We’ve been cruising the Powder Highway for a few days now. We have already visited Kicking Horse, Kimberley and Fernie (see part 1), and we are now on our way to Red Mountain, the ski resort near Rossland. From Fernie to Red it is more than 350 kilometers on Highway 3. It is a beautiful road between snowy mountains and villages and towns with names such as Yahk, Trail and Erickson.
We had a bit of an issue finding a Sani dump along the way, because that is also part of motorhome travel: the occasional dumping of black and gray waste water. The problem is that in Canada almost all dumps are closed during the winter season due to sub zero temperatures so the sites are scarce. Luckily we found the Mountain Park Resort in Erickson.
A campsite of a very nice family where both the dump and the fresh water tap is open. Also, the 200 liter petrol tank of the RV must be filled again. Here in BC the prices are considerably higher than in Alberta, but still converted 80 euro cents per liter is not much.
After having done all that, we arrive in Rossland. We are pleasantly surprised. This is a really nice village! Reminiscent of a real Wild West village, with old buildings and facades, beautifully restored. Everywhere large photos of the past, mainly about the mining history. Many art galleries and luckily also the Laundry Dog. So we can also do our laundry, the final task of the day.
As soon as the laundry is clean and dry, we get back to the RV and drive four kilometers to Red Mountain Resort, where we check in with the Big Red Cats. We’re going cat skiing tomorrow! First we need to sign a waiver so we can’t “sue” the operation if we’re stupid enough to die in a treewell or something like that.
After meeting Paula and Kieren from Big Red Cats, we walk to the brand new Josie Hotel where we have dinner in the Red Velvet Lounge. This looks and is very nice and chic, but it is worth every penny. We order a steak for 2 (700 grams) and this steak is in the top 5 best steaks ever. After this wonderful steak we drink a B52, an alcoholic liquid dessert, before we walk back to the RV: time for bed! The alarm clock will go off tomorrow at 6.15 am!
Big Red Cats
The next day at 6.45am, we walk to the Cat-Puccino, the hangout of Big Red Cats where they serve breakfast, après-ski and dinner. At eight o’clock, after a hearty breakfast, we are outside for avalanche training: everyone is given an explanation of how a transceiver works, what to do and especially not to do in the event of an avalanche and how to locate an avalanche victim.
For us (after our two avalanche courses) a piece of cake but good to see that they also take it very seriously in Canada.
After that we board a bus to the area of the Big Red Cats, just north of the Red Mountain resort. After four days of skiing relatively little powder we don’t expect much, but it did snow about five centimeters last night so that should make things a bit softer. After a fifteen minute drive we change into the Pistenbully. Yep, real Austrian Pistenbullies are used here, with a cabin on the back which can take about 14 persons! It is still snowing and after about 20 minutes we get out and click in our skis.
On the mountain
Whoop Whoop: those five centimeters in the valley turn out to be at least 20 on the mountain! And what’s underneath is also of excellent (soft) quality! It is still a bit foggy but as most of the terrain is “gladed” among the trees, visibility is good for skiing.
During the day, Kieren guides us through twelve runs through deep and fluffy powder and we get hoarse from whooping all day. We are classified in the so-called expert group which is really nice: no major crashes or panick attacks: everyone just continues to ski or board.
This means that tailguide Cody really has an easy job: no one got lost all day, no ski was lost and no one has crashed into a treewell. Instead, everyone jumps from pillow to pillow, drawing huge sprays.
Today made clear that you can always ski in soft powder in this area, even if it has barely dumped for three weeks. After the last ride Amy gets the honor to sit in the front of the slope bully next to driver Ben who drove us everywhere today.
The Big Red Cat area
The area that Big Red Cats has at its disposal is very large. The mountains are connected by lumberjack roads so that Ben can pick us up again and again at the bottom of a descent.
For us it is the first time Cat skiing and we really like it: away from the ski area so no powder stress or grasshoppers “stealing” the fresh powder. Nice chats in the Cat on the way up to the next run and during the 15-20 minutes of the ride you also get ample time to relax the leg muscles, drink some warm tea and eat one of Maria’s delicious sandwiches.
