There are five Ski Resorts in the Kootenays region of the BC Rockies:
- Revelstoke Mountain Resort, Revelstoke
- Summit Lake Ski Area, Nakusp
- Whitewater Ski Resort, Nelson
- Red Resort, Rossland
- Salmo Ski Hill, Salmo
Revelstoke Mountain Resort and Revelstoke Area
In the 1920s, world championship ski jumping was a passion in Revelstoke, the site of one of North America’s tallest jumps. Since those heady days in 1914 when the citizens of Revelstoke successfully lobbied to have their unique (and popular) area declared a national park, cross-country and downhill skiing have spread to nearby valleys and mountains. Parks Canada no longer maintains any winter facilities in Mount Revelstoke National Park, but don’t let that deter you. There’s still wonderful, ungroomed backcountry skiing in the park, particularly via the popular 15.5-mile (25-km) Summit Road.
Over 11 miles (18 km) of groomed cross-country trails can be found at the Mount MacPherson Cross-Country Trails. The trailhead parking lot is about 3.7 miles (6 km) south of Revelstoke on Highway 23. Trails are rated as moderate to strenuous. The Revelstoke Nordic Ski Club maintains a cabin on the Main Loop Trail where skiers are welcome to warm up while digging into their pack lunches. Those looking for a gentle workout should head to the Revelstoke Golf Club, where 3 miles (5 km) of groomed trails run beside the Columbia River. Set among giant firs, this makes an enchanting setting for a moonlight ski outing. Trails here and on Mount MacPherson are maintained by the Revelstoke Nordic Ski Club, and use is by donation. Skiers will find an honour box at the trailhead. For more information and a trail map, contact the Revelstoke Visitor Centre.
Revelstoke Mountain Resort (formerly Powder Springs Ski Resort) on Mount Mackenzie provides excellent skiing opportunities for skiers of every skill level, including a wide variety of ski terrain for the novice skier. Mount Mackenzie lies almost 4 miles (6 km) south of Revelstoke’s city centre on Airport Way, then east on Westerburg Road. You’ll find steep, fall-line skiing here over a 2,000-foot (610-m) vertical drop, serviced by two double chairlifts and a lengthy T-bar. For the die-hards, Sno-cats carry skiers to higher elevations above the chairlifts.
For the serious skier, Revelstoke serves as a heli-skiing base camp to some amazing runs in and around the Albert Icefields. The catch: You need a helicopter to get there. The answer: local heli-skiing operators will take you out, for a week at a time, to one of their fully staffed lodges in remote hideaways for some great skiing and hiking. Expert skiers can sign on to ski 25 scenic peaks and 14 glaciers.
Summit Lake Ski Hill and Nakusp (Slocan Valley and Upper Arrow Lake)
Summit Lake Ski Hill, 10 miles (16 km) south of Nakusp in the Nakusp Range, has been managed and maintained by volunteers for the past 30 years. The ski area offers downhill skiing and snowboarding on 8 runs ranging from beginner to expert levels. Snowmobiling is also offered in the area.
South of Nakusp off Hwy 6 at Box Lake, the Wensley Creek Cross-Country Ski Trails offer a variety of cross-country ski trails for beginner and intermediate skiers. There is a warming shelter at the midpoint of the 6-mile (9-km) network of trails. Cross-country trails have also been brushed out recently around the nearby Nakusp Hot Springs; several wilderness hot springs on the east side of Upper Arrow Lake, north of Nakusp off Hwy 23, can be reached on skis, snowshoes, or via snowmobile. There’s nothing quite like the presence of steaming hot water in the midst of a snow-covered forest to warm your soul. (In non-snowy months you can drive into these wilderness springs.) Hot springs are found at Halcyon (above a ghost town on undeveloped private land but available to the public), Halfway River, and St. Leon Creek (privately owned). Contact the Nakusp Centre for directions, current road conditions, and accessibility.
