B.C. Canada’s Powder Highway
There’s something that happens when you cross the border from Eastern Washington and Western Montana into Canada, the incredible American Rockies, turn into the Canadian Rockies. Immediately the landscape becomes wilder, as the heavily-glaciated Canadian Rockies display their jagged, pointed peaks separated by wide, U-shaped valleys. And it’s through these valleys you travel among the towering Kootenay Rockies on the Powder Highway deep in the interior of B.C., Canada.
The Powder Highway is less-glamorously known as 95A, it’s a 630-mile loop that passes through, at last count, more than 60 different ski areas, heli-ski ops, backcountry lodges, guided snowcat experiences and more. The more in this case, are remote hot springs and quaint mountain towns like Fernie, Nelson, Rossland, Golden, Revelstoke, Invermere, and Kimberley. The eight ski areas include Red Mountain, Whitewater, Fernie, Kimberley, Panorama, Kicking Horse and Revelstoke. It is, for some, the definition of nirvana.
Until it’s safe again to travel and travel restrictions into Canada are lifted, we’ll just be dreaming of our next visit to the Powder Highway. Here are some suggestions for planning your future trip.
Interior B.C. is fairly remote, there are local airports, but it’s a crapshoot with winter weather. Your best bet for the majority of the destinations is flying into Spokane, Washington and driving the 92 miles to the Canadian border. Do your research on crossing the border and choose your travel mates wisely, bring your passport, pack with the knowledge that your vehicle may be searched, and be aware that many have been turned back for past infractions.
Congratulations—you made it over the border! The opportunities are laid before you like an abundant Vegas buffet. How, you must be asking yourself, do you choose? If you’re like me, you go once and then you keep going back again and again and again. Drawn by the deep powder, the people and the incredible experience of getting away from it all.
On my very first experience in the mid-90s, then a clueless college kid, I drove across the border from Whitefish, Montana, with Fernie Alpine Resort as our destination. This little ski town and big mountain exemplified everything there is to love about Powder Highway destinations—legendary skiing and snowboarding, merging with friendly locals—many of whom make their living as guides, ski bums, ski pioneers, or extremely talented chefs and bakers, focused on hyper-local, farm-to-table cuisine, very much adding to the draw of these quaint and classic towns. We rode deep powder all day at Fernie, relaxed at the community swim center at night, and ate incredibly wholesome food throughout the trip. Add to the Fernie experience, by booking a day (or two) of cat skiing at Island Lake Lodge, you just might find yourself in the company of legendary skier Scott Schmidt or enjoying the colorful commentary of legendary photographer Mark Gallup (Fernie is packed with legends…it was also once home to legendary snowboarder Craig Kelly).
Since that maiden voyage in the mid-90s, I’ve returned again and again—which is one way to approach the Powder Highway, to dip in and out. The next stop was Revelstoke Mountain Resort, a legitimate big mountain riding experience in a logging-town-turned-ski-town. Again, I started from Spokane, where I drove north over the border to “Revie.” The drive includes an equally memorable ferry across Upper Arrow Lake complete with eagles soaring overhead and jagged mountain peaks reflected in the water.
Revelstoke Mountain Resort is on par with Whistler or Jackson Hole. The resort boasts a 5,620 vertical drop, like top-to-bottom, this serves as the ultimate fitness test and possibly the longest powder run of your life. Selkirk-Tangiersheli-ski operates right out of the base area of Revelstoke, or you can opt for a day of at skiing with Great Northern Snowcat skiing, which transports you via shuttle from Revelstoke to the powder paradise of Trout Lake for a day of ripping deep powder lines.
Over the years, I’ve also returned with a cat-full of friends (12 people) to ride Baldface Lodge , where every day ended with rubbery legs from riding so much powder … and admittedly too many Caesars (Canada’s highly-addictive version of a bloody Mary). And then again with a small group of friends for guided touring at Ice Creek Lodge with a no-frills cabin (okay, there’s a sauna), which was peaceful and soul-satisfying. Both are in range of the town of Nelson, which was rated the number one small-town arts community in Canada. It’s also home to one of my favorite coffee roasters, Oso Negro, and a quaint main street packed with exceptional restaurants. You should ride at Whitewater Ski Resort while you’re here, this steep and deep ski area also boasts exceptional food …there’s even a cookbook.
The fastest route to Golden is by flying into Calgary International Airport and making the stunningly scenic 2.5 hour drive past Banff National Park. Once here, Kicking Horse Mountain Resort is the call. This resort boasts 3,486 acres of terrain and holds the title of the fourth highest resort in North America with 4,133 feet of vertical. In addition to the epic resort skiing, Golden is also the jump off for Chatter Creek Lodge snowcat skiing, which operates across 58,000 acres of alpine bowls including very memorable pillow lines and very long tree runs. Or alternately, visit the remote cabins of Golden Alpine Holidays, where we enjoyed guided splitboarding, and found vert-smashing powder runs, as well as playful features. And the scenery … omg.
To get you started for your touring adventure we have many helpful articles filled with pro tips on everything from the gear you will need to the proper avalanche training you should master before heading into the backcountry.
What is Backcountry Skiing
How To Safely Start Ski Touring
What Is Splitboarding
Gear You Will Need To Get Into Touring
How To Read The Avalanche Report
Inbounds Uphill Touring Is Taking Off This Winter
Leave No Trace Tips: Winter Edition
The skiing and snowboarding experience of the Powder Highway stays with you, but also the people you meet, the food and the unforgettable scenery. I always leave inspired, refreshed, instantly nostalgic and scheming a return visit.
Annie Fast writes about winter sports and outdoor adventures from her home in Bend, Oregon.You can read more about her and her work at anniefast.com