Crowded slopes and man-made snow aren’t what you’re after — let the tourists have at ‘em. You’re hungry for sky-born snowfall, mother nature’s terrain, and somewhere that you can have both seemingly to yourself.
Road tripping to the Powder Highway, photo by Gina Begin
Welcome to The Powder Highway.
Maybe you’re travelling from the east, looking for soft snow covering quad-burning pitches. Or you’re coming from the west, looking to keep your big mountain skiing but drop the price tag. If you’re coming up from below the 49th parallel, you could just be looking for a place to drop the crowds and pretensions.
There’s no one-upping in the Kootenays. The mountains will cover themselves with 18 metres (60 ft) of snow whether your ski gear is from the 80's or you got yourself glued to all the latest vertical-tracking apps.
And none of the locals will care, either. What the locals will care about is a pint of local craft beer after inhaling powder all day, a potluck dinner with friends, and resting up for another round of 'hard work' tomorrow.
Locals Vibe Apres, photo by Gina Begin
Still with me? Good — you’re exactly the kind of skier we’ll happily take under our wing around these parts. Let’s make you feel at home: Here’s what you need to know to ski the "Powder Highway" like a local:
Plaid is a base-layer. And a mid layer.
In fact, it’s a jacket, too.
You’ll notice I said 'plaid' and not a specific fabric. For Kootenay locals, plaid seems to have special warming properties. After throwing the skis into the back of the truck at the end of the day, you may spot one of us peel off a layer of plaid to reveal a base-layer of plaid.
"Without plaid, I wouldn't know how to dress myself,” jokes Kenzie Wade, a Golden local. “Good thing it's accepted in the Kootenays. Maybe we all suffer from fashion faux-pas but plaid goes from the hill to the bar to dinner in the Kootenays — and no one cares if it's the same one you skinned uphill in that morning, either.”
However, about those warming properties of plaid: Just keep in mind that this phenomenon is a locals-only privilege. Feel free to bring your own plaid to blend in, but pack your regular tech layers for the winter temps (which, by the way, aren’t as cold up above the 49th parallel as many State-siders think).
Pack your bathing suit.
I told you it wasn’t that cold.
At least, it’s not in our hot springs, of which we have plenty. This is the secret to Kootenay local skier longevity; it’s how we manage to skin up our peaks for backcountry lines day after day. And you haven’t experienced a ski trip along The Powder Highway until you’ve added in at least one of our hot springs pools. Snowshoe, hike, or drive in; we’ve got everything from solitary backcountry pools to frontcountry pools that can fit more people than you saw on the ski hill all week. Ask the locals for a ride; chances are, there’s a group going this week to relax their hard-working muscles.
We don’t all start our day with Tim Hortons.
Warming up for morning mountain laps is paramount, so you might want to research where you’ll get your caffeine before you get here. Many Kootenay towns are missing the chain that some think of as a 'Canadian coffee staple'. Unless we’re in a crunch, us Kootenay locals prefer something made a little closer to home. You’d do good by yourself to start your day with the locals, too — it’s where you’ll hear all the secret stashes before folks dissipate on the hill.
Backcountry skiing in the Selkirk Mountains, photo by Nick Como
Unless you’re Shane McConkey (and can joke about Gnar Points), let your skiing do the showmanship.
Actions speak louder than words in the Kootenays. It’s a quiet place, after all, the kind of place where you won’t need to shout about how rad the line in the trees was — your smile tells us all. We want to hang with the 'real' you, the person who may have a quirky chicken wing when skiing left turns, but is grinning the entire time. So don’t worry about impressing us with your mid-day vertical stats at lunch — we’re humbly out there doing the same every day of the ski season.
(By the way, we’re still skiing at lunch; what are you doing sitting in the lodge?)
We’re easy to get to, but not that easy.
Getting here isn’t like flying into an international airport, driving for two hours on a notoriously backed up freeway [which we’ll keep anonymous] and ending up at the mountain parking lot racing to beat thousands of other people onto the lift. Thank goodness, too. It’s because of our little-bit-outta-the-way location that you can freely talk about your Kootenay trip and know you’ll still come back next year without a horde of skiers descending on your hide away.
It’s also why so many of us Kootenay folks aren’t worried about sharing the goods with you; if you’ve made this much effort to come up, we know you’ll respect our Kootenay mountain culture, too. It’s someone with a deeply-entrenched love of snow — someone who wants to experience the core of skiing rather than the Hollywood version of it — that will make the Kootenays their destination. And for those who do, they know, like us, that a little-bit-outta-the-way pays off in a big-kinda-way.
Says Nelson local, Brent Malysh, a former skier for Fischer Skis and freeride competitor who’s travelled to different places around the world to ski but chooses to call the Kootenays home:
“It’s a utopian ‘little’ place, that’s for sure.”
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in Golden BC, photo by Nick Como
Words by Gina Bégin. Top (cover) photo by Gina Bégin.
Gina Bégin - Although she’s a Florida girl, exploration called her away after the final bell of her high school career. On a quest to reach the distant adventures of North America, she lived in her car, traveling to ski the backcountry of Alaska, sleep under the northern lights in the Yukon Territory, ice climb Colorado's frozen canyons, photograph Nova Scotia’s coves, backpack in southern US wildernesses and munch on sugared tamarindo in the jungles of Mexico. But after three years living on the road and seeing the many wonders this continent had to offer, she chose the place she knew would fit an explorer looking for a lifetime of wild wonder: British Columbia. Dual citizenship in hand, she settled along the Powder Highway in the Selkirks and is making her home between four walls and deeply wooded mountains.