During an average winter we travel about eight to twelve times to the Alps, to go powder hunting. This time we decided to do a bucket list item for Amy: skiing in Canada (RP already got the t-shirt in 2006).
We are going to visit the so-called Powder Highway in Canada, with a Canadian Mobile home! Roadtrip! We take a direct flight to Calgary by KLM. An excellent flight of just over 9 hours with beautiful views over Greenland.
From Calgary airport it is ten minutes by taxi to the CanaDream Mobile home rental site, where we will pick up our mobile home for the next 12 days. This travel story about this epic road trip is divided in three parts. Part 1 is about Kicking Horse, Kimberley and Fernie. Part 2 about Rossland and Red Mountain and part 3 about Revelstoke.
When travelling to the Alps, summer and winter, we drive our Sprinter 4×4 campervan, our first dutch-overlander vehicle. It is a 4×4 and very agile so we can keep moving in the worst snow storms and the smallest alpine roads. The mobile home we receive today is not so agile though. Eight and a half meters long, almost four meters high and 2.5 meters wide. In Europe you would not be allowed to drive it with a regular diving license as it is way over 3500kg. This is not a problem for Canadian rules: a Euro B drivers license suffices!
In the Canadreams workshop we get a thorough explanation of all the technical features before we set off. This mobile home is specially made for winter and comes with generator, heater and snow chains. All spots, dents and a chip in the window are noted so that there can never be an issue about it later. Our mobile home has done 30,000 kilometers and, except for those few small spots, looks like new.
On the inside awaits us a big surprise: a bedroom, bathroom with shower, sink and toilet and a kitchen with 3 gas burners, an oven and even a microwave. Also a large panel that controls everything to check if your dirty water tanks are getting full, if there is still enough propane for the stove, etc.
After a few days, it appears that the vehicle drives pretty good, especially in the snow due to the double rear tires and the excellent snow tires. Being keen of driving 4×4 in these conditions it actually does not disappoint us. The consumption of the V8 is not really economical with 1 to 3.5, but given the dimensions of the vehicle this is not a surprise. Also the fuel price in Canada (converted between 60 and 80 ct per liter of petrol – it was pre-Corona) makes it actually quite doable.
We are on our way to the first stop on the Powder Highway, Kicking Horse. What an interesting name. They say that a long time ago a cowboy got kicked by his horse. True? Who knows, but it sounds quite logical in a country where the roads have striking names such as Deerfoot trail or Cowboy trail.
First it is time for grocery shopping on the way at the local Coop. Then we drive up Highway 1, a.k.a. Trans Canadian Highway, direction Golden. As it is getting dark and we are quite tired from the journey and the jet lag, we decide to make a stop half way in Banff.
A very pretty village, full of beautiful wooden lodges, lit up trees and cute shops where you can buy cotton candy, mountain chocolate and local art.
After browsing the village we are having dinner in a beautiful building, the Grizzly house, where we eat a delicious steak. Good to know that you can also get a full fondue menu, with a cheese fondue as a starter, a fondue with beef, rattlesnake, ostrich, frog legs and bison as a main course, and a chocolate fondue for dessert. We decide to pass.
Next morning we are both wide awake at 6am. Jet lag! We decide to get up and unpack our suitcases, because we hadn’t gotten around that the night before. As we plan to go skiing today, we already dress ourselves in ski gear. After that we have a quick breakfast at the local Starbucks and off we go to Kicking Horse.
Fun fact for us Dutchies is that Kicking Horse was actually built by a Dutch company, called Ballast Nedam. After an hour or two driving we arrive into the resort. We park the RV in a designated spot, get our lift tickets and quickly enter the gondola.
Unfortunately for us it hasn’t snowed for a week so there is no fresh powder to be found. The resort is beautifully set up with only 4 lifts. These lifts open up 4 bowls where you can descend almost anywhere. Tree runs, couloirs, easy riders. Everything is there.
The Easiest Way down slope runs right through the area, where one can push out some smashing fast carves. Even on our super-wide powder skis with a radius of more than 40 meters. There is hardly anyone there and the snow is super grippy. Despite the lack of powder we had a great day.
After a steep entry and a bit of traverse we find some pockets with powder in the so called Bowl Over. The entrance to the Feuz Bowl is also quite difficult, but once you made it, you can make beautiful turns at high speed. Those steep steps are standard: Kicking Horse is clearly a place for strong skiers, because beginners really only have the Easiest Way down slope.
The scenery is incredibly beautiful and we can imagine that with 50 centimeters of freshies this place will be the bomb. After lunch it starts to snow a little bit and although the flurries continue to fall through the night, it only leaves about 5 centimeters.
The next day we start our ski day at Double Black Coffee right in front of the gondola. It seems to be the only place with decent coffee in Kicking Horse. After that we quickly take the gondola up the mountain. Due to the small layer of fresh snow, the descents are a bit softer today. Today we try the Gladed Area (gladed means through the trees) of the Bowl Over, but it is still too hard. However, the other side of the bowl, which has stayed in the shade, was much better.
We have a nice lunch in the beautiful Eagle’s Eye restaurant on top of the mountain, with two Swedes, Jens and Lena, whom we just met in the gondola. Funny thing: if you see someone skiing inbounds with an airbag you can bet they are European! After lunch, we decide to do some more descents with our new Swedish friends
Around three o’clock we call it the day and we decide to go and check out the nearby town of Golden. Golden is a real worker town and does not have the picturesque and luxurious ski lodge atmosphere of Banff and Kicking Horse resort. There are a lot of corrugated iron buildings, trailer parks, motels and it seems the Golden people only drive mega pick up trucks.
