My captivation with the Powder Highway was completely natural. By age four I was on skis, which is not atypical for a fourth-generation Coloradan. In my home Centennial State, the Rocky Mountains boast nearly 30 ski resorts and sixty 14,000-foot peaks.
As I grew up, surrounded by ski culture and films, like Valhalla my imagination was eventually coated with the texture of British Columbia’s southeast corner: the ski world’s crowned jewel, where towering lodgepole pine trees draped with fluffy limbs of powder look like characters from Candy Land.
I needed to experience winter in the Kootenay Rockies, along the Powder Highway!
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort; photo by Morgan Tilton
My wanderlust finally came to fruition this spring. On a 10-day trip, I flew from Denver to Seattle, Washington, and drove solo across the International Boundary (note: be sure to carry proof of vehicle rental.)
My Powder Highway Route
This road trip is chapter one in my pursuit of the Powder Highway: I drove counter-clockwise to the Fernie Alpine Resort, followed by two days at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort and closing weekend at Revelstoke Mountain Resort.
Canada saved my seasonal thirst: it was Colorado’s third-dries season to date. Beyond the incredible snow, the terrain and culture hooked my curiosity and desire to return.
The vertical drop of the Powder Highway ski areas is difficult to comprehend—which I love. Few US mountain ranges can replicate the same steep, continuous slopes that seem to be in the south-east corner of BC.
Jackson Hole delivers a continuous 4,139-foot face. Colorado’s and encompass that much vertical loss, as does . —my home ski mountain—dishes out only 4,425 feet.
Revelstoke’s quad-shaking 5,620-foot descent is provided by the largest lift-served vertical in North America. It’s not unusual for skiers/riders to be engulfed by three different worlds—a whiteout blizzard, an inversion and sunshine—in a top-to-bottom run.
Revelstoke Mountain Resort; photo by Morgan Tilton
Enter highlight two: The sheer density of high-caliber resorts. The quantity of steep faces, large vertical drop and snorkel-worthy snow along the Powder Highway is unmatchable.
Travellers can link-up Revelstoke, Kicking Horse and Panorama in a four-hour drive. In the US, a Jackson-Big Sky-Aspen trip requires three-times that duration.
The Powder Highway from Seattle is a 2,260 km (1,401 mi.) route, while my trip was 2,014 km (1,252 mi.). Experiencing eight of the most idyllic ski areas in the US Rockies—, , Telluride, Snowmass, Highlands, Beaver Creek, Jackson and Big Sky—is double the distance, 4,175 km (2,594 mi.).
Beyond the terrain, the history of Canada’s avalanche safety education dwarfs that of the United States.
The first professional mountain guide in Canada dates back to 1896. Assiniboine Lodge, the birthplace of North America’s ski touring, is 90 years old. And, the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides was formed in 1963, and Canadian Mountain Heli-skiing was two years later (in 1965).
Comparatively, the US American Mountain Guide Association was founded in 1979, followed by the (AIARE) in 2001. AIARE has helped to standardized the nation’s avalanche curriculum. However, the US does not operate with one unified guideline like Canada, which creates consistency.
I wasn’t able to squeeze in any backcountry ski days on this trip, so it’s on my bucket list for next time.
Powder Highway: Chapter Two
Ski operators along the Powder Highway have an energy and ambiance that’s raw, authentic, and powerful. Each community draws you in and makes you feel at home.
The next time I drive the Powder Highway, I’ll add off-piste exploration with a professional guide. I’d like to experience the lens of a Canadian mountain safety expert and to see how it could potentially strengthen my own safety management skills.
We can all anticipate more Powder Highway stories from US skiers and riders, as an upswing of Canadian ski resorts are jumping on board US season winter passes: this year, Revelstoke joined the Ikon Pass and Mountain Collective, and Fernie and Kicking Horse partnered with the Epic Pass.
Downtown Fernie, photo by Dave Heath
As for my own narrative, the day I drove back to my home country, I was already looking forward to writing chapter two.
Words by Morgan Tilton; top/cover photo by Morgan Tilton.
My name is Morgan Tilton — I also go by Mo. In a nutshell, I grew up in a small mountain town and moved to the big city to hit the books at the University of Denver. Three degrees, four years, and a couple of trips across the world later, I launched my business as a writer. My umbrella includes outdoor industry news and adventure travel stories. I contribute to local and national publications, print and digital, such as Outside, Men’s Journal, Backpacker, SELF, SNEWS, Gear Junkie and Elevation Outdoors among others. I join live reporting crews and contribute to industry magazines –now, a total of 11 Outdoor Retailer and Snowsports Industry trade shows– and assist in-house teams with roles such as Teton Gravity Research Snowboard Editor, in 2016/17, and an iRunFar Columnist in 2018.