Whenever asking a snowboarder in Europe about where the best place in the world would be to ride, two answers will result:
I’ve already covered Japan in another post, so this one is about the other winter wonderland in the northest part of the Americas. Canada!
Canada is the great outdoors. It doesn’t get much wilder then here unless you head down to Antarctica. It is the home of the great northern Rocky Mountains to the west and the Laurentians in the East of the country.
With temperatures going well below -20 degrees Celcius, there is a guarantee of a good winter. Snowboarding in Canada, it doesn’t get much wilder than here. The mountains are BIG and much steeper than the Alps.
I am sure that the term dirtbag was a Canadian invention to describe the snow bums you can fiend around the snow fields. They stay there all through winter, snowboarding in their vintage snow suits. There are some characters here, typical for the great Canadian Outdoors. To give you an idea, watch the movie Valhalla by Sweetgrass Productions. It’s an account of the Canadian dirtbag lifestyle. Raunchy and rugged.
Best snow fields can be found in British Colombia and Alberta. The ski hills in BC are located of the whole length of the Rockies plus more in the interior, on the west coast is Whistler, Canada’s biggest snow resort.
I will be talking here mostly about the Kootenay region of BC. It’s the best place in BC to snowboard powder. The Kootenays are not the Rockies although they are very close to them. The snowboarding here is well known for having that Kootenays flavour to it. In the area are the resorts of Revelstoke and Kicking Horse, legendary snow hills far and wide known. Nelson town has its own snow hill White star.
Kimberley Alpine Resort is known for being a family orientated resort. There are three chairlifts, a T-bar and a magic carpet. The resort is relatively small compared to its neighbors. Kimberley has a challenge for everyone with easy green slopes and excellent black diamond runs. If you’re into night skiing, it has the longest lit run in North-America.
A Kootenay tradition not many outsiders get to experience. You don’t just show up, you need an invitation to these Greek Senates. What is a Sun Pit? I couldn’t tell you since it is a secret and their whereabouts are a secret too. But go to any Kootenay snow resort and they’ll have one, hidden away in the forest. Perhaps you might experience it one day if you can find it.
Around mid-winter the town gathers their Viking swords from under the dust in a maddening orgy of fire and beards! ULLR Dag is a day where the townsfolk give praise to the Norse God ULLR. There is a great bonfire made in front of the ski hill in the hope the god will hear the prayers.
There are no virgins being sacrificed or blood being spilled, just a good bonfire and some people dressed up like Vikings giving homage. In return, they hope ULLR will send lots of snow. The tradition started only a few years ago but has grown in popularity. A hit if you’re a fan of Viking culture.
The origin of the town lies in the old mine. The mine provided jobs, the jobs needed people, the people lived together so the town of Kimberley was built. Most of the immigrants who settled here were of German descent and for a number of years the town was called the Bavarian capital of BC. Townsfolk and especially the younger generations are now trying to distance themselves from this image. Which I think is a pity since it gives the town that uniqueness in a region that has a lot of mountain towns.
The Bavarian influences are still around the town centre, with German themed restaurants. The Schnitzels are delicious. Try some around the town square or head up higher to the Old Bauernhaus. A restaurant built inside an authentic German barn, taken apart in Germany, shipped and then reassembled in Kimberley.
There are several ski-in, ski-out options up at the ski hill. But I recommend staying in the actual town centre. There is a shuttle service that runs up during winter and it takes only 10 minutes. Accommodation in town is a lot cheaper than up the hill. The supermarket is walking distance from town and all the cosy restaurants are right outside of your accommodation.
If you do opt for a ski-in ski-out accommodation, stay at the Trickle Creek Lodge. They do amazing package including rentals and lessons.
There are daily scheduled buses going to all the major Canadian cities in BC. Fly in to Calgary or Edmonton in Alberta. Vancouver is an excellent option too, it’s just a bit further. Greyhound buses offer an excellent and budget friendly connection with Kimberley.
Cranbrook is the closest airport to Kimberley. If you’re staying in the Trickle Creek Lodge, they offer a shuttle service from the airport.
Four hours north of Kimberley is the town of Golden on the one highway connecting Calgary with Vancouver. About half an hour west from town is the ski hill.
Huge and steep, those are the two words to describe Kicking Horse. It offers the perfect challenge for intermediate and advanced snowboarders. That is, if there is fresh snow. During long snow-less periods the slopes get very icy. But when there is fresh powder, it offers the best easy accessible terrain in the region.
My best memory comes from hiking up the Terminator ridge. I was a rooky at snowboarding powder at that time, having mostly experienced European mountains. It’s different now, after experiencing a Japanese winter I can say I’m confident in most terrains. I still must work on my cliff jumping skills though.
The town is known for having hosted some of the world’s best snowboard athletes who trained here in the backcountry. With Rogers pass only hours driving away, Golden is the perfect home base for riding the great Canadian wild. Speaking about wild, they have a resident grizzly bear called Boo. You won’t see him during winter though, he hibernates. You can spot him when going up for a downhill mountain bike in summer. He hangs out inside his fenced area underneath the gondola.
