Penner: Head to the Koots for the best of the Powder Highway

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We were behaving like kids in a candy store. Except we weren’t in a candy store. We were in a snowcat that was purring its way to the powder-plastered prize of Panorama’s legendary Taynton Bowl. And, as we crawled up the ridge inside the cozy confines of the cat, Colter Wall (I’m a fan) crooning on the sound system, we gazed at the pine-peppered terrain below us, wiggled uncontrollably in our seats, and readied ourselves for the powder pig-out that was close at hand.  

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Let it be known: I’m a fan of the powder stash. This cannot be denied, not here, nor anywhere. Typically, my 10 ski days a year (give or take) are chosen carefully. I’d rather not ski gravel, sticky crud, porridge, cornmeal, millet, or any other unsavoury cereals or grains that could be plastered on top of a ski run. And this would be the number one reason why “The Powder Highway” is my preferred winter route to roll.   

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A powder bowl at Fernie Alpine Resort. Courtesy, Resorts of the Canadians Rockies Photo by Matt Kuhn [email protected] /cal

Of course, no ski hill in Western Canada – or anywhere else for that matter – can guarantee pillow-soft turns and thigh-deep fluff. Especially this year. It’s the card we’ve been dealt. It’s an off-year. But, for my money, the odds of getting “the good stuff” are best in “The Koots” and along The Powder Highway. (From what I understand, this year, the further west you go, the sketchier conditions are likely to be. If ski conditions really matter to you, it’s always best to regularly check weather and snow forecasts. Things can change quickly, for the good or for the bad … everywhere!)  

Of course, snow conditions are just one factor. The ski resorts on The Powder Highway – which includes the awesome hills in Fernie, Kimberley, Fairmont, Panorama, Golden, Revelstoke, Rossland, and Nelson – have many more virtues. (For more info check out www.powderhighway.com. The Powder Highway also includes backcountry cat and heli-operators, backcountry ski-touring lodges, and dozens of other winter experiences in the Kootenay Rockies.)  

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Red Mountain in Rossland is one of the largest ski resorts in British Columbia. Photo, Andrew Penner cal

Cool Kootenay culture, short lift lines, beautiful ski-in/ski-out lodges, hot springs, and fantastic restaurants are just a few more reasons why this region is my favourite for winter adventuring. (Another key benefit: most of the resorts are within three to four hours west of Calgary.)   

On my latest trek down The Powder Highway – my four boys tagged along for an epic father/sons ski fest – one of the many highlights was taking Panorama’s Monster X Snowcat, which is a shuttle service from the summit to the outer reaches of the black and double-black terrain in the Taynton Bowl. The comfy 15-minute ride saves a long ridge-top hike to access this incredible alpine terrain. (If you pre-purchase a ticket online for the cat it’s just $26 per person for one ride. A regular lift ticket must also be purchased.) 

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From left to right, Nick, Aemon, Andrew, Jordan, and Nelson Penner in front of the Monster X Snow Cat in Panorama. Courtesy, Clarissa Amaro cal

Unquestionably, because this terrain is at a high elevation and not easy to access, the powder stashes last way longer here! And, interestingly, the run we started with after hopping out of the cat was, fittingly, called “Stash!” 

It is fair to say that my favourite in-bounds “powder experience” along The Powder Highway is the snowcat adventure at Panorama. We had a blast bouncing our way down the steep grades and wallowing (at times) in the deep snow. (It should be noted that this is difficult terrain and only recommended for advanced skiers and snowboarders.)

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Kimberley Alpine Resort is famous for its glade skiing. Courtesy, Andrew Penner cal

In terms of my other personal “favourites” on The Powder Highway, I’ve compiled a fairly comprehensive list. Here’s a sampling:

Favourite Ski-In/Ski-Out Lodge: Situated just a 10-second glide from the Elk Chair at the base of the Fernie Alpine Resort, the rustic and beautiful Lizard Creek Lodge is ideal for lovers of the classic on-mountain ski lodge. 

Favourite Glades: Kimberley Alpine Resort is an absolute treasure for its phenomenal tree skiing. After unloading at the top of the Easter Chair, head right and you’ll be in one of the greatest gladed glory lands in North America. 

Favourite Ski Town: Yes, true, Panorama is a sweet little mountain village with many charms. But it’s not an official town. Fernie, with its historic downtown, great stores, and cool vibe, is my winner. (But, honestly, Revelstoke and Rossland have also stolen my heart!)

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Radium Hot Springs is a fine place to ease sore muscles after a day on the slopes. Photo, Andrew Penner cal

Favourite Hot Springs: Owned and operated by Parks Canada, the historic Radium Hot Springs pools are tough to beat. It’s the perfect place to soak your bones after skiing. 

Favourite Alpine Bowls: The high alpine skiing in Fernie, which includes five fabulous bowls, is heaven for pow lovers. 

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Favourite Place To Ski For A Week: Rossland’s Red Mountain is so big, so endless in terrain and powder-stash possibilities, you could ski fresh tracks for a week after a storm.

Favourite Restaurant: I’m pulled in many directions here, but downtown Kimberley’s Pedal & Tap (the spaghetti balls and burgers are to die for) is always outstanding. Honourable mentions go to Chopper’s Landing in Panorama and Cirque Restaurant & Bar in Fernie’s Lizard Creek Lodge. 

Favourite Ski Bar: This one’s easy. Rafter’s at Red Mountain, which was voted the #1 Aprѐs Ski Bar in the World by the now-gone Powder Magazine, is authentic, mountain-rustic perfection. 

Best Summit Experience: Another easy call! The summit at Golden’s Kicking Horse Resort, thanks to the incredible Eagle’s Eye Restaurant, which is the highest place to dine in Canada, offers jaw-dropping views in every direction.  

Best Family-Friendly Skiing: The under-the-radar Fairmont Hot Springs Ski Area is ideal for beginners and families. My kids learned to ski here! It’s an awesome little hill that doesn’t get its due. 

Naturally, if you’ve spent any time out here, you’ve discovered your own sweet spots and secret stashes. And that’s great! This is why we go down this highway! The obvious conclusion? Let’s all plead with the snow gods, do our favourite snow dance, and plan our next journey down The Powder Highway. 

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