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Quintessential Powder Highway Winters

I remember my first Powder Highway winter fondly.  Moving to the Kootenays in the winter of 2014, I vividly recall laying eyes on the Fernie headwall for the first time as it loomed over the town.  I think back to that first epic powder day, the bottomless Kootenay Coldsmoke spraying me in the face like a white-capped wave crashing against seaside cliffs.  To this day, every time I step into my skis on top of a backcountry ridge I laboured to climb up, I relive all those mind-blowing runs I’ve had over the years.  The narrow chutes, wide bowls and endless powder that dot the landscape of the Powder Highway.

Fernie’s open bowls rise up from the downtown centre; photo by Dave Heath

Without a doubt, the incredible variety of terrain and endless winter storm systems that dump metre after metre of champagne powder on the region make the Powder Highway one of the worlds top destinations for skiing/riding.  Whether it’s the steep fall line skiing of Revelstoke Mountain Resort or the backcountry hut experience at the Asulkan Hut, there are mountains of opportunity to explore this unique ecosystem.  Powder hounds travel from all over the world to sample the delicacies of skiing the Powder Highway.

If you ever grow tired of playing in the powder, there are plenty of other activities to be had.  Glide along the world’s longest ice-skating path, The Whiteway, on Lake Windermere or rent a fat bike and pedal the groomed trail systems.  Perhaps give snowshoeing, cross country skiing and dogsledding a try.  And when you’re ready to take in an event or two, the Kootenays has you covered as well.  Rossland’s Winter Carnival, the oldest winter festival in Canada (tentative dates: January 27-30, 2022), combines luge and bobsled races, rail jams and parades with live music and street parties. 

A salute to Olaus Jeldness, a Norwegian miner who way back in 1898, initiated Canada’s Oldest Winter Carnival; photo by Zoya Lynch

Or check out the Freeride World Tour (tentative dates: Feb 12-17, 2022) in Golden, which brings the best freeride skiers from around the world to shred the gnarly terrain that makes up Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

But the Powder Highway experience goes far beyond the legendary skiing and outdoor activities. For it truly is the people that make the Kootenays the place it is today.  In the pedestrian-friendly streets of Kimberley, locals pop in and out of the cafes, bars and restaurants that line the Platzl.  On Nelson’s Baker Street, the laid-back Kootenay vibe is ever-present, no one in a rush, most meandering the through the shops.

Snowy Baker Street in downtown Nelson; photo by Dave Heath

Throughout the Kootenay Rockies, the friendly folks who keep these towns alive are the backbone of what makes the Powder Highway the winter destination it is today. They’re always willing to let you know where you should ride (although maybe not their secret stash!), or which hot springs to visit (although perhaps not their hidden gem!). Strike up a conversation with someone who lives here and they’ll share their local knowledge with you and help you explore this little slice of winter paradise.

From the old-time local who remembers the time when Fernie Snow Valley first opened in 1961, to the newcomer who just moved to the region, we are all here for the same reasons. The relaxed mountain-town spirit, welcoming people and the deep, deep winters full of light, fluffy snow;  I know that’s what keeps me here, seven years on from my first winter.

To assist you with which businesses are open along the BC’s Powder Highway, these communities maintain lists of their businesses: Castlegar, Cranbrook, Columbia Valley, FernieGolden, Kimberley,  Nelson Kootenay Lake, Revelstoke and Rossland.

Know Before You Go!

~ Take extra time to research and plan your trip in advance. Many of our tourism businesses and services have adopted new COVID-19 protocols and changes to their schedules or policies to ensure your safety. You’ll want to become familiar with them ahead of time.

~ If you normally travel with extended family or with several friends, consider travelling in a smaller group. Travelling with fewer people makes it easier for you to practise physical distancing in public, and may have less of an impact on the destination.

~ Consider a slower travel pace to help curb the spread. Instead of checking in and out of multiple destinations during one trip, choose one or two destinations and one/two accommodation properties for your entire trip (and explore all the things to do & see nearby).

Related Stories
~ Family Fun on the Powder Highway
~ Funky Finds on the Powder Highway
~ How BIG is the Powder Highway?
~ Kootenay Winters: Why We Love Them
~ Learn to Ski or Snowboard on the Powder Highway
~ Our Kootenay Mountain Culture

~ Powder Highway 101
~ Tips: How to be a Safe & Responsible Traveller
~ Up the Ante: Powder Highway Cat & Heli Day Packages

Top/cover photo courtesy of Dave Heath at the Fernie Alpine Resort.

Words by Mark Locki. Mark is a photographer and writer based in Kimberley, BC. An avid traveller throughout the Kootenays and abroad, he enjoys exploring the natural world, camera in hand, seeking out compelling stories. He’s often found deep in the backcountry, running, climbing or on skis, challenging himself to discover new scenes and viewpoints. 

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