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort has the coolest restaurant at the top of the resort. In real European style with breath-taking views of the valley behind. The food is excellent and they have amazing hot chocolate and alcohol-free cocktails.
Golden is also the gateway to the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Banff and Lake Louise are only hours away.
Driving highway one and then highway 93 north from Calgary is Banff. Because the whole area is national park, the amount of development was limited to a few towns and lodges along the way. The three biggest towns are Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper. They all have snow resorts close to them. Sunshine Village is close to Banff, Lake Louise has a snow resort named after the town and Marmot Basin for Jasper.
The towns of the Rockies are reasonably well known around the world, so the accommodation and snowboarding here is of high quality. Unfortunately, popular places are more expensive and waiting lines are longer. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that it is gorgeous around here. In winter and in summer.
Head about 20 km west from Banff and you’ll find Sunshine Village.
Ride-able area = Ginormous.
The hill is like Kimberley …on steroids. The mountain is divided in three main areas: Lookout Mountain, Mount Standish and Goat’s Eye Mountain. It is the mountain where anything goes. Easy beginner slopes, black diamonds and an extensive backcountry.
Unfortunately, all that fame comes with a price tag. The lift lines on a bad day might take half an hour or worse and you’ll be dodging people on the slopes. Snowboarding here is like I remember it in Valmeinier, France. Perfect if you have a full day of exploring, not so much if you plan to do a few runs during lunchtime.
West of Kimberley, at the base of the Slocan valley lies the city of Nelson. Hip and trendy with the majority of BC’s alternative culture living within the city walls, Nelson is a must visit town. Best way to travel through the area and snowboard all the best snow resorts is to do a loop starting at Golden, then drive down Highway 95 to Kimberley. After shredding Kimberley Mountain Resort, make a stop to go riding in Nelson. Then continue north through the Slocan valley back up to Revelstoke and get the stoke on their pants-peeing descends.
Whitewater is Nelson’s snow resort. Located 30 km from the city center, the resort is so big they printed their trail map in three parts. The beginner slopes are located mainly around the Silver King chairlift. There is a T-bar learner’s area and plenty of green slopes to snowboard down if you’re a beginner. The Summit Chair and Glory Ridge Chair are for intermediate and advanced riders. Plenty of black diamonds and tree runs to fill your hart with joy.
West of Golden and at the top of the Slocan Valley lies the town of Revelstoke. Not only does it have a mountain resort named after this extra-ordinary town, the town is the record holder for Canada’s snowiest single winter. In the winter of 1971-72, 2447 cm of snow fell on Mt.Copeland.
Revelstoke Mountain Resort was voted best ski hill of Canada in 2016 and it well deserves that title. It was featured in Travis Rice’s the Art Of Flight. There are two gondolas and two chairlifts heading all the way up to Sub Peak at a height of 2340 meters. There is a CAT-skiing operation for some serious off-piste riding and if that doesn’t soothe your appetite, try heli-boarding.
Revelstoke is also the gateway to Rogers Pass, the place to go snowmobiling and backcountry snowboarding. There are several companies with backcountry chalets and guides operating in the area. Plenty of opportunities to get your nose powdered.
In between Golden and Cranbrook lies the town of Invermere. The town has their own snow resort Panorama, 20 km driving from Invermere town center.
Panorama’s history starts in the sixties when a group of local ski enthusiasts decided they wanted to build some facilities so they could enjoy their sport during the long Canadian winters. It started off with just a rope-tow, a warming hut and a small parking lot. Fifty-five years later, it has ten lifts with 2,847 acres of terrain.
Panorama is unique that the resort is owned by local house owners and investors with the intend to put all of the profits back into the hill.
It’s in size comparable to Fernie, with beginner slopes at the base of the mountain and black diamonds at the top.
Lussier Hot Springs
In between Kimberley and Invermere are the beautiful Lussier Hot Springs. Sitting next to the road on the way to White Swan Lake. The source runs into the ice-cold river. But luckily locals built pools to mix the hot and cold to create an excellent natural hot tub.
It is simply gorgeous! Soaking while outside the pool is freezing cold. Refreshing yourself with snow chunks on your forehead. The pools get crowded during summer, which is exactly why you should go there during winter. Besides, who cares about a hot spring during summer anyway.
Here you are, my account of the snow resorts up and around BC. Writing this post was emotional for me, since my memories of Canada are still fresh. I miss my friends there and the Canadian winters. I will return there soon, even work as an instructor in one of the snow resorts mentioned in this post.
Until then, with a happy sadness in my heart I remember my time there and hope this post inspires you to experience the great Canadian Wild for yourself.
Next post will be about Valmeinier in France. A true European, Alpine snow resort where I first learned how to snowboard at age 23.