When it comes to bucket list destinations for skiers and boarders, we each have our tastes, preferences and dreams. But one “must ski” (or board) destination that appears on everyone’s list is Canada’s incredible British Columbia – or BC for short.
BC is famed for its wide open spaces, its deep, consistent powder snowfall and its vast mountain ranges delivering every imaginable terrain. This snowy playground of endless possibilities is home to both the largest skiable terrain in North America and the resort with the biggest lift-served vertical on the continent. BC is home to 13 different ski-in and ski-out resorts and 10 mountain ranges, each with its own unique appeal.
But few of its fans love BC’s ski areas for the stats, impressive though they are, it’s that fabulous, reliable snow; friendly welcome, great facilities and incredible natural environment that draw us there and make us want to go back as soon as we leave.
Luckily the famous Canadian skiing wonderland is also remarkably easy to reach from the UK. You can fly directly to Vancouver on the Pacific Coast, or to Calgary, just over the Alberta border, to quickly access BC ski areas on the eastern side of the province.
Big Mountains And Deep Snow
British Columbia may be a part of Canada, but it’s a vast region, bigger than France and Germany combined, with 10 mountain ranges running across it from the Coast Mountain Range in the West to the Canadian Rockies in the East.
It’s an area of stunning natural forests and huge snow-clad rugged mountains towering above, in an unspoilt landscape where you immediately feel very close to the natural world and far from the ski slopes we are familiar with.
Skiers and boarders arrive from around the world each winter to delight in this fabulous snowy playground, the warm welcome from the locals and the sense of space and freedom. On the slopes, you’ll soon befriend fellow skiers and boarders with a similar passion for the great outdoors and BC wilderness.
Alongside quiet slopes where lift queues are almost unheard of, BC boasts consistent snowfall from early November, leading to reliable deep snow cover all season long. All that snow also delivers the famous “snow ghosts” of BC – smaller trees that get totally coated in snow and in the process makes for the ultimate playground for passionate skiers.
Head to the southeastern corner of the province and you will find the Kootenay Rockies and legendary Powder Highway. The circular route connects eight ski areas famed for their steep and deep terrain, and it’s easy to travel between them.
The former mining town of Fernie is a powder-skier’s dream. Beloved by both intermediate and expert level skiers and boarders for its gladed tree skiing and five snow-filled bowls, you can drop into each by a myriad of lines.
Moving north, you’ll come to Kimberley Alpine Resort. A high-speed chairlift out of the base, located steps away from the accommodation there, whisks you up to the top of the slopes opening up a vast array of runs for all levels.
Next on the Powder Highway is Panorama Mountain Resort which is located in an area of steep terrain reminiscent of the European Alps. The skiing is very different though with the ultimate backcountry options available here – you can choose between lift-access, cat skiing or even hop on a helicopter at the base of the slopes to access nearby heli-ski terrain. Panorama Mountain resort is one of BC’s purpose-built resorts with great slopeside facilities including a network of hot pools.
Rossland is another of the Powder Highway ski towns, located near RED Mountain Resort. Although one of BC’s oldest ski areas, RED Mountain Resort is now undergoing a major expansion with new lifts added. These will ultimately make this one of the country’s biggest ski destinations. As it is though, RED already has a huge variety of terrain and skiing for all levels, including the option to enjoy snowcat skiing with the Big Red Cats.
Whitewater Ski Resort is one of BC’s more off-the-beaten-track destinations with a great mix of inbound terrain as well as the chance to head into the backcountry, or heli-skiing, on a guided tour. Whitewater is in a remote location even by BC standards, making it perfect for those who want to really get away from it all and be able to say they’ve skied a BC resort that few others from the UK can say they have. It’s another of the Powder Highway ski towns.
