Sojourner Afield

Kick-Start Your Heart at Kicking Horse

Why this below-the-radar ski resort in British Columbia should be on your skiing bucket list.

By Todd Hartley February 15, 2017 Published in the Midwinter/Spring 2017 issue of Aspen Sojourner

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Hiking above the Stairway to Heaven lift at Kicking Horse. 

There’s an area at the top of Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, just steps from the gondola, called CPR Ridge. I don’t know the real inspiration for the name, but standing atop the ridge in a foot of fresh snow, faced with a choice of a steep, treed run to the right and chute after gnarly chute to the left, I totally get what it could mean. This is the kind of skiing that’ll bring you back to life. And some 4,000 vertical feet later, if you’re not fully alive, no amount of real CPR is going to save you.

Here’s the thing you should know about this lesser-known gem in Golden, British Columbia: If you haven’t been there yet, book a trip now. The skiing is that good. You’ll need to catch a flight to Calgary and drive (or shuttle—a new twice-weekly service started this winter) two and a half spectacular hours through the Canadian Rockies. But it’s well worth the effort to reach Kicking Horse’s expert terrain, spread out across the resort’s 2,800 acres and 4,133 vertical feet (the fourth highest in North America).

It starts with the proliferation of double-black-diamond chutes, some 85 in all. They range from wide open to super technical, from moderately steep to near free-fall, and they benefit from a high-altitude, continental snowpack that’s drier and more reliable than those at fellow BC behemoths Revelstoke and Whistler/Blackcomb.

But the chutes only begin to tell the story. The place’s real character reveals itself when you drive 15 minutes up the access road from Golden only to find that, despite its name, Kicking Horse Mountain Resort isn’t really a resort—in the large base village way you may have come to expect—at all. It’s a ski area in the purest sense of the word. There’s a condo hotel, ski patrol and ticket offices, a handful of European-style lodges, a few restaurants, and a small neighborhood of custom homes.

You’ll also appreciate the no-nonsense lift system; it services the whole area with just three chairs and a gondola, and there’s almost never a line. It’s efficient, too—the Golden Eagle Express gondola whisks skiers a vertical rise of some 3,800 feet in just 12 minutes.

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Kick back at the infamous Kicking Horse Saloon. 

Once you’re atop the mountain, by the aforementioned CPR Ridge, take the ridgetop traverse to shop your pick of expert runs. To skier’s right, steep trees—reminiscent of those on Bell Mountain right here at home—coat the slopes that empty into Bowl Over. To the left, chute after chute leads to the bottom of Crystal Bowl, where the Stairway to Heaven lift shuttles you to the top of Redemption Ridge. There, the terrain replicates where you just came from: to skier’s right, amazing tree skiing; to the left, chutes galore.

If your ski day isn’t complete without a good helping of earned turns, take an adventurous bootpack to two more summits, dubbed Terminator and Terminator 2, that boast—you guessed it—a couple dozen more chutes, including the awe-inspiring trio Truth, Dare, and Consequence. These rock-strewn pitches etched into the lower north side of Terminator Peak require a careful entrance, followed by a thousand or so feet of steep and deep skiing bliss.

Despite the abundance of black-diamond runs, Kicking Horse isn’t just about the gnarly terrain. For starters, the bottom half of the mountain offers up long, thigh-burning cruisers for all levels (it used to be a ski area in itself—Whitetooth—before the resort’s current incarnation). Much of the hill’s lower third consists of green and blue runs; beginners can learn on a magic carpet and rope tow before stepping up to the gentle but sustained pitches off the Catamount lift. Even advanced beginners can ride the gondola, then ski all the way to the base by following the meandering It’s a Ten.

Kicking Horse also lays claim to Canada’s highest restaurant—the Eagle’s Eye atop the gondola—which serves up gourmet lunches (and on weekends, dinner) accompanied by astonishing views of the surrounding mountainscape. Off-mountain, Kicking Horse offers an ice skating rink and tubing park, and snowshoeing and cross-country ski trails are nearby. It’s enough to make you think it’s a big-time resort even while you’re glad it’s not.

But make no mistake about it: the real reason to ski Kicking Horse is for the life-affirming expert terrain. If your skiing could use some resuscitation, I recommend you get there, STAT.

A Guide to Golden, B.C.

Started as a logging town along the Canadian Pacific Railway, Golden combines its natural resources economy with a mountain-town ethos, a growing arts scene, and a burgeoning outdoor sports and adventure focus.

Just north of town, Golden Dog Sled Adventures offers canine-powered tours through wilderness along the Columbia River, with an opportunity for you to play musher.

Purcell Heli-Skiing flies skiers to the extensive local backcountry for five runs a day.

The helicopter-accessed Mistaya Lodge offers ski touring, snowshoeing, and a rustic-but-luxurious stay in a breathtaking Alpine setting.

For a unique treat, check out the Northern Lights Wildlife Wolf Centre, where you can book a photography tour (ages 16 and up) that allows you to walk among the wolves. No word on if you can dance with them.

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