Powder Highway Runs Deep Into Canadian Rockies Steepest Terrain

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The farther you go on western Canada's Powder Highway, the more rugged, remote and challenging the ski and snowboard mountains get for serious powderhounds.

Start with Panorama (2,975 a., 4265 vert.), probably the least known along the Powder Highway. It's 3.5 hours' drive from Calgary -- on a clear roads -- and 5.5 hours from Spokane. Despite its remoteness, it has an extensive base village for lodging, as nearest town is 30 minutes away. Ikon Pass works for seven days, Mountain Collective too.

Half the trail map is black-rated with just one summit lift. Super pitch-y glades and natural chutes cover top half of the hill. Powderhounds have to ride three chairs to that high ground, where a ridge subdivides Panaroma Mountain. Skier's left finds sparse glades served by lappable Summit fixed-grip quad.

Same but more on the other side. Extreme Dream's double blacks -- long and technical with hidden cliffs -- stick close to the ridge. Farther out, Taynton Bowl's long ridge traverse ends up with more open bowl skiing. A $24 snowcat shuttle cuts traversing time. Since no lifts, only way out is return to base.

Next stop on the Highway is Kicking Horse, an Epic Pass resort. Probably the most concentrated collection of chutes, couloirs, drops and straightlines anywhere. Runs are long and test fitness: "I got kicked by the Horse today." Famous for ridge-drops with slot entries that thankfully open up into alpine bowls.

Spread across five ridges and bowls, more than half the hill is black-plus. With only the base gondola and lappable Stairway to Heaven fixed-grip quad serving high ground, a good portion of the best stuff requires traversing and boot-hiking -- and long runouts. Less than half of acreage is directly lift-served.

Cold temps make powder snow among lightest in B.C. Decent lodging at base, more in quaint Golden nearby.

And then there's Revelstoke (3,121 a., 5,630 vert.), with the most vertical drop in North America and a trail that goes for 9.5 miles. Vertical is unrelenting; several black runs extend all the way to bottom. It's much taller than it is wide, with a main gondola and two upper, lappable chairlifts.

PeakRankings calls it "decidedly wild." It's aimed at the seriously adventurous. Once you push off, there's nowhere to bail. Both bowls have lifts but also require a hike. Down from there it's trees, trees and more trees. One reviewer: "It's a ski area in a giant forest with a few trails and bowls that get in the way of all the tree skiing and off-piste."

Persistent fog and snowy weather reduces visibility and adds to the challenge. Because of the vertical drop, snow can vary widely from top to bottom. Revelstoke holds Canadian record of 80 feet in a season. Several snowcat and heli-ski ops load at the base. Seven-day Ikon Pass and Mountain Collective work.

Base area modest and with minimal lodging. Town of Revelstoke (8,700 pop.) has a limited number of beds with places to eat and drink. Calgary is a four-hour drive.

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Crave The Deep Stuff? Hit British Columbia's Powder Highway

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A deep powder day hypnotizes top-end skiers and riders, so a trip to Western Canada's Powder Highway is an obvious destination.

Eight resorts sit on a 600-mile loop in the snowy Kootenay Rockies southwest of Calgary, and they've earned their moniker honestly with deep powder and precipitous pitches -- all inside the ropes. Snow-catting and heli-skiing aplenty, too.

Let's start with RED Mountain (2,700 a. inbounds, 2,900 vert), a three-hour drive from Spokane in the snowy Selkirk Range. All six chairlifts are fixed-grip across three mountains. But there are so many double-black diamond runs at RED that black diamonds seem like cruisers.

Powderhounds focus on Grey Mountain (6,870 elev.), with its persistent fall line and over-the-top tight lines in the trees. Add in extreme "cliff areas" that require straightlining and air drops. Smaller Red Mountain (5,219) is no slouch, with a tidy cohort of double black glades.

Snow can be heavy, because of lower elevation, and famous Kootenay Fog rolls in. Ikon Pass works. Nearby Rossland (4,100 pop.) has classic mountain mining vibe.

