Liam and I were keen to make the most of the long weekend and after various suggestions settled on a weekend skiing in the Kootenays. I had been fishing and hiking in Castlegar in the summer with Racquel and her sister, Robyn, very kindly offered to house us and act as our guide.
The very basic plan was:
- drive up after work on Friday
- ski Whitewater in Nelson Saturday
- ski Red Mountain at Rossland Sunday and Monday
- drive home after skiing
This was slightly complicated by a couple of factors. Liam had had to make a last minute trip to the UK and arrived back on Thursday so was a bit jet lagged. It had also snowed heavily in Vancouver which is rare so we didn’t know what to expect from the road conditions; the driveBC website said most of it would be compact snow and ice. It’s an 8 hour drive at the best of times but we figured we would just take is slow and we would arrive when we arrive.
The drive up
We both managed to get off early so left just before 4. It was snowing hard as we left which we hoped would put people off travelling and luckily the traffic getting out of Vancouver wasn’t too bad, it helped we could use the carpool lane. By the time we got to Abbotsford the weather had cleared, it was above freezing and the road was good. We made excellent progress.
At Hope we refuelled and I drove us in to Manning park. Here the road climbed in to the mountains and we hit the snow and ice. This made driving challenging and required a high level of concentration which is tiring. We passed numerous gritters and ploughs working hard to keep the roads drivable and for the most part they did an excellent job.
I managed to do a mostly uneventful, apart from a little slip, two hours through the park to Princeton where Liam took over. It was a beautiful evening, clear skies and a bright moon which lit the stunning scenery, Osoyoos lake was frozen which was pretty cool. The temperature dropped to -6 which was the lowest we saw.
On a descent we lost the car a bit but after a slide both ways we recovered. Liam admitted he had been pushing a little hard and as he had done a long stint we changed shortly after. Straight after changing I was going along nicely and out of nowhere 3 deer were walking along the side of the road towards me. I saw them late and there was nothing I could do given the snow and ice. However, luckily the deer behaved very unlike deer and just walked calmly by. A little further on we came across a stuck car but there were lots of people to help so we carried on.
We finally arrived in Castlegar and had no problem finding Robyns’ house, although I did lose the back of the car on one of the last corners but the roads were empty and corrected quickly. The years of go-karting and driving off road definitely helped in the difficult conditions.
We arrived at half midnight and were knackered so headed straight to bed. All things considered I think the drive had gone better than hoped. Driving on compact snow and ice for the best part of 6 hours between us was exhausting but the car had performed brilliantly.
Saturday at Whitewater, Nelson
It was snowing lightly when we got up and we set off straight away. The route to Nelson took us through Castlegar so we stopped at Common Grounds, Robyn’s coffee shop. A hot chocolate and breakfast bap set me up nicely for the day and what a day it would turn out to be.
On the drive up to Nelson we passed a big crash which was a good reminder that the roads are pretty treacherous but luckily we didn’t have any issues.
We arrived at Whitewater which is tucked away in the middle of a series of mountains. It is very much a local mountain and by all accounts they want to keep it that way. There is no phone signal, the ski passes are paper, only three lifts (2 man, 3 man and 4 man) that are all very slow. We found out that in the whole of the Kootenays there are only 2 new lifts, all the others are recycled lifts.
It was so well organised, you are parked but stewards at the bottom of the resort. There is one hut for tickets, one hut for rentals and a building that has a restaurant and bar.
There are 3 hills. A beginner hill that has a few greens and blues. The other two hills basically consist of 1 or 2 two blue’s/a cat track down the mountain and then off that are a whole series of black diamonds and double black diamonds that take you through the trees. Given the layout it is an excellent place to start back country skiing. We started on the 4 man chair and decided to do a couple of blue runs.
On our first run we realised we were in for a pretty special day. They had had a big dump of snow, 50cm, a couple of days before and a top up each day since and was snowing lightly. This meant we had fresh powder on the runs and despite the snow the visibility was great. We flew down the two runs, powder everywhere and beautiful carving turns. This is was skiing at its very best. Whitewater couldn’t but much further from Whistler and I was quickly falling in love with it.
We shared our third chair up with a ski patroller and asked him for some tips. He gave us a few ideas for the day and the plan for our next run. Off the top of the lift to the left, take a right but then stay high and follow the track in to the trees. Emphasised stay high!! We come off the lift, turn right and then Liam goes right and down the slope. Luckily he stopped soon enough and was able to walk back up. We then went along the track unto we found a good looking entry point in to the trees.
From here we had the most awesome run. Shin to knee height powder, awesome slope through the trees. It had been skied on the previous days but it was as good as fresh powder. We skied all the way down to the boundary before following the boundary rope back to the bottom of the lift.
We stayed on the same mountain for most the morning playing in the deep snow and trees. On pretty much every lift we made friends and people were really helpful with suggestions.
