Highway to Powder

Posted on Tuesday 11th October, 2011 Times Viewed: 4567
Anyone who has ever shredded fresh, untracked powder will know that it is the ultimate peak experience in skiing and snowboarding. That moment when everything goes silent except for the gentle swoosh of light fluffy snowflakes kicking up as you glide and slash your way through expanses of virgin powder.

Words by Molly Chan, founder of Powder Rangers Tour Company
Images by Mark Whelly and Ross Smith
You’re reminded of those big mountain dreams that you had after watching those Jeremy Jones and Travis Rice movies. For most of us, a hearty whoop with joy is hard to contain and that rush of adrenaline will have us begging to do it again and again. Sadly though, truly epic powder days are relatively rare, particularly if skiing or snowboarding is a hobby that we only get to indulge in on an annual holiday. But the quality of our powder day experiences and their likelihood of occurring can depend, to some degree, on our choice of destination.

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British Columbia, in Western Canada, is home to arguably some of the World’s finest powder playgrounds. Major resorts in the province include Whistler Blackcomb, Big White, Kicking Horse and Fernie, to name but a few. All the aforementioned resorts have excellent snow records and terrain that capitalises on our gift from the skies. Fernie Alpine Resort’s aptly named ski run “Steep and Deep” describes in a nutshell what you can expect on a powder day. Many first-time visitors to BC’s largest resort, Whistler Blackcomb, are blown away by the vastness of the terrain; in particular, the powder bowls that invite opportunities for the kind of lines that can only be found off-piste in Europe. Kicking Horse, close to the border of Alberta, opened up a fourth powder bowl named “Super Bowl” during the 2010-11 winter season, where you can expect the same level of fun, only with fewer crowds and drier snow. What makes these powder bowls so utterly awesome is that you can shred long, steep lines, and yet be safe in the knowledge that these areas are in-bounds, have been checked over by avalanche safety experts, are patrolled and are serviced by world-class Search and Rescue teams. That is not to say that accidents do not happen at BC resorts, but marked terrain is a safer option compared to going off-piste into unpatrolled “out of bounds” terrain where you enter at your own risk. Thus, attitudes towards going off-piste are generally more conservative in Europe. I once shared a funicular (known as a “gondola” in North America) in Les Arcs with some locals who dished out tuts of disapproval and mutterings of “they’re going off-piste” at the sight of some snowboarders zooming around at high-speed through fresh powder fields below us. In defense of the locals, they may have been concerned that the powder junkies below us were behaving recklessly and could trigger an avalanche at any moment; either that or they were expressing a dislike for snowboarders in general – who knows? In many Italian resorts, skiing on unmarked terrain is prohibited and can, in some cases, result in revoked lift passes. And many travel insurance policies simply do not cover the event of accident or injury whilst off-piste; in a BC resort, this need not diminish the fun element when “in bounds” terrain is just so vast and can include glades, chutes and bowls as well as groomed runs. Aside from permanently closed areas of the mountain, which are closed for a very good reason and generally constitute relatively small sections of the overall ski area, the rest is a free for all. Heli-skiers also have many options in BC, whereas the sport is banned in France and Germany and is restricted in many other parts of Europe.

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Aside from the terrain and the snow record, the snow quality itself is something that generally receives little attention from ski travel marketers. It would be easy to assume that all snow is the same and that quantity is a decent indication of how good a time you’re going to have; however, many BC-based ski and snowboard enthusiasts know very well that this is not the case. Put it this way: why drink sparkling wine if you could have champagne? Many people go to Whistler and come back thinking it’s the nuts - it has World-class amenities, fantastic terrain and it frequently dumps out there; but for real powder connoisseurs, there are many more options for fresh tracks. For real “champagne” powder, a visit to one (or preferably more) of the resorts along the “Powder Highway” is a must. Unlike the Coastal mountain range where the climate is damper, ski resorts located on the interior part of the province have drier, fluffier snow that doesn’t bond or clump together so easily. Snow of that type is utterly useless for making snowballs, but is truly heavenly to shred with your skis or board. You will feel the difference immediately as there is very little drag or friction, your skis or board will just glide straight through it effortlessly. And if you wipe out, it’s like landing in feathers.

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The ski region known as the Powder Highway is located in the southeast corner of British Columbia. It is part of the Kootenay Rockies and includes alpine resorts such as Fernie, Kicking Horse, Red and Revelstoke, as well as a range of Snow-cat and Heli-ski operators and backcountry lodges for the more adventurous. So not only will you find awesome in-bounds ski terrain in BC, going off-piste has a whole different meaning here and the province is abundant with opportunities for serious backcountry enthusiasts. Another huge benefit of a Powder Highway resort is crowd-free ski runs where you might still make fresh tracks after several rides up, unlike many resorts across the World where you may have to get up for the first lift and then you take your second ride up, only to find that every square meter of terrain has been tracked out by droves of other skiers and riders. If that’s not enough to trump all your Christmases rolled into one, the Powder Highway also has one of the highest concentration of ski and snowboard destinations in the World, and many are well connected to one another by major highways. A road trip passing through a number of destinations along the circuit would undoubtedly be the trip of a lifetime for any discerning powder junkie. The only down side is that once you’ve experienced truly epic powder days in BC, going anywhere else is going to be thoroughly disappointing. Luckily, there are many destinations to gradually work your way through.

Powder Rangers from kinl on Vimeo.



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Powder Rangers Tour Company, based in North Vancouver, offer tailor made ski and snowboard holidays to destinations across BC, with inside knowledge of resorts in the region. The “Ultimate Powder Highway Experience” is an 11-night tour that includes Kicking Horse, Revelstoke, Red and Fernie. For further information, visit http://www.powderrangers.ca/specials.html or send your inquiry to info@powderrangers.ca or follow them on Facebook and Twitter
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