An hour northeast is Whitewater (1,184a., 2,044 vert.), another down-home, fixed-grip gem that averages 40 feet of snow and 60% expert terrain. Online Powderhounds rates it No. 1 in Canada because of its renowned tree skiing on four distinct aspects.

Powderhounds head to the forested cirque Summit and the peel-off-the-piste Glory Ridge sectors that hold Whitewater's private treasures: traverse-to alpine bowls and steep-steep glades.

All four chairs are fixed-grip but, oddly, some run faster than others. Basic base facilities include grab 'n' go, rustic pub with local beers, and a yurt. No cell service at all. Rustic civilization down the road in funky Nelson.

Finally, there's Fernie Alpine Resort (2,500 a., 3,500 vert.), the biggest of its nearby Powder Highway cohorts and the farthest east (4.5 hours from Spokane). It averages 29 feet of powder a year, and has the tallest vertical drop in western Canada. However, weather can be mild, and it often shuts down in February. So, make plans early ... and bring an Epic Pass.

The trail map presents a classic layout: Five peaks hold five alpine bowls that drain into five distinct trail systems below timberline. Up top, it's more than 1,000 acres of blacks highlighted by Polar Peak Headwall (7,000 elev.) that's got its own chair. Innumerable pitches dive off the ridges below.

Two high-speeds and eight fixed-grips do what they can to get powderhounds up into the high country. The best stuff requires a traverse, but the freshies stay longer because of that effort.

Base village features the usual suspects, including three overnight spots and hangouts. Coal-mining town Fernie is just down the road, with turn-of-century feel and modern amenities.

 

 

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A Three-Resort Cluster In Banff National Park Makes For Easy Road Trip

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For a trip full of high-mountain terrain, long cold winters and spectacular views of the Canadian Rockies, a trio of resorts in Banff National Park is just the ticket.

Most trips begin in Calgary and an 1-1/2 hour drive to base camp in the town of Banff. From there, three resorts beckon -- after paying an entrance fee into the national park. Elevations top out at 10,000 feet, but the slopes sit squarely in path of most Pacific storms -- and northerly latitude typically extends skiing and riding into May.

First stop is Mt. Norquay (190 a., 1,650 vert.). A classic town hill that is one of the oldest ski areas in North America (open 1926), Norquay spreads across the lower, forested skirt of Mt. Cascade (9,836 ft.).

With a mixed trail menu of 29-21-50, basic base lodge and no beds, Mt. Norquay fits into the mountain-town scene of Banff (8,000 pop.) four miles and seven switchbacks down the road. In fact, Mt. Norquay is so local that its sells a Last Hour ticket so locals can cop a couple of late-afternoon turns.

Three sections divide out among all ratings: North American, with its unique fixed-grip "pulse" chair that bunches chairs for higher uphill speed, is for experts; Cascade and Spirit chairs serve novices; and, the Mystic high-speed handles the blue runs. A Big3 season pass works here.

About 20 minutes west of town sits Banff Sunshine(3,358 a., 3,514 vert.), contained within a massive cirque. Half of the runs follow a green-blue valley floor that is perpendicular to the steeper terrain. Day-skiers can only come in via gondola from parking lot to mid-mountain base. Big3 season pass, Ikon Pass and Mountain Collective accepted.

From there, seven high-speeds -- including a heated quad -- and a pair of fixed-grips handle the flow. It can be frigid, but the season often goes into May.

On the high ground, double diamonds are short but treacherous, punctuated by three super-pitchy, sparsely marked "free zones": Goat's Eye, Wild West and Delirium Dive. Accessed by a short hike off Lookout Mountain, "The Dive" pitches off a 50-degree cornice into precipitous terrain punctuated by cliffs.

To top off the trip, mothership Lake Louise (4,200 a., 3,250 vert.) is 40 minutes up the road. Remote and imposing, Lake Louise rates 70% of its terrain in the black. It does concede much of the forested skirt to blues and greens, especially long, gentle wanderings like the five-mile Saddleback-Pika green off the summit that gives novices a hint of above-timberline skiing.