It was nice to finally find some super high quality skiing that really pushes you to ski well. However, it was such challenging skiing that my legs were struggling and we required frequent stops. One of these stops wasn’t optional as I skied in to a ditch and couldn’t get out!!
Having done the run 4 times we decided to head back for some food in the centre or the resort. There is a nice little restaurant and bar. We had poutine and cake as were after a brief pitstop. The restaurant, like the whole resort has a lovely feel about it, high quality and local. I am a massive fan.
After lunch we headed back up the main mountain and across to a bowl that was just outside the boundary. At the top of the run was the start of the a skinning route in to the back country and a climbing route in to a different part of the back country. There is clearly some super epic skiing here but you need to know the right people. The bowl we did though was pretty special even if by this point the legs were exhausted and the deep snow was leading to some less good skiing!
On our last trip up this mountain we had a rather dramatic moment on the chair lift. Liam and I had just sat down, these lifts don’t slow down they just catch you on the back of the legs. We had nearly left the loading platform when the chairlift stopped. The lift swung forward so our skis went up in the air and on the way back down the backs of our skis stuck in the snow. We were in quite the tangle sat on the chair with our skis stuck backwards in the snow not really able to move. Luckily there was no damage so we could laugh about it as the lift man came to rescue us.
We decided to end the day on the easier mountain. We did a couple of runs and to finish a run down through the trees which wile easier than some of the earlier ones could have been the run of the day. It also allowed us to ski down to the car, I actually skied to the door! No walking for me.
We headed in to town for a post skiing beer at Tim’s place. It was where we had been told everyone went but we thought it had a very weird vibe and couldn’t decide what they were going for. Robyn confirmed later it was where people went but it wasn’t for us. We had one beer and a game of pool before moving on to Backroad Brewery. This was much more our scene, a local little brewery which a lot of choice. We met a lovely couple from Calgary who were skiing Whitewater the next day and imparted all our knowledge to them.
We returned to Castlegar for a quick rest before heading out for dinner at the Lions Head Pub. I had been on my previous visit and again it has a great selection of beers and good food. We spent most the evening working out if we were going to go out to Castlegars’ club, The Woods. We eventually came to the sensible conclusion we were all tired and should go home and chill. We got home and put a film on but were all asleep within about 5 minutes.
I am struggling to remember a better days skiing. There might have been some but this was definitely in the top 3. I loved everything about it: the fresh snow, tree skiing, deep powder, the simplicity of the resort, the friendlyness of the people. I had the most awesome day and I absolutely love the Kooteneys and really hope I can spend a lot more time there.
Sunday at Red Mountain, Rossland
We woke up to about an inch and a half of fresh snow on the car which is always a good start.. We got ready, defrosted the car and Robyn was joining us for the day. First stop was Rossland to grab coffee and breakfast. Rossland is a lovely little town with a great coffee shop called Alpine Grind. They have a great selection of breakfasts although not sure I appreciated Liam and the server having a laugh that he had a small child when he ordered my small hot chocolate. It was delicious so I had the last laugh.
After breakfast carried on to the resort. As we parked Robyn commented how busy it was. It really wasn’t especially if you ski in Whistler. We had to queue to get our tickets and the first lift but they were handing out hot chocolate which was a nice touch. Once we were on the mountain we didn’t queue at all.
It was cloudy and snowing so we couldn’t see the best of the view but even what would could see was pretty spectacular. Red mountain only has 4 lifts and a T bar but has a huge ski area.
To get to our first run there was a log traverse along a flat track. Robyn boards and we had been joined by her friend Rylan. On the path Liam and I gave Robyn a tow using one pole each which worked surpingly well. We started with a great blue run and again the pistes had fresh powder on them.
At the top of the chair we went off down a black diamond through the trees, Robyn wasn’t convinced but she was game and came with us. This route consisted of deep powder and skiing some tight routes through the trees. It was awesome but tiring with numerous sit downs, snowball fights, people stuck in holes and a lot of rolling around in deep snow. We were having a blast.
At the bottom of the lift is was clear and warm but at the top it was windy, snowing hard and cold. So as we went up the lift we opened the Fireball whiskey. Many people have mentioned Fireball and its clearly very very Canadian but what’s not to like about cinnamon and whiskey. Rylan had some beers in his jacket and I told him about a friend who had done that in Vancouver and they exploded in a fall. Low and behold by the bottom of the next run that had happened!!
One of the take away memories from the day will be the ridiculous conversations on the ski lifts. I cant even remember any in particular but they were completely inane and accompanied with a lots of laughter.
Liam and I squeezed in an extra run playing in the trees and enjoying the deep snow. When we caught up with Robyn and Rylan they were sat in the middle of a narrow piste in the middle of nowhere. It took us a while to work out what had happened as Robyn didn’t seem that amused but Rylan was very amused. We eventually worked out that Robyn had gone into the trees for a pee. However in the deep snow at her most exposed she had fallen over and snow had gone everywhere!! We thought this was hilarious although she didn’t see the funny side quite as easily.