The system of a lead-guide and tail-guide also provides a very controlled off-piste experience, with Kieren regularly checking slopes for stability and potential avalanche danger. Clear explanation of the possible hazards on the slope and where to go and where not to go. In addition, each participant receives a walky talky, which guarantees communication.
And last but not least: tail-guide Cody who only leaves when he hears from Kieren that everyone is safe downstairs. All in all, a professional but above all great powder experience that leaves you just wanting more and more!
Just before five o’clock we arrive back at the Cat-Puccino. It is now dark, the beers are waiting for us and we share a Nacho Mountain with a number of fellow skiers. This time there are more of us and the nachos disappear quickly. Kieren has taken some pictures today and we all relax and check out pictures of the action today, on a large screen. After that we quickly walk back to the RV to dump our ski gear and change quickly into regular clothes.
Then back to Cat-puccino to have the Kieren special for dinner: a mega salad, with chicken and avocado. For the much-needed vitamins, and very delicious! We socialize a bit with Paula, Kieren and a couple of Aussies before we retire to our warm bed at ten o’clock. We can hardly keep our eyes open anymore. Is that because of a day of skiing or still the jet lag? Probably both! Tomorrow awaits us nother day in the resort. It’s snowing again so who knows tomorrow will also bring fresh powder inbounds?
Red Mountain Resort
The next morning we wake up with at least 15 cm of fresh snow. That is a nice surprise! We walk to Guest Services to get a day pass and a little later we meet Al Eagleton in front of the Silverlode chair.
Al owns Instinct Skis, a local Rossland ski brand that builds freeride skis. He is a furniture builder from origin so he knows his way with wood. He builds about 150 to 200 pairs of skis a year, hand made of course. The build quality is remarkably high and the skis are made with pure love from a passionate freerider. The wood that is used for the ski cores is selected and cut down by Al himself, trees from his own land.
Al is going to show us the area today. He lives just outside Rossland and he’s a bit late as he got stuck in the fresh snow on his 900 meter driveway. Since this is the first day of powder after three weeks, it seems that everybody in Rossland seems to have come out to go skiing.
Probably there are a lot of “gone skiing” signs in the village, because after such a long drought period: there will be skiing! It is striking to see the amount of senior citizens who are really at the front of the line to get the first chair, eagerly waiting to get on.
After some queuing, we get the chair lift up the mountain, at the top we continue towards the Motherlode Chair, and again a long line. That’s Red on a blue bird day. On the way up we pass a hang where a Canadian Freeride competition is going on, the participants are loudly encouraged from the chairlift.
Arriving at the top, the mountain appears to be skiable on all sides and once in a descent the long line of people is gone: due to the incredible amount of terrain, you hardly see anyone anymore.
On the mountain we find at least 30 centimeters of freshies, very nice. Al dives into the Powder Fields (that’s what the run is called), a fairly steep descent through a forest. There are only a few tracks in the entire forest. This is why we came to Canada.
Al turns out to be a seriously strong skier and we struggle to keep up with him in the forest. Damn he is fast: we actually don’t keep up with him at all, he flies through the trees, over pillows. Our legs are still a bit sore from those 12 runs yesterday and are starting to burn, BURN! It’s been a while since we had that feeling.
Hit on the knee
While trying to keep up, RP flies after Al and jumps from a pillow through some trees where the tip of his right ski gets stuck and he looses the ski. Unfortunately also a big blow to the right knee that has already suffered the icy bits in Fernie. Luckily not too bad cause he is able to continue to ski.
After a while, huffing and puffing to keep up, we come to a path that leads us back to the Motherlode Chair. We rejoin the queue. Things are going more smoothly now and soon we are back in the chairlift.
This time we go down the other side, a Double Black Diamond, really seriously steep! Again Al disappears at a rapid pace and we do our best to follow. Our pace is actually picking up following flying Al. Jumpturns and pillows, we blast through the forest.
Again we arrive at the bottom with burning legs but also with a huge smile. RP decides to call it the day with mixed feelings, he is having the time of his life but his right knee hurts a lot and starts to get swollen a bit. As we have a day of Heliski coming up in Revelstoke (part 3), he decides he better give that knee some rest. Wise decision.
Amy will go up the mountain with Al one more time. After the chairlift also skinning up to Mount Roberts, out of bounds. Super beautiful here, beautiful weather, fresh snow and no one around.