But as the trees recede, the fun begins. Frontside West Bowl's alpine chutes and glades -- opened in 2020 -- give hotshots all they can handle. Head over to the backside for some of the best bowl skiing North America has. The Summit quad, Paradise triple and Ptarmigan quad deliver powderhounds to what they dream of: Infinite lines down onerous chutes and cliffs anchored by steep, expansive glades.

Eleven lifts include four high-speed chairs and the Grizzly gondola. Backside system a bit clunky and slow, but improvements on the horizon. A broad choice of ticketing fits all abilities. No lodging at mountain. Ikon Pass and Mountain Collective welcome, as well as Big3 season pass.

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Wolf Creek: A Sure Bet For Deep-And-Steep Freshies

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Its track record speaks for itself because, when someone says "Wolf Creek," the near-autonomic response is a resounding "Powder day!"

All the way back to 1938, Wolf Creek has been a home hill to powderhounds near and far who crave deep snow. It's where groomers stick close to the barn. More than 300 inches a season is the norm. It's the kind of ski and snowboard mountain that reports a 6-inch overnight snowfall that mysteriously becomes two feet by the next morning.

Prevailing southwesterly storms feed moisture into winter snowfalls. Perched on the Continental Divide along the southern front of the Rockies, Wolf Creek benefits as the first high ground that a southwesterly storm hits.

Seasoned Wolfie powderhounds don't bother with snow reports. They know it snows most days at "Wolfie" and they firmly believe freshies can be found. Every day, they make their way to Alberta Bowl and beyond to stake out their personal pow' lines. The powder runs at Wolf Creek's aren't the longest, the steepest nor the easiest to get to, but they fill up with snow constantly.

A new traverse from the base lodge reaches to the base of Alberta fixed-grip quad. After unloading, about 1,000 acres of powder runs galore await down the ridge. A blue side-hill cat track leads to the lower trees below ridge-anchor Horseshoe Bowl. Or, climb up a short-and-steep staircase and buckle in on the Continental Divide at just under 11,000 feet.

Then hit the traverse ... and take your pick. A half-dozen cirques have been gouged out of the ridge wall -- all steep and full of snow, fallen and blown in. Next, a handful of chute stashes plunge into scattered meadows before giving way to the forest. A dozen tree runs have names ... not so with the interminable powder shots in between them.

With some poling and skating, the return route is a leisurely langlauf to the base of Alberta chair. A quick meal can be had at the Alberta Grill before heading back up to find a fresh route. Or take Elma and ski down to base.

A family-owned maverick, Wolf Creek Ski Area isn't part of any multi-mountain pass, nor does it have reciprocal pass partners. Midweek prices are modest -- look for Locals' Appreciation Days. Weekends tend to get crowded and tickets are purposely expensive.

 

 

 

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Silverton To Put Up Second Chairlift To Ease Access

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Silverton Mountain, the nation's sole lift-served backcountry resort, has had plans approved to install a second chairlift to deliver skiers and riders deeper into its Rocky Mountain powder stashes.

For the last 20 years, powderhounds have ridden a single chairlift up to a 12,300-foot-high ridge off Storm Peak (13,400). With a guide, they can choose one of countless lines off either side of the ridge, or hike farther up for more of the 2,000-acres and 2,000 vertical drop. Typically, skiers and snowboarders got 5-6 runs a day.

The resort also runs a helicopter that drops off for runs off Butter Bowl east of Storm Peak ridge -- some of the same terrain that the new lift will serve. With the new chairlift -- expected to be a fixed-grip double -- those snowfields and chutes can be lapped without having to return to the base area until the end of the day.

Skiers and riders will be able to ride up the original chairlift, head down Storm Peak ridge's east face and across to the new chairlift. Heli-skiing will continue, too.

The resort's 23,000-acre permit area sits on private land covered with mining claims, and public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management. Local owners have said they want make called the new lift-served terrain "exciting" and say they make it easier to get around the highest terrain.

All terrain at Silverton is rated for experts only, not just because of the pitch (more than 35 degrees) but also the variable conditions. Guides are required until March, when avalanche danger subsides and spring conditions take hold.

Open Thursdays through Sundays, tickets top off at $269 for guided tours of 8 or less, and folks are grouped according to ability. Private guided tours also available, and mountain capacity is topped off at 450.

 

 

 

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Get Off The Piste, Check Out Nordic-Only Bluebird, Powder-Only Silverton

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Situated a day's journey apart, two Colorado mountain mavericks run with no frills, out-of-the-box terrain and an eye for the soul of skiing in the West.

Located just off Rabbit Ears Pass between Kremmling and Steamboat, Bluebird Backcountry -- the only in-bounds X-C backcountry resort in Colorado -- now takes the Indy Pass. And, it has

Straddling the Continental Divide, some 1,200 patrolled acres and 3,000 guide-only acres cover three areas off 9,845-foot high Bear Mountain. More than half of marked runs are rated expert, vertical rise totals 1,245 feet, but all abilities can find plenty to stride and slide along.

Open Thursday-Sunday, Bluebird tiers day passes from $39, depending upon when you buy online. Day ticket cap of 200 in force. Dogs run freely for $10 extra for the dog. Season pass tops at $349, less for weekday or those under 26 years old. And, Indy Pass now works for two free days plus subsequent discounts.

Bluebird staff gives lessons, rentals, guided tours and avalanche training. Limited lodging near base camp. Overnight options are a half-hour drive in either Kremmling or Steamboat Springs. Its season pass is good at four other Colorado downhill resorts.

In the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado, Silverton Mountain guarantees no lift lines, the highest elevation (13,487 feet) in America, and freshies all day for the powderhound in all of us. Tickets top off at $269 for guided tours of 8 or less (groups divvied up by ability). Private guides available.

Open Thursday-Sunday, Silverton Mountain does not groom, has only one lift (a fixed-grip double), a school bus shuttle, and a yurt that serves as base lodge with only sack lunches and snacks for sale.

What is there are 2,000 acres of deep-powder lines unparalleled in North America. All terrain rated expert ("flattest" pitch is 35 degrees), few bail-out routes, and everyone has to have a guide until late in the season. Majority of runs require some hiking. Heli-skiing now up and running, too, getting to another 20,000 acres under permit.

The "trail map" is photos of east and west face of a massive ridge that climbs to 13,400-foot Storm Peak. Off each side pitch gullies and snowfields with names like Concussion Woods, Hell's Gate, Nightmare, Waterfall and Maze. Guided tours cap at eight, and no more than 450 skiers and riders are on the mountain at any one time. Its season pass gets you two days at Monarch and Arapahoe Basin, plus six other Western mountains.

Quintessential mining town Silverton provides basic supplies, food, beverages and classic hotel accommodations.

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Indy Pass Utah Road Trip Couples The Big And The Small

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From the mighty to the sublime, this road trip in northern Utah grabs a couple of Indy Pass days at Beaver Mountain and Powder Mountain that, despite their vast difference in size, both operate in quiet, unpretentious seclusion in the northern extent of the Wasatch Range.

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Get Off The Piste With Silverton Mountain, Bluebird Backcountry

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If the phrase "off-the-beaten-track" appeals, then it's time to pack up the fatboys and long boards and head into the Colorado hinterlands.

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A Pair Of Old-Time Storm-Catchers Beckon From Continental Divide

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It's no coincidence that the Continental Divide is home to a collection of some of the oldest ski areas in the nation as it winds its way through the middle of Colorado.

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Even As Spring Arrives, Powder Days Can Be Found

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Spring break is upon us which, sadly, means the end is near. But it's still snowing and, with the right conditions, there should be plenty of powder to track up.

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WATCH: This Calm Edit Is Everything We Love About Skiing Powder

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Close your eyes. Breathe in. Hold it for a few seconds. Exhale. You’re standing at the top of your favorite line. It’s early, and the crisp morning air and bright sunshine accentuate the glinting snow crystals—which lie untouched. You know the rolling terrain and perfectly spaced trees before you like the way home. Visualize your line. Then drop in.

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