Kicking Horse, B.C.-- “Just hop over the lip and cut hard under the first outcropping,” said Gary, our guide. “The powder is best under that overhang. Once in, just let the mountain come to you.”
He said it so nonchalantly. Piece of cake. Nothing to it.
“Often the hardest part of skiing a narrow chute is dropping over the edge,” I whispered to myself, trying to get the courage in my heart to shut off the part of my brain that kept hollering at me. Over the cornice I went.
The first quick cut to the right got my legs underneath me. Gary was right. The snow under the rocks at the top of the run was amazing. But OMG was it steep! Transversing is easy, it is the turn that’s hard.
Set the edge. Curl my butt into the slope. Keep my upper body calm and square to the bottom of the chute. Let the lower body absorb the terrain. Stay out over the front of the skis. Drive the pole down the slope to keep the momentum ever downward. Never look at the front of the skis, only the spot of the next turn. Look out for the rock outcroppings. Remember to breathe.
Down we dropped, the new-fallen snow spraying as we turned, the chute coming at us quicker and quicker as we relaxed and picked up speed. Jam to the left, turn around an exposed stone, now run out toward the stunted spruces below. I slid in next to my skiing buddies and looked back up the slope. Piece of cake!
We were skiing at Kicking Horse Mountain in the heart of southern British Columbia, the Champaign Powder Capital of Canada. Located in the Purcell Mountains, this is a HUGE mountain with over 4,100 feet of vertical from a peak of 8,033 feet. What distinguishes this ski area from the others is the height of the base at 3,900 feet. Where others can be getting rain, Kicking Horse will be receiving snow.
And do they get snow! The average snowfall at the summit is roughly 25 feet. The crystals that fall here are very fine and dry resulting in a powder that flies rather than sticks. This means you can really ski in the stuff when it is thigh-deep.
The top of the whole area is a long ridge with four different peaks. Those peaks have spines that extend downward toward the Kicking Horse River. Between these spines are four alpine bowls that are dishes of excitement. Like most big mountains, there are designated trails, but it is the chutes that bring most skiers to this pleasure palace.
There are fifteen named drops off the Terminator spine alone. This does not count all of the options in each one. Now multiply that by the four different spines and you start to get an idea of the countless runs you could experience. All of these drop into bowls that end up at a lift.
The gondola is one of the few in North America that runs from the bottom to the top of the ski area. It comfortably seats six adults, but they will stuff it with eight if they are busy at the bottom. The good news is that there are usually less than 1,500 people on the whole mountain in any day. When dispersed after the initial opening, you hardly see anyone all day with never a wait at the lift.
If you are going to ride it to the top, you should be at least an intermediate rider. Although there is a trail labeled green from the peak, there are places on it that a true beginner would be in some difficulty. That being said, if you are a lower intermediate skier you should be able to handle it just fine. And, you owe it to yourself to see this beautiful mountain range from the top.
The lower mountain is geared to the beginner/intermediate skier with many lift-served trails ranging from beginner to lower expert. It has a learning center with a people mover lift, a tube park, a terrain park, an ice rink, and an excellent ski school.
The Eagle’s Eye Restaurant located on top of the mountain is the most elevated dining experience in Canada. At 7,700 feet, you can look out over five different National Parks. On a clear day the view is spectacular. They are open for lunch all week and for dinner on the weekends. They sell out quickly so recommendations are highly encouraged. The food selections are exquisite and the wine list is superb.
The valley is usually covered with an inversion for most of January and February. It is a bit grey at the bottom, but as you rise up the mountain in the gondola, you almost always break out into sunshine. It looks from above like the whole Kicking Horse valley is covered with soft white pillows. By March this usually disappears. Although skiing isalmost always good here, March and April are spectacular. Lots of snow and lots of sunshine.
We rode back up the Stairway to Heaven lift, disembarked, and then walked up the wooden staircase to the top of Blue Heaven. There was a little pathway down the ridge a bit. Here there were an almost endless set of choices. On the right you could dip in and ski the stunted tree glades. On the left you could peel off down into the Feuz Bowl. In either case it was going to be steep and deep.
We chose the trees. Soon all I could hear were the yodels of my companions as they played in the bushes...flashes of red, green, or yellow between the branches. Just old friends laughing in a steep soft playground.
If you are interested in playing in the Canadian Rockies, fly into Calgary, rent a car and head west. For more information on housing, ski rentals and the mountain, go to Kickinghorse.com. Remember the Canadian dollar is now trading at 70 cents on the dollar. Given our snow fall this year there is no better time than now to head northwest for a ski adventure!