When I am almost at the top, a part of the track subsides and with one less ski I end up with my head, up side down in the fresh snow.
Brrr cold because skinning gets you very hot so I already lost the gloves and helmet! After struggling for a while, I am able to get back to the lost ski. The struggle in the deep snow kinda wore me out, so Al decides we do not need to climb further and take the descent from there. The skins can go back in the bag. Traversing a little bit, climbing over a small ridge and we are in seriously steep hang with a huge amount of fresh snow. And zero tracks! Thank you Al!
Time to hit the run! The entrance is a tight and steep couloir. Every turn means an amount of sluff as big as a small avalanche. Everywhere cliffs, trees, rocks etc. This is some gnarly shit and there is no place to stop. Just go! This is a no fall zone so using all my power to keep standing, I get through the first part without falling. After that first bit, the run gets a little wider and less steep, but it’s still well above 40 degrees.
Due to the deep snow it is actually easy to keep control and the turns flow a lot more smoothly. The hang is completely untracked, but soon we arrive at the Paridise Chair that takes us back into the area.
From there we ski down a run called Beer Belly, according to Al the run where the local 5 and 6 year olds ski. Mmmm, after a day in the expert group cat-skiing we thought we were coming down quite nicely but again this is a black diamond and by no means a easy run for excessive beer drinkers, or toddlers for that matter.
In Red, everything is just a bit more difficult, so this run was also a legburner. We wish any beer belly good luck! Down the hill, RP is waiting for us with an ice pack on his knee. Al has an appointment so he quickly jumps into the car, I am also completely done, but satisfied.
We have a nice late lunch in the Velvet Lounge and decide to leave for Revelstoke. Nakusp is about halfway, and is known for its hot springs.
In British Columbia, the mobile phone reception outside the cities and larger towns is virtually nil so it is wise to download the google maps routes and map before driving. We had forgotten that now and we had to pay good attention in the dark in order not to miss the exit to the Nakusp Hotsprings.
At the Nakusp hotsprings. there is no wifi and no mobile coverage, so we are completely off the grid for almost 16 hours, hard to imagine for a Dutchie! The site features two pools fed by the hot springs from the mountain where it emerges from inside the earth at a temperature of approximately 75 degrees. They cool this down to a temperature of about 36 degrees for the larger bath and a temperature that just doesn’t burn for the smaller bath. We dive into the hot pool and simmer for another hour. Quite magical because it is pitch dark outside and it also starts to snow lightly.
Great for letting those muscles relax and unwind. After that, rosy from the warm water. we eat something small in the camper and then quickly go to sleep. There are two designated RV spaces in the Hot Springs parking lot. Being about 12 kilometers from the main road in the middle of nowhere, this is the quietest night in Canada!
There are also a few cabins for rent at the hot springs. Also some nice hiking routes start directly from the parking lot. Tempting but we pass, because we have to get going on our way to Revelstoke, where a heliski day and a snowmobile day await us. This is for part three.
Rossland with its Red Mountain has impressed us the most so far. Wonderful village, an incredible amount of ski opportunities in the area and a very hospitable community. It also seems that everyone who comes to live or work there (temporarily), decides to stay. The level of the ski runs is pretty good, the freeride possibilities enormous and the Big Red Cat tops it all off by delivering powder in a dry period. It also seems that everyone, from the very young to the very old, comes down on skis (or board) on a professional level.
The so-called Kirk-Up Cat also runs from the top of Gray Mountain. A Cat that you can catch for 10 dollars a ride. This Cat is currently closed due to early season conditions, but later in the season that must be a great way to get acquainted with Cat skiing. Lower on the mountain there is also a lot friendlier and easier terrain for beginners. There are also many unprepared blue runs here that therefore are very doable for the first safe meters in powder. Not that we’ve see that many beginners, but it’s there.
After two days of Red, we needed at least an hour in the hot springs to recover our muscles, but this is a place where we will definitely come back. If only to try Gray mountain (right), Red mountain (left) and the Kirk-up!
More information about the Red Mountain ski resort can be found at www.redresort.com
More information about the Big Red Cats can be found at www.bigredcatskiing.com
And more information about those beautiful skis from Al Eagleton can be found at www.instinctskis.com