On our way down to a late lunch Robyn got her revenge. I decided to do some 1 ski skiing and Rylan kindly carried my ski for me. At the bottom Robyn told us how she was very confused why there was a WOMAN skiing down the slope on one ski. Then how Rylan was going to HER rescue carrying HER ski. She didnt realise it was me until we all stopped. Not sure if this is a positive or negative for my skiing style!
At the base hut there was an hour wait for food and we only had two left so we had a quick beer and carried on. To finish off we skied Red Mountain which just has a two man chair.
After a nice little run down Robyn needed another pee and wasn’t risking the snow again, so while we waited I convinced the guys to do a T-bar, a favourite of mine growing up. However, I very much lost the game of chicken with Liam and had to bail out, ski down and come back up. Turns out on a T-bar you have limited control against someone taller and heavier than you.
We finished off with a couple more runs to bring a brilliant day to an end. It wasn’t the hardest days skiing but the conditions had been awesome and we had done a lot of laughing. Liam loved Red Mountain, but I definitely preferred the size and feel of Whitewater.
On our way home we stopped at the local pub, The Rock Cut Pub, for a late lunch and some beers. As we parked Liam drove a little to close to a snowdrift and left his number plate perfectly indented. It is definitely one of the best located pubs I have been to with lovely views and a great atmosphere, highly recommended.
We returned home and after a little rest had a game of monopoly. It was intense and the friendliness of the mountain did not extend to the board! Robyn took a strong early lead with hotels on the purples which we seemed to hit a lot. However, to even up the game Rylan and I made deals with Liam as we hit the hotels which swung the game in his favour and Liam eventually took the victory. Robyn maybe rightly felt a big picked on.
Monday at Red Mountain, Rossland
Our last day was going to be a long one with the drive home but the forecast was good and we were looking forward to clear blue skies and stunning views.
We said our goodbyes to Robyn as unfortunately she had to work, double checked the house and set off for Rossland for breakfast. Again the Alpine Grind was excellent. At Red Mountain car park it was -8 so we knew we were in for a colder day. The clear blue skies we had been promised did not appear and it was snowing heavily.
We found an awesome run through the trees under the motherland chair, where the day before we had see a guy pull off the most awesome save. He had come out of the trees done a roll but then stood up and skied backwards. This was on a steep slope with deep powder so was quite something.
The top of the run was a bit crusty but then we moved in to probably the best skiing of the weekend. Knee deep snow through the trees. I did a long stint and with my legs burning and the end in sight my ski popped off and I just collapsed in a heap. I just lay there as Liam was coming down after me and hoped he could rescue me as I was exhausted. However after a while someone else brought me my ski so I was now a bit worried about where Liam was.
He eventually appeared off to the side although at the time he was walking up hill which was a bit confusing. As it turned out his delay had been caused by his ski popping off as well and having to wade around in the deep snow. His walking up hill was because he had dropped a pole. At the bottom there was an awesome mogul field to finish off what was a pretty epic run. It was a very simple decision to do it again.
On pretty much every lift we talked to the locals or people passing through and everyone was very friendly and interesting, which is in keeping with the whole atmosphere of the area. A lot of people ski these resorts on a tour of a week or two changing resort every few days. This would be an epic trip but got to find the time first.
On the second lap the route through the trees was equally awesome. However, on the moguls at the bottom I was about 4 in when I hit one wrong and felt something go on the outside of my knee. Instantly I knew this wasn’t good and limped to the side of the piste. After a few minutes it felt better so I carried on but after a couple of turns it wasn’t so I eased myself to the bottom of the run.
Despite only having done 2 runs I knew I was basically done for the day but I would be able to continue skiing the easy runs. The snow and runs were so good I didn’t want to limit Liam and actually Red Mountain is very well designed for skiing together but different runs. I tried one run through the trees but couldn’t put any weight through my left leg and with that my confidence and control was gone. From there I stayed on the piste for the rest of the day and Liam skied the runs through the trees parallel to the piste. It helped that it was snowing hard enough that I was pretty much skiing on fresh powder.
There was a one moment of drama when a small girl failed to get off the lift, despite appearing to ride with her family, and had to go the whole way down again.
We skied as hard as we could and by 2 Liam was feeling his legs so we decided to call it a day, I was feeling fresh but I had been skiing blues at about 50%.
It had been another awesome day on the mountain and we had been spoiled with the conditions all weekend. Liam still preferred Red Mountain, I think mostly due to the larger ski area, but I much preferred the size and atmosphere of Whitewater but would happily ski both again although for a longer trip I would head to Red Mountain.
The issue I’m having is getting constantly injured skiing. All winter I have been limping from one injury to the next. While I am as fit as I have ever been I only swim, bike and run. As a result I don’t think I have the all round fitness I used to when I played hockey, football, tennis, sailed etc. This is a shame as I think next year I will have to do less skiing to keep fit. I had been thinking just before the injury that I hadn’t been felt as injury