You can feel the hard frontier atmosphere of the old west here. Downtown we find many places with coffee, bars and restaurants that look much better on the inside. The local brewery, Whitetooth, is the local hangout and it is pleasantly busy. They brew all kinds of beers there, with a twist. Our favorite is the Thread the Needle Witbier. A Witbier brewed according to a Belgian recipe (hence the Dutch/Flemmish name Witbier) , with the addition of lemongrass and coriander. Really very tasty.
In the evening we have dinner in Winston bar, which is a 5-minute walk from our motorhome spot in Kicking Horse. Winston looks fairytale beautiful from the outside and we’re a little worried it might be quite expensive. Once inside it turns out to be a nice pub with a fireplace and simple but tasty menu. We meet Jens and Lena there again and we share some tasty snacks and beers.
The next morning we woke up very early again (still jet lagged). It is time to say good bye to Kicking Horse. Still in the dark we drive to Kimberley, our next stop.
Kimberley is completely different from Kicking Horse. The area is and looks much more friendly. There are, however, many challenging descents in the “Black Forest”, but in general they are not as steep as in Kicking Horse. Despite the fact that also here it hasn’t snowed for over a week, we still managed to find some decent powder around the Geneva and Full House run in the Black Forest.
On the other side of the Easter Chair on the Vimy Ridge we do Fuzzy descent, a real playground, not steep and lots of jumps and bumps to bounce over. The Easter Chair itself is quite special because it runs on a diesel engine: there is no electricity in that corner of the area.
The Black Forest is the place to be during or right after a dump, the possibilities are endless. You can’t really get a decent lunch on the mountain in Kimberley, but there are plenty of options down in the resort. It is clearly a family resort because children are walking and skiing everywhere. Also a lot of ski racing kids because there is also a ski race school.
There is a good chance that because of the family profile powder descents will last a little longer: there are fewer freeriders on the mountain compared to Kicking Horse and the atmosphere is also less hardcore freeride.
Looking back, both resorts, Kicking Horse and Kimberley, offer a lot of options, especially after a nice snow dump. In addition to the relaxed Easy Way down groomer, Kicking Horse has quite a few very steep descents. Flanks with a steady 40-45 degrees can be found everywhere. Many of the couloirs are even steeper.
Kimberley slopes are located between the trees and the Black Forest is a must. They are a lot more relaxed too being around 35 degrees. Rocks are almost impossible to find which is nice for your ski base even when there is not a thick snow cover.
The big difference of both areas (and most other North American areas) with Europe is that there are far fewer skiers in the area but that almost 50% of the skiers go off-piste to some extent. This has of course to do with the Boundary system: inbounds (within the boundary) in principle all slopes, including the off-piste terrain in between are checked for avalanche danger. The threshold for off-piste skiing is therefore very low.
Moreover, this opens a huge amount of terrain where you can go, in principle without avalanche gear. This means you hardly see anyone skiing or boarding with a backpack. We also noticed that the so-called Double Black Diamond runs are really very black, resulting in very good skiers here in Canada BC.
After Kicking Horse and Kimberley we are very curious about Fernie. Fernie is a short trip off the Powder Highway, about two hours drive from Kimberley. From Kimberley ski resort we pass through Kimberley village and there we have to stop for the pedestrian crossing.
Arriving in Fernie we first try to find a spot for the RV near the resort. Fernie Ski Resort is very nicely set up, with all kinds of bars and restaurants around the start of the lifts.
The Rusty Edge is pleasantly busy, live music regularly and the Nacho Mountain Plate is ridiculously large. The two of us haven’t even gotten to half of it yet. Highly recommended with a larger group because it comes layered: cheese everywhere!
The next day, we start in the Currie Bowl: the snow here was already completely blown out and very hard. Not nice. To give our knees some rest, we drink a good cappuccino and bagel at Lost Boys, at the top of the Timber chair.
From there on we continue towards the Cedar Bowl by crossing the Polar Peak Chair, which unfortunately is closed due to avalanche danger. But by crossing a ridge we are able to ski into the Lizard Bowl via a double black diamond descent.
The entry here is so steep, narrow and rocky that there is a rope hanging so you can lower yourself with it. Car tires ensure that you do not damage your skis on the rocks.
Once you’ve passed the tires, a real nice and wide bowl opens up, with powder! Unbelievable, the difference in snow quality between the two bowls. Via the Bear Chair we then enter the Cedar Bowl where we find some powder pockets between the trees. The tracked areas are also soft here and the view is fantastic.
Trees are completely whitewashed into snow ghosts (due to the frost) and that gives the environment a fairytale appearance. It is a great place to spend the day.
At night, we dine in the resort and the TV is on everywhere: it’s Superbowl time and so everyone is watching the incomprehensible American Football. It’s 31-31 and it’s going to be extra time. We can no longer wait for the final score because we really need to go to sleep. The next morning we drive to the village of Fernie for breakfast: a cozy village where we get great coffee and bagels before we head for Rossland and Red Mountain (part 2).
Clearly, with fresh snow you can find great runs in all three resorts. Kicking Horse is more suited for the experts who like steep walls. Kimberley is good for the relaxed freerider who loves tree-skiing, and great for families. Fernie resort appears to be a little bit in between: it has something for everyone: not too steep tree runs in Cedar Bowl, couloirs in Lizard bowl and many groomers. But the place is a bit busier.
More information about the resorts can be found at:
A winterproof RV can be rented directly at https://www.canadream.com/ for CAN$208 per day (approx. EUR 138, January 2019)