EPIC ski trip: Kicking Horse Mountain Resort
Having visited Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in 2018 as part of a fantastic Powder Highway skiing trip, it was top of our list to return this winter because we knew there was so much more to explore. This is a resort in British Columbia that has a reputation for steeps, deeps and gnarly.
Here are some stats, facts and more about Kicking Horse:
Ozone and T2 in a day
At the top of the Stairway to Heaven chairlift, a metal archway – headlined “Stairway to Heaven” – beckons the bravest skiers and boarders. I had seen it many times before as I passed by on my way to ski numerous other runs, both pisted and non-groomed, across the high and attractive ski resort of Kicking Horse.
I had stopped and stared upwards several times, wondering if I would ever dare to enter this gateway, climb the short flight of steps and then ascend on the narrow, hard-packed snowy trail to the ski area’s highest point.
To be honest, I am not sure I would have dared, except that one day during our time in Kicking Horse, Hubby G and I found ourselves skiing with a group of eager and skilful skiers.
To ski – or not to ski – Ozone
When the idea to ski Ozone South Face was suggested, my first reaction was to shake my head. Then I thought a bit about it and asked some of the other skiers what it might be like. The general consensus was that it was steep and long but “not ridiculous”.
This run is relatively new in Kicking Horse thanks to an expansion of terrain in the last couple of years. The run means the resort can now boast of offering 4314ft (1314m) of vertical descent. (For those in the UK, that is almost the same elevation as Ben Nevis.)
The Ozone run heads down from a highest elevation of 8218ft (2504m).
Building my confidence on T2
Just the day before, I had “boot-packed” (this means to hike in ski boots while carrying skis) another well-known track in Kicking Horse to ski what is known as Terminator 2 (T2).
T2 is reached by skiing east along the CPR Ridge from the gondola top station. You follow signs south for Terminator towards the Super Bowl Saddle (there are easier off-piste runs from here, too), before following the main ridge more steeply upwards.
The snowy trail culminates on T2 summit. There are fabulous views of both the Rocky and Purcell mountains on either side.
From here, it’s possible to ski into a bowl of (usually) fresh, soft snow and to choose your own line in the wide off-piste terrain.
I was nervous about venturing up to T2 because the last time we were in the resort, I ended up rather teary due to the anxiety of the steep climb. This year, however, I was surprised by how much better I coped.
It is a steep climb that can feel exposed at times but it’s not too long and the off-piste ski is on a relatively gentle slope from the peak.
This is not to say that it’s an easy ski. The slope starts at a fairly flattering angle before veering more sharply downwards. You can choose to ski a number of steep gullies about halfway down the slope or stick closer to the resort boundary fence for a “less steep” descent.
I found I had the skills and guts to cope with T2 and I enjoyed the rewards of skiing powder snow without more than half a dozen other people around me.
Back to the Ozone
Despite the confidence reaped after skiing T2, I still wasn’t sure if I would manage the steeper Ozone south face. “Is it steeper than T2?” I asked a friend who had skied it the day before. “Yes, but not much and only in a short-ish mid-section,” came the reply.
“Hmmmmm,” I thought. “Maybe I am brave enough.”
The fact that we were part of a group and there was another woman, Sam, who seemed as nervous as I was, somehow helped me to find enough confidence to enter the “Stairway to Heaven”.
Yet, still, as we took out first steps upwards I could feel my heart beating faster and my legs beginning to shake.
To access Ozone, you need to boot-pack up to Whitewall, ski along a high saddle section of the ridge and then boot-pack further to the top of the face. There are two high points, Blue Heaven (8033ft) and then Ozone. We planned to ski “Nozone” bowl.
Brilliantly, the first section of the bootpack offered no views of the bowl. I found this partly comforting (what you can’t see, you can’t worry about) and partly unnerving (what you can’t see, you can also worry about).
Climbing upwards in a line of people, I tried to divert my nervous thoughts by listening to the chat among other people, both those in front and those behind me.
I enjoyed the exertion of the climb and I felt fortunate to be fit enough to bootpack the high ridge.
While the trail gradient is not steep – it is a gentler climb than the route to T2 – the high altitude can make you feel out of breath. I tried to keep a steady and comfortable pace, but without holding up others behind me.
I kept telling myself that I could turn back if the ski run off Ozone looked too much for me. (Imagine that return walk of shame, though!) Yet, at the same time, I was hopeful that there was a part of my brain that would give me the courage to actually ski the Ozone run.
And, thus, my thoughts over the 20-minute bootpack swung between : “I can’t”, “I can”, “I might”, “Please let me do this” and “Gahh, I don’t think I can.”
Top of the Stairway to Heaven
Previously in Kicking Horse, skiers would climb the Stairway to Heaven to ski Whitewall. This was the extent of the terrain that was open for public skiing.
Then came Ozone, which was developed first as the legendary competition venue for the Freeride World Tour event. Brilliantly, there is now public access to Ozone south face.
