Travel guide: Skiing British Columbia’s best
Image courtesy of Christina Reynolds
"Ah, I love the smell of ski rentals in the morning,” says Jenny Mitchell, host of Nonstop Ski & Snowboard Adventure, as the scent of ski wax fills the air. We’re in the rental shop at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in Golden, B.C., getting geared up with “fat skis” for our first day of a guided week-long ski excursion and road trip from Golden to Fernie along British Columbia’s Highway 95. Known as the “powder highway,” the route connects over 50 ski hills and specialty ski operators in a region that can get up to 15 metres of snow in a season. If the conditions are right, the area has some of the best powder skiing in the world.
“If you’re in doubt, just go on YouTube and search ‘Champagne Tuesday,’” Emily Park, a Nonstop guide who’s also leading our trip, tells me.The recommended YouTube footage is from Tuesday, January 17, 2012, a now-legendary ski day that brought heaps of the lightest, driest “champagne” powder to Fernie—locals are still thanking snow god Ullr for all the flakes.
In fact, later in the week at the Griz Bar, Fernie’s go-to après-ski watering hole, I met Dylan Siggers, one of the young skier filmmakers who created some of the powder-fuelled ski footage. He’s just one of the many friendly and totally unpretentious locals I got to know as our little group explored the slopes and the quaint and quirky ski towns at their bases. Here are some of the top stops along the way:
FROM GOLDEN TO FERNIE
Lunch at the top of the world
After a ride in the aptly named Stairway to Heaven chairlift and a morning spent swooshing through Kicking Horse’s four alpine bowls, stop at the Eagle’s Eye Restaurant, perched at 4,000 feet, for a spectacular view and a gourmet lunch. Try the Super Bowl, a spicy seafood gumbo served with grilled focaccia sticks for dipping.
Spot the bear
Boo, Kicking Horse’s resident grizzly, lives right on the ski hill (safely inside a large electrified enclosure!). If hibernation season is just beginning or ending, you might spot the rescued orphan as you ride the gondola.
After a long day on the slopes, ski right to the door of your Lush Mountain chalet—complete with vaulted wooden ceilings, an outdoor hot tub and Adirondack chairs made out of old skis.
Learn all about downtown Golden, natural hot pools and what to do when you finally reach Fernie on the next page…
Image courtesy of David Gluns/Tourism B.C.
Golden is tiny, but it has some gems to discover, including Bacchus Books & Café. (Try the grown-up grilled cheese and creamy tomato soup while you check out a curated selection of used books, like Bill Streever’s Cold and Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.) The nearby Art Gallery of Golden has a lovely gift shop, and it’s well worth making a reservation at the tiny but tasty Cedar House restaurant—tucked in the woods just a five-minute drive away— where the seasonal menu varies and the wine list is extensive.
Head even higher
For adventure above the clouds, the pristine bowls and snowfields of the Purcell mountain range are accessible via day trips with Golden’s Purcell Heli-Skiing.
ON THE ROAD
Stop for a soak
If you’re driving along Highway 95 toward Fernie, it’s hard to pass up a swim at the popular Fairmont Hot Springs. But if you have time and are up for a worthwhile detour, keep driving until you reach Lussier Hot Springs, at Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park. Turn off the highway and stick with a winding logging road for 18 kilometres. You’ll be rewarded with a rustic dip in several secluded and steamy natural hot pools beside the rushing Lussier River.
WHEN YOU REACH FERNIE
Through Fernie Lodging Company, we stayed in Olympian Karrin Lee-Gartner’s “gold medal” log cabin, which is on the slopes of Fernie Alpine Resort. You only have to look out the window to check out more than 1,000 hectares of ski terrain. (You can also rent the cabin three doors down, where Hot Tub Time Machine was filmed.)
Hit main street
Book a massage at Fernie’s Spa 901, where strong hands and Guinot Institut Paris products will soothe sore muscles; then stop at the family-owned Beanpod chocolate shop for the town’s best hot chocolate—and coffee. Plus, choose from dozens of flavoured chocolate bars, which are created on site in a five-day bean-to-bar process.
Get more remote
Fernie’s Island Lake Catskiing resort has one of the most luxe backcountry lodges in the country—plus 2,833 hectares of private ski terrain. With a maximum of 36 winter guests, it offers perhaps the most exclusive way to ski British Columbia’s Lizard mountain range.