Sno-cat skiing in the Great Northern and Thompson Mountains around Trout Lake, northeast of Nakusp, is the best way to explore this region in winter. For information on backcountry adventure, there are sno-cat operators based in Trout Lake and Meadow Creek, 25 miles (40 km) north of Kaslo on Highway 31.
Whitewater Ski Resort and Nelson Area (Slocan Valley)
Your initial reaction to Whitewater Ski Resort southeast of Nelson will depend on what’s important to you when it comes to a downhill skiing/snowboarding vacation. In an age of on-slope sushi bars and hand-crafted microbreweries at the base of the lifts, Whitewater represents a Zen approach to ski development. Simply put, Whitewater is four ski lifts strung up in the wilderness. There’s nothing but big peaks; a ton of light, dry powder; and the rudimentary, no-nonsense lifts to get you to the top. Who needs those high-speed quads, anyway?
The Summit Chair rises a modest 1,300 feet (400 m) to the top of a ridge on Mount Ymir (elevation 7,884 feet/2403 m), where 10 out of 15 runs are rated expert. Whitewater’s high base elevation of 5,400 feet (1640 m) ensures plentiful snow and very few midseason thaws. Snowfall is far more abundant than in nearby Nelson. The best powder at Whitewater is found in the trees. Catch Basin, Glory Basin, Terrorada, and the Trash Chutes will yield sick and twisted lines after a big storm. This is expert skiing only, and even good skiers should remember to ski in pairs and take avalanche equipment if straying beyond the boundary ropes. Local expert skiers here will show competent visitors where to go; Whitewater is one of the friendliest mountains in the province.
Intermediate-level skiers and snowboarders will find the tops of Quicksilver and Sleeper spacious. A series of fine cruising runs off the summit will also appeal to intermediates; the best bets here are Joker, Motherlode, Paydirt, and Bonanza. Novices have their own chairlift to play on, and with all of that soft powder to fall in, even the intermediate runs are not terribly imposing.
For skiers willing to forego ‘walk to the lifts’ convenience, the Victorian town of Nelson offers a refreshing change from the plasticity of resort life. Whitewater is located in the Selkirk Range, about 12 miles (19 km) southeast of Nelson on Hwy 6.
South of Nelson on Hwy 6 are the Clearwater Creek Cross-Country Ski Trails, an extensive system of groomed trails maintained by the Nelson Nordic Ski Club, and the Apex Busk Cross-country Area.
Red Mountain and Rossland Area (Crowsnest Highway 3)
Red Resort, formerly Red Mountain REsort, is host to downhill skiing and snowboarding in some awesome terrain, including a half pipe built on the mountain every winter. The terrain is also great for snowmobiling, and cross-country skiers and snowshoers have access to four adjacent peaks, none more than 1.5 hours away by way of skis and skins.
In 1947, a progressive group of local skiers installed Western Canada’s first chairlift at Red Mountain. Of course, if you had powder skiing at your door the way the folks in Rossland do, you too would want the newest-fangled technology to get you to it as quickly as possible. So fabled are the snow conditions in this town, tucked away in the southeast corner of the province, that a century ago Red Mountain hosted the first Canadian Ski Jumping and Ski Racing Championships. One of the local Scandinavian miners, Olaus Jeldness, not only organized the championships but won the event.
There must be something in the water here, for in more recent times Rossland has produced two of the best women skiers to ever represent Canada, Nancy Greene and Kerrin Lee-Gartner, as well as several dozen national alpine ski team members, among them Felix Belczyk and Don Stevens. Although the mountains around Rossland may not look formidable, the town itself is perched closer to the peaks. At an elevation of 3,385 feet (1023 m), it’s higher than most other towns in Canada.
Red Mountain is honeycombed with mine shafts tunnelled in the 1890s; most of these mines were exhausted by the 1930s. In many ways time has stood still here when compared with the upstart activity on ski slopes in the Okanagan Valley and at Whistler, especially over the past two decades. That suits the townsfolk here just fine. First-time visitors may feel slightly underwhelmed upon arrival at the base of Red and Granite, the round-shouldered sister mountains that stand side by side and are serviced by four chairlifts and a T-bar. There’s always plenty of snow, but after driving through some of the province’s more rugged ranges, such as the Coast Mountains, the Monashee Mountains look diminutive by comparison. (In geological terms the Monashees are a half-million years older and more worn down by successive periods of glaciation.) Be of good cheer: there’s a vertical rise of 2,800 feet (853 m) between the base and the top of the Granite Mountain, the fourth largest in British Columbia.
When you know that there’s more to a mountain than meets the eye, it’s best to enlist the help of a local guide. One of Red Mountain’s volunteer mountain hosts will gladly take you straight up the Silverlode triple chairlift, from which you’ll sight fluffy untracked powder in the evergreens. The trees in the forested slopes surrounding the cleared runs are spaced just widely enough to provide room for quick turns. As gentle as the terrain appears from the bottom, there are challenging chutes aplenty through which to plummet, with lots of knee-high powder to slow your descent. Occasionally you’ll pass one of the many funky old skiers’ cabins tucked away in the woods.
Hidden cross-country ski trails lead off from Red Mountain towards meadows on the sides of Granite Mountain, where snow trekkers with the benefit of climbing skins can spend their entire day. Red Mountain sells single-ride tickets that enable skiers to ride to the top of the lift and head off into the backcountry.
A quick tour of both mountains will quickly reveal that the groomed slopes are only the most visible portion of a far vaster expanse of alpine and cross-country terrain. The BlackJack Cross-Country Ski Club lies just across the road from Red Mountain. Over 30 miles (50 km) of packed and tracked trails lead off from here through evergreen forests, across frozen lakes, and past abandoned homesteads. These are reminders that although today the population of Rossland (3,500) and surrounding communities in the Kootenays is on the rise, a century ago there were twice as many people living here.
The Rossland Winter Carnival in late January is very popular with visitors to Red Mountain, who enjoy the festival atmosphere on Red Mountain and in the village of Rossland. Activites include the Sonny Samuelson Bobsled Race, a triathlon, snow sculptures, snow shovelling championship, ski & board jumping, learning to luge, and much more.
In winter, Nancy Greene Provincial Park is a popular location with cross-country skiers who like to cut their own tracks. For those who would rather enjoy groomed runs, the Paulson Cross-Country Ski Trails, directly adjacent to Nancy Greene Provincial Park on Hwy 3, are maintained by the BC Forest Service and the Nelson Nordic Club, and provide an extensive network (almost 28.5 miles/46 km) of easy to advanced cross-country trails. There are warming shelters and trail maps at strategic locations on this trail system, which also makes for good mountain biking in summer. Watch for three pullouts on Hwy 3 from where the Paulson trails begin.
Other BC Forest Service ski-trail networks include Beaver Valley, northeast of Trail, with 5 miles (8 km) of easy to advanced ski trails in the gently rolling hills of the Bonnington Range. The Beaver Valley Cross-Country Ski Club in Fruitvale maintains the trails, many of which are groomed. The trailhead is located about 11 miles (18 km) northeast of Fruitvale. Follow the paved road to Champion Lakes Provincial Park west of Hwy 3B and watch for signs just before the park boundary. For a more extended trip, try the alpine backcountry ski-touring route along the summits of the Bonnington Range. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are featured at Champion Lakes Provincial Park northwest of Trail.
Salmo Ski Hill and Area (Crowsnest Highway 3)
Salmo Ski Hill, 12.5 miles (20 km) south of Salmo, is famous for its great night skiing on fully lit runs that are always groomed to perfection. Salmo Ski Area offers a wide variety of skiing opportunities for all ages and levels. The hill has varied terrain including groomed runs, gently sloping runs, moguls, steep slopes, pristine powder, racing courses, a half pipe for snowboarders, a bunny hill, and cross country ski trails.
There are cross-country ski trails at Stagleap Provincial Park, 24 miles (38 km) southeast of Salmo on Crowsnest Highway 3.