How to ski the Powder Highway in British Columbia
The Powder Highway is the nickname for a ski-drive in British Columbia, Canada. Earlier this year, hubby G and I took a trip to visit a series of Alpine ski resorts, including Kicking Horse, Revelstoke, RED Mountain, Whitewater, Fernie, Kimberly and Panorama.
Brilliantly, G proposed in Whitewater and we were married on a snowy slope in Fernie. Our ski wedding in British Columbia.
What is the Powder Highway?
The Powder Highway is a nickname for a snow-blessed route of some 1300km that loops through the magnificent Kootenay Rockies between eight far-flung Alpine ski resorts in BC.
The Kootenay Rockies are located in south-east British Columbia, in south-west Canada.
We visited seven of these resorts over a three-week ski-drive trip. You could ski a different resort each day – although some resorts are divided by 4.5 hours of driving – but I recommended you take your time to enjoy several days at each mountain centre. A fortnight is the minimum and, better still, go for three weeks or more. Alternatively, you could visit a few of the resorts over 10 days.
How to get there
The Powder Highway is most easily accessed through Calgary International Airport, in the neighbouring Canadian state of Alberta, and Spokane International Airport in Washington state, America.
Pick up hire car at the airport and set off for the drive. There are also companies that specialise in Powder Highway tours by bus.
What’s so special about the Powder Highway?
Let’s start with the snowfall. The average annual dump of snow across the Powder Highway is around 10m and in some resorts this tops 15m.
It’s claimed the area has the highest concentration of ski options in the world, including downhill, backcountry, cross-country, cat-skiing and heli-skiing.
The variety of terrain is equally impressive, through wide pisted groomers, powder-filled back county bowls and both steep and gently winding runs.
Yet the resorts rarely feel touristy or over-commercialised, rather they offer an atmosphere that is laid back and friendly.
What is surprising is how less travelled the Powder Highway remains.
Warm up at SkiBig 3
If you arrive through Calgary airport, you could stretch your skiing legs at Alberta’s SkiBig3 resorts first.
The three ski centres are located in Banff National Park and include:
- Lake Louise, the second largest resort in Canada.
- The high-rise ski village of Sunshine.
- The locals’ favourite, Norquay.
Driving the Powder Highway
Be prepared for some long drives between resorts but this an extremely scenic route through the Rockies and the views more than make up for the time spent in a car.
7 great stops on the Powder Highway
The drive: Calgary to Kicking Horse, 3 hours, or Lake Louise to Kicking Horse, 75 minutes.
1 Kicking Horse Mountain Resort
Nearest town: Golden
Where to stay: In-resort Glacier Mountaineer Lodge.
Known as the Champagne Powder Capital of Canada and with a reputation for steep and deep, Kicking Horse is a legend in its own right.
The resort offers a skiing menu of 7m average annual snowfall, 129 runs, four alpine bowls, 85 chutes and a superb 1,260m of vertical.
The drive: Kicking Horse to Revelstoke: 2 hours.
2 Revelstoke Mountain Resort
Where to stay: Sutton Place Hotel for ski-in-ski-out luxury or Revelstoke town for downtown lodgings.
Revelstoke is Canada’s newest ski resort – it opened in 2007 – and claims North America’s title for the longest lift accessed vertical of 1713m and the longest ski run at 15km. The average annual snowfall is 10m.
Just three lifts and a few short traverses allow you to ski almost every metre of the 3200 acres, with a mix of groomers, flattering tree skiing and easily accessed big bowls.
The drive: Revelstoke to Nelson: 4 hours
We broke the journey overnight at Halcyon Hot Springs & Spa.
3 RED Mountain Resort
Nearest town: Nelson
Where to stay: The Adventure Hotel, Nelson.
Uncrowded, under-stated and relaxed, RED Mountain, near Rossland, is well worth the drive. The resort has two main peaks extending to almost 2700 acres of skiing and some 883m of vertical.
Some say it’s one of the steeper BC resorts but a big dump of fresh powder meant every run felt like skiing slopes of the silkiest butter.
The lifts are a bit slower and the cloud can be low, but the friendly atmosphere meant we would have happily stayed for the rest of the season.
The drive: Nelson to Whitewater, 25 mins.
4 Whitewater Ski Resort
Nearest town: Nelson
Where to stay: Ainsworth Hot Springs Hotel.
Authentic, endowed with snow (annual snowfall is 12m) and as warm and welcoming as an old friend, Whitewater is a gem of a find. (It’s also where G got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I said yes!)
The mix of skiing is sublime, including beginner-friendly groomers, beautifully gladed tree lines, testing steeps and pristine backcountry.
While the slopes are surprisingly quiet, you’ll need to jostle for a place in the packed Fresh Tracks Café for best slopeside food we’ve ever eaten.
The drive: Nelson to Ainsworth Springs, 45 mins.
Ainsworth Springs to Fernie, 4hrs 30 mins.
5 Fernie Alpine Resort
Where to stay: Lizard Creek Lodge, in Fernie resort.
A mild yet snowfall-heavy climate has given Fernie a strong following and there are many people who only come to this resort to ski each year.
It’s easy to see what holds their attention with more than 2500 acres of skiable terrain, 107 runs, five alpine bowls and a large beginner’s area.
We checked in for three days and were lucky enough to enjoy some of the annual 9m of fresh powder – and more than an average amount of sunshine.
The drive: Fernie to Kimberley, 1hr 30 mins.
6 Kimberley Alpine Resort
Where to stay: Trickle Creek Lodge, in Kimberley.
Small town charm meets powder-sure slopes in the small but perfectly packaged resort of Kimberley.
Kimberley is great for groups of mixed abilities with an easy to navigate piste map covering everything from wide-open groomed runs, to short but steep bump runs and all with stunning backdrop of the Rockies.
7 Panorama Mountain Resort
Where to stay: In-resort lodgings.
The name says it all and this ski-in-ski-out resort offered some of the most fantastic views of the trip, although, to be fair, there was hardly an ugly moment.
There’s 2,975 acres of patrolled, skiable terrain and three-quarters of runs are suitable for beginners and intermediates. For experienced skiers, you’ll want to head to exhilarating Taynton Bowl.
See more information about the Powder Highway