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