As I stood at the highest point of the ridge, I tried to focus on being brave. I took my skis off my rucksack, carefully clipped in my ski boots, checked that I had swapped the boots from walk mode to ski mode and made sure that everything was properly set for safe skiing.
I took in the wide-sweeping views of mountain peaks and then began to edge towards the top of the Ozone slope. Incredibly, I felt relieved.
I could see that it was possible to enter the top of the bowl on a fairly gentle slope. (Other skiers launched themselves off a steeper drop-off higher up the bowl edge but that wasn’t for me!)
The top of the bowl as far as I could see appeared steep but not stupidly so. I knew from my skiing experience that I would manage this. I am not going to tell you I was confident, rather I felt capable.
The snow was deliciously soft and fluffy and before I knew it I was enjoying the thrills of the descent. Around me I could hear the squeals of joy of other skiers and I am sure I was smiling myself.
But then came a steeper section. In fact, I heard Hubby G say: “This is bloody steep.” That didn’t help my nerves and so I replied: “Just get going. I am not going to think about it. I am just going to ski.”
To my amazement, I did just that. I told myself I could do it and that I should just keep making turns – and this is what happened.
Before long, the steeper section has eased again and I found myself skiing more easily through more fabulous powder.
I felt my spirits rise and I could not stop grinning. Catching up with the rest of the group towards the base of the Ozone slope I saw that everyone else was thrilled, too.
We were all looking upwards at the slope that we had just descended.
I had done it, although I still couldn’t believe it.
Pushing limits of my comfort zone
In Kicking Horse, they say you should be prepared to ski on the edge of your comfort zone. I like this mantra. I would not recommend Kicking Horse for total beginners, but for anyone else there is so much to challenge and at such a range of levels.
I arrived two years ago and challenged myself to one off-piste run. I did it but I felt horribly anxious. This time, I challenged myself further and because I had a little more experience of skiing off-piste (thanks to my Norway ski touring trip last year) I was able to achieve more.
During the four-day stay in Kicking Horse, I skied T2 twice, Ozone once, as well as several other steep and gnarly slopes off CPR Ridge and Redemption Ridge. I also managed to persuade myself to take on what turned out to be the toughest off-piste route. T1 (Terminator 1).
T1 at Kicking Horse
I am grateful to Hubby G for getting me down T1. He skied it the day before and he told me I would manage it… but that I would be scared. I was!
T1 requires a boot-pack. From the Gondola top, you ski east along CPR Ridge and then follow the signs south for Terminator. About halfway along Terminator Ridge, there is a sign pointing east up towards Terminator Peak.
As we hiked up a steep trail, I looked down on an airy and narrow bridge, which is used as part of a via ferrata experience in the summer.
Again my anxiety rose the higher I climbed. I knew that the first section of the T1 descent would involve a tricky slide along the ridge top. I wasn’t sure I would be brave enough to attempt this and my worries began to spill into all parts of my brain.
My thoughts whirred: “What am I doing here? Why do I imagine I can do these things? I will end up hurt or embarrassed. I just don’t think I am capable of steep slopes. I don’t like skiing steeps, so why am I even up here?”
By the time I reached the ridge top my heart was racing and my legs were visibly shaking. I could hardly clip into my skis and I was thankful that G was by my side, helping me to be practical.
I looked along the ridge and the narrow trail made me gulp. One wrong move and I would slip over the edge on to a steep slope. G told me to take it slowly, to slide carefully sideways and to follow what he was doing.
I told myself to get a grip – and somehow I did.
Although it was frightening, the slide sideways and then, finally, a short high traverse was manageable. The route had been well worn by other skiers and I focused on being brave. I kept telling myself it was possible and I had enough skills.
I have no doubt there are other skiers that can whizz along this section without another thought, but I also imagine there have been many like me.
Eventually, the section came to an end and I looked over towards the top of the mountain bowl. It was steep but not the steepest I had skied over previous days.
In fact, I was able to enjoy the first part of the slope.
However, the toughest part was still to come. About halfway down the descent the gradient steepens further. By this point, my legs and nerves were in tatters.
I looked along the bowl to see if there was an easier option but there wasn’t. I saw G skiing with apparent ease towards the bottom of the bowl.
There was nothing for it but to get on with it. I told myself out loud to take a turn. I thought I would need to ski only about five more turns to reach the end of the steepest section.
It took four turns in reality and suddenly I was on easier terrain. I felt the most enormous rush of delight.
Again I had pushed myself out of my comfort zone and achieved what I had thought might be beyond me.
Brilliantly, another attempt of T2 after Ozone felt so much easier. I reflected that it is easier to bootpack and ski a route when you have done it before – and therefore you know what is coming. My anxiety levels on this run where almost non-existent.
Kicking Horse gems
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort is one of my favourite ski destinations and a place I am sure we will return to. It might not look like a huge resort on paper, but there is plenty to challenge a range of skiers – and so much to explore.
See Kicking Horse, which is located near the town of Golden in British Columbia, Canada.