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort is one of the easiest ski areas to reach on the main Trans-Canada Highway from Calgary. The super-fast Golden Eagle Express Gondola opens up over 1,000 metres of skiable vertical that includes some of the most exciting bowl skiing in the world as well as dozens of chutes, and that’s before you consider going on a guided tour into the backcountry. Throw into the mix the option to try heli-skiing locally and Kicking Horse Mountain Resort is a very enticing option.
The ski town of Golden, below Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, has been a mountain sports Mecca for well over a century, first established when the railway came through the Rockies in the 1880s, it attracted Swiss mountain guides to help lead people through this exciting mountain terrain, and it’s the descendants of these pioneers who are still based here today and still offering guided ski tours.
SilverStar Mountain Resort is a quirky village that mixes colourful painted old wooden buildings with modern slopeside hotels, all having in common the fact that they’re ski-in, ski-out. SilverStar has built a reputation for cross-country trails with the longest continuous groomed XC trail network in Canada, but it’s also a family favourite and has plenty to attract advanced skiers and boarders, with a healthy vertical and lots of challenging terrain dubbed “The dark side”.
Finally, for something completely different there’s the option of going still further west beyond the Canadian mainland and skiing Mount Washington Alpine Resort on Vancouver Island. This is the place for a truly different ski holiday with ski-to-surf views and a reputation for some of the deepest snow in the west. The snowstorm clouds from the Pacific dump here before they reach the mainland.
North America’s Biggest Ski Areas
With so much choice it can be difficult to choose which ski resort to visit first in BC.
The good news is that whichever you pick you’re going to strike gold, it’s impossible to go wrong.
If you’re most comfortable on groomed pistes, you’ll find them quieter than most other places in the world. Alternatively, if you enjoy fresh powder and more challenging backcountry terrain, you’ll find an abundance here too
If you like to clock up a lot of groomed slope kilometres, Whistler Blackcomb is a good choice, being home to the largest ski area in North America. You will find the biggest resort in BC at its base too with a world-class food scene and buzzing après scene.
Revelstoke Mountain Resort is another holding a ‘Biggest in North America’ title, in this case for its huge vertical, which you’re whisked up in a fast, comfortable gondola. With lots of terrain geared towards advanced skiers, you’ll find plenty of exciting chutes and bowls as well as all of the groomed slopes.
Sun Peaks Resort offers beautifully prepared terrain and as much powder as your heart desires. Now the second largest ski area in Canada, Sun Peaks also has a reliable snowfall record and a vast choice of often nearly empty ski slopes served by high-speed lifts. Its compact, purpose-designed ski-in ski-out base has won many awards for its excellent skier-friendly design. If you’re bringing the kids, Sun Peaks is also famed for its family friendliness.
Big White Ski Resort is another big player when it comes to size. Although perhaps best known for the deep powder in the Okanagan ski (and wine) region of which it receives more than seven metres annually, it’s also another of Canada’s biggest ski resorts with over 2,765 acres of amazing terrain. There are almost 120 separate runs for all abilities, more than half of them rated intermediate with glorious long descents up to 4.5 miles long.
A little further west, Apex Mountain Resort is located in a spot where local weather conditions deliver the perfect mix of large amounts of precipitation combined with low humidity to create incredible, light powder. Located in the comparatively mild Okanagan region. Apex Mountain Resort receives plenty of sunshine too, a perfect accompaniment to the six metres of snowfall each winter. It’s not just powder snow but grapes that thrive in these conditions, and you can enjoy delicious local wine from the Okanagan’s famous wineries.
The Heli-Skiing Capital of the World
BC has an unmatched reputation for its heli-skiing, the ultimate dream for many skiers and boarders. The first heli-ski trips took place here more than five decades ago and today the province claims 80% of all the heli-skiing activity in the world. Several BC resorts offer heli-skiing as an add-on day activity for their guests.
Another option that several BC resorts offer is cat skiing. This provides a similar experience, taking you away from the lift-accessed terrain, but riding in a snowcat to reach the top of the run, rather than taking to the air. Revelstoke Mountain Resort is one of the resorts offering both.
It’s important to note that for many heli-ski and cat skiing experiences you don’t need to be an advanced skier. Guides are equally happy to lead you to intermediate terrain where you can float down through the untouched powder outside the ski area boundary.
BC’s Mountain Culture
Quite a few of BC’s ski areas are located close to historic towns and settlements that grew up along the railway lines, sometimes as mining communities or for timber, over the past century and a half. Others have been purpose-built just for skiing with effortless convenience as the priority. Many merge the two with a base village growing above a traditional town.
What all have in common are great communities geared up to deliver the maximum fun when you’re off the slopes as well as on. You can expect authentic bars and restaurants and there’s great shopping at most resorts too. You’ll also find a lot of fun off-slope activities to enjoy, from spa treatments to sleigh-ride dinners or dog-sledding excursions.
Many of these are distinctly Canadian activities, or at the very least have a strong Canadian angle to them. You could pop on a plaid shirt to try some axe throwing, head off for some snowshoeing or try ice skating on a frozen lake.
They all make your BC ski holiday that bit more elevated than elsewhere, one you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
On the slopes, there are some great mountain dining options during your ski day. Canadian specialities like a bowl of poutine are readily available but there are international dishes on offer too.
Famous spots include the fine-dining options at Eagle’s Eye Mountain restaurant above Kicking Horse Mountain Resort or the super popular mid-mountain raclette pit stop you can take at Elkhorn Cabin above Panorama Mountain Resort. Whitewater’s Ski Resorts cuisine is so eclectic and sought after it even has its own cookbook. There are also special dining experiences like the Paradise Camp snowcat dinner at Silver Star Mountain Resort which has a chef preparing a special meal featuring fresh, seasonal ingredients after your ride.
There are also unique breweries and distilleries where you can sample the local brew or traditional Caesar cocktails while having a chat and relaxing with the locals. You should of course sample the world-famous wines produced in the local Okanagan region. Or simply melt away the evening in a hot tub or, if you have the energy still, party until late.
Ski towns particularly well known for their vibrant nightlife include Fernie, while its neighbour, Kimberley, offers an unusual Bavarian vibe handed down from the original German settlers in the area. Others include Golden below Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, where many of the inhabitants are descended from Swiss Mountain Guides who were originally based there. Rossland, an 1800s mining boomtown turned outdoor hub is another great ski town near RED Mountain and Revelstoke, known as ‘Revy’ to its many friends, is another great option.
The ski towns and mountain resorts of BC offer some great bar choices for après-ski. Among the most famous are the Flying Steam Shovel in Rossland and Rafters at the base of RED Mountain, where you can enjoy pub grub, including heaping plates of nachos, as well as a so-called “No Shower Happy Hour”. At Fernie, you can check out the Ice Bar at the Cirque Restaurant in Lizard Creek Lodge or Fernie Brewing Co, which are attractions in themselves. You can bundle up in a -8 and -12 degrees Celsius room and sample vodkas from all over the world and across Canada (such as the Yukon Winter). In Revelstoke, you can try the Village Idiot Bar & Grill, a very Canadian-inspired après bar that offers specialty pizzas and comfort foods as well as an energetic atmosphere, or Mt. Begbie Brewing, a local favourite. Don’t forget to post an Instagram selfie with the bear statues in town too.
BC is also famous for its natural hot springs where you can take an apres-ski dip, or just stop off on your road trip. Heading south from Revelstoke, for example, you’ll pass Halcyon and Nakusp Hot Springs, both reached via a free scenic ferry to add to the experience.
So, this winter, isn’t it time to head west to the big mountains, wide open runs and deep, reliable snow of British Columbia and Canada?
Make your dream snow holiday happen in British Columbia
It couldn’t be simpler to get onto BC’s ski slopes. Here are some ski tour operators offering trips:
Elevate your ski experience in British Columbia, Canada
Main Image © Destination BC/Blake Jorgenson
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