A Trip Through British Columbia's Powder Highway

by Greg Colquitt | December 22, 2015

5am. Rise and shine.

Last night two feet of snow dumped all across the Kootenay mountains. There’s more on the way. Time to get going.

7:30am. Kimberley. Kicking Horse. Revelstoke. Nakisha. Fernie. Driving north from Spokane, the signage for iconic resorts zooms by as you’re caught in the tizzy of daydreaming.  You and your friends have been waiting for this moment for months and you finally made it. You’ve arrived at the Powder Highway–North America’s crown jewel for adventure tucked away in Southern British Columbia. This is where 50 years ago heli-skiing got its start. This is where average snowfall tips the scales at 37 feet at resorts like Nakisha, and where, just to the West, Kimberley clocks in with over 500 acres of gladed terrain. Forget Colorado. Forget Forget the Cascades. This is Mesopotamia.

8:00am. You and the crew arrive at Kimberley to snow. Lots of snow. This being the first stop on the Powder Express, you get a excited tinge in your eyes because you escaped. The city is behind you now and what lies ahead is a Canadian mountain town that can dish out gnarly terrain as easily as it can welcome you home. Get some breakfast in you. We’ve got one heck of a day cut out.

5:00pm. The lifts are closed and you’re pretty cozy in the Airbnb your spouse set up for you without telling you. Life’s surprises! Oh and boy that ice bath sure sounds terrible, but it’ll help with the punishing days ahead. After today’s runs through those glades, you’ll need the recovery. Oh? What’s that? Is that a PSA I hear coming?!

**Ever heard of NARSID? It means Non-Avalanche Related Snow Immersion Death. Gruesome sounding,TreeWell-Season-73 no? Well this is what happens to many skiers and boarders who fall head first (common position) into tree wells. A tree well is an area of depressed snow below a tree often covered by low lying branches. The well is formed by the tree protecting the area below it’s branches from snow accumulation and consolidation creating a huge gap between the snowpack underneath the tree and the snowpack away from the tree. It’s like falling headfirst in a 6 foot deep manhole. Zero fun. As it turns out, 20% of ski area deaths are a result of asphyxiation underneath snow in a tree well so be vigilant and always ski with a buddy! Wells are most dangerous on powder days so resist the urge to split up when going through glades. It’s not worth a life. Go here for a great reference tool on tree wells.**

5:00am. You’re up! 

Today you’re pushing off farther north to Golden to see what Kicking Horse is all about. As you’re driving, Panorama Resort squeaks by–yet another BC legendary resort to add to the list. To the right, the sun is rising over the mountains and shining onto the eastern face of the jagged white spine to the left. The valley is beginning to fill with warm light, but soon, the clouds will return and yep, more snow.

7:30am. After a couple cups of coffee, a driver change, and the most beautiful sunrise you’ve ever seen, Golden welcome’s you in. She’s home to the “Champagne Powder Capital of Canada”, Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, and since you took that ice bath, you’ll be happy to know that she reserves an impressive 60% of her mountain for difficult and expert terrain. Giddyup, cowboy!

Eagle’s Eye Photo cred: Drew Wittstock,

1:00pm. Bon appétit! I mean eat, by all means, but feast your eyes! There’s only one place where you can see five national parks over your plate of fries smothered with gravy, and that’s at Eagle’s Eye–Canada’s highest restaurant. You’ve been charging hard all morning in fresh tracks. Kick back for a bit and have a beer, too. It doesn’t get much better than this.

9:00pm. Get some sleep. More traveling tomorrow.

5:00am. Ow.

This body doesn’t love you like it loved you before. Take some Advil. You’ve got Nakisha to ski today. Considering the average snowfall is 37 feet annually, we’ll put our money on finding some fresh tracks. Also, this is where the 1988 Olympic Alpine events took place, which means there’s going to be some groomers that want to see what kind of speed you’re made of. The mountain was bred for you, Olympian, so let’s get on the road!

8:00am.  For the first time, you will not be sleeping at the foot of the mountain. Calgary is only an hour down the road and since you’re going to play a bit tonight, it seems like good choice. From your hotel you can see the dark outline of the snowcapped Rocky Mountains. That’s where you’re headed.

9:00am. Boom. First chair! The Olympic torch was there to greet you while you strapped in, and now it’s game time. See ya at the bottom!

4:00pm. You impressed me. You really did. The carving was worth a Turkey on Thanksgiving and your style was soft as butter. Let’s hop in the car and head to Calgary for the night. It’ll be good to get there a little earlier tonight because as vibrant as Calgary is, you’ll want to whole night to play.

6:00am. Sleeping in?

Party too hard?

9:00am. The drive is a little longer, but for your last destination on the Powder Highway, Fernie is well worth the wait. This small former mining town turned hippie by American draft dodgers is protected, not by any government agency or big burly man, but by the towering Rocky Mountains. Mount Klauer, Mount Fernie, the Three Sisters, Mount Proctor, Mount Hosmer, and most intimidating of them all, the Lizard Range, all guard Fernie from too much outside influence, aside from the CaliFernian’s who are building condominiums of the swankier kind.

2:45am. So what do you think? You’re impressed. The mountains here, they run on forever. It’s easy to feel small next to them, but that’s the moment when we can feel human. The Powder Highway style of doing things, though, is to take our small bodies and drop them on top of the mountain. There’s a culture of working with the surroundings so that when you see something exciting, you climb it, you ski it, and you do it again. Now after all this talk you’re probably wondering when we can go cat-skiing or heli-skiing, and the answer is next trip, but for now I’ll see you at the bottom of the lift, I’ve still got a few in me.

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