HIGH& MIGHTY

Barry Oliver says there’s more to ski­ing in the land of maple and moose than the big-gun re­sorts

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Canada & Alaska -

TO most Aus­tralians, ski­ing in Canada means Whistler, Banff Lake Louise or per­haps Big White. How­ever, there are other ar­eas in Bri­tish Columbia that of­fer ex­cel­lent value for the ski dol­lar but tend to drop un­der the radar.

The Koote­nay Rock­ies in Canada’s west is home to five moun­tain ranges, in­clud­ing the Rock­ies, four na­tional parks and a cou­ple of dozen classy golf cour­ses. (They like their golf here: Gary Player, Greg Norman and Fred Cou­ples are work­ing on more.) There’s also no short­age of snow, which bodes well for ski­ing, if not golf: an­nual falls are in ex­cess of 10m.

‘‘ We have seven world-class moun­tain re­sorts, heli and cat-ski­ing were pi­o­neered here, plus there’s an abun­dance of spas and nat­u­ral hot springs,’’ says Bob Keat­ing of Koote­nay Rock­ies Tourism.

There are grand plans afoot at Revel­stoke (pop­u­la­tion 8500), where new own­ers are in­vest­ing $C22 mil­lion ($24.2 mil­lion) in a gon­dola and high-speed quad chair­lift. Work be­gan in April and both should be in ac­tion in time for the next snow sea­son (De­cem­ber to mid-April), along with heli and cat-ski­ing, which have been the moun­tain’s main­stay.

If all goes to plan, next year the re­vi­talised re­sort with vil­lage will boast North Amer­ica’s long­est ver­ti­cal run at 1829m (top to bot­tom, not wind­ing). De­vel­oper Don Simp­son says Revel­stoke has al­ways been his favourite place to ski, which is prob­a­bly why he bought the place.

‘‘ This is the epi­cen­tre of world-class he­li­copter and cat-ski­ing,’’ he says.

The moun­tain will also see the rise of skiin, ski-out ac­com­mo­da­tion. The first re­lease of real es­tate sold out in three hours and by the end of the day sales to­talled more than $C60 mil­lion.

Else­where, White­wa­ter at Nelson isn’t big but it has its loyal fans. ‘‘ There are a grand to­tal of two rick­ety lifts, yet it’s one of the best hills in west­ern Canada. Ask any­one who is se­ri­ous about ski­ing,’’ Keat­ing says.

Fernie, a 31/ hour drive from Cal­gary, is prob­a­bly the best-known win­ter re­sort in the Koote­nay re­gion, with 107 runs (the long­est is 5km), 1011ha, 10 lifts and a wide variety of on-moun­tain ac­com­mo­da­tion. There’s ter­rain to suit all abil­i­ties. As the lo­cals say, Fernie’s as steep as you want it to be.

Panorama isn’t that small, ei­ther. There’s on-moun­tain ac­com­mo­da­tion for 3000 vis­i­tors, some ski-in, ski-out, and it has 120 trails on 1152ha. There are nine lifts, in­clud­ing two new quads.

West­ern Canada’s old­est snow re­sort, Red Moun­tain, 10 min­utes north of the US border, claims to be ‘‘ BC’s hid­den gem’’. It’s tucked away close to the for­mer goldmining town of Ross­land on two moun­tains, Red and Gran­ite, with 682ha of ski­able snow and a ter­rain park. Five peaks can be reached for back-coun­try ski­ing and snow­board­ing.

Kim­ber­ley, a four-hour drive from Cal­gary, is made for fam­ily fun, with 80 runs (the long­est, a cruisy 6.4km), glade ski­ing and five lifts on 729ha. There is also ski-in, ski-out ac­com­mo­da­tion.

The name Kick­ing Horse is enough to make me want to ski there. With 106 runs, 45 per cent of them ad­vanced, it packs a punch, if not a kick. There are five lifts, in­clud­ing a gon­dola, on 1112ha.

Fair­mont Hot Springs Re­sort doesn’t get much in the way of in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors but it lays claim to Canada’s largest nat­u­ral min­eral hot springs com­plex (pool en­try is in­cluded in the lift ticket). The spa also of­fers re­lax­ing treat­ments af­ter a hard day’s ski­ing or board­ing.

Aussie skiers may not be abun­dant on the slopes, but there’s no short­age of them at the re­sorts: ‘‘ We’d have a hard time op­er­at­ing with­out them,’’ Keat­ing says.

‘‘ There’s even a cel­e­bra­tion of Aus­tralia Day as a thank you.’’

Check­list

When visit­ing Bri­tish Columbia, most Aussie skiers ar­rive in Van­cou­ver (di­rect Air Canada flights from Syd­ney be­gin on De­cem­ber 14), then fly to Castle­gar or Cal­gary, where most re­sorts have pick-ups. www.koote­nay­rock­ies.com www.ski­white­wa­ter.com www.skifer­nie.com www.skikim­ber­ley.com www.panora­mare­sort.com www.re­dresort.com www.kick­inghorsere­sort.com www.fair­mon­thot­springs.com www.canada.travel/ski

Need a lift? Some of Canada’s lesser-known des­ti­na­tions in­clude, clock­wise from top, Kim­ber­ley, Panorama and White­wa­ter re­sorts

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