground for beginner skiers working their way up to Revy’s famously “steep and deep” runs. From the resort, Selkirk Tangiers Heli Skiing offers single day packages perfect for first time heli-skiers, or those who can’t commit to the usual five- or seven-day package most other operators offer. In town, Dose Coffee pulls some of the meanest espressos in this part of Canada. And the beers, unpretentious pub grub, and welcoming environment at The Village Idiot make it a great place to find new friends.

Nelson

Credit: Nick Diamond

As you drive south, stop for a soak at the Halcyon Hot Springs, which offer four mineral-rich pools overlooking Upper Arrow Lake, then continue on down to Nelson, known for its artists, artisans, and landmarked heritage buildings. While not the largest hill in the area, Whitewater Ski Resort has a refreshingly approachable vibe — and its famous Fresh Tracks Café (located at 5,400 feet) offers a different take on mountain food, with health and indulgent options for vegans, the gluten-free, as well as the carnivorous and bread eaters alike.

Rossland

Credit: Dave Heath

Few Powder Highway hotels have become “destinations” in their own right quite like The Josie, which offers tastefully designed rooms with expansive views, and brings new meaning to the term “slopeside accommodations” (it’s located literally steps from RED Mountain Resort’s chair lifts). After working up an appetite on the best gladed tree runs in North America, grab one of the outdoor tables at The Velvet Restaurant and Lounge and unwind with a local beer or handcrafted cocktail. Better yet, stay for dinner — the food there is considered some of the best in this part of B.C.

Fernie

Credit: Dave Heath

With five powder-packed alpine bowls, there is plenty of terrain to love at Fernie Alpine Resort, but if you’re really looking to expand your skill set, consider signing up for the resort’s two-day Backcountry Basics course, an introduction to avalanche safety as well as ski touring equipment and techniques. By the end of the class, you will start to understand that the beauty of the Powder Highway isn’t just the ski resorts themselves — it’s the abundance of off-piste opportunities that make this entire seven million acre region a living, breathing embodiment of ski culture at its finest.

Golden

Credit: Kari Medig

Last but certainly not least is the town of Golden, home to Kicking Horse Mountain Resort which boasts over 2,800 acres of skiable terrain, 4 bowls, countless chutes and thrilling ridge lines as far as the eye can see. The mountain’s upper reaches are an expert skier’s paradise, but less adventurous skiers will feel perfectly at home with easier runs on the lower mountain. Wherever you ski, make sure to budget in some time for an aprés-ski beer at Eagle’s Eye Restaurant —  perched at 7,700 feet, it offers Canada’s “most elevated” dining experience, and jaw dropping views of the Rocky and Purcell Mountain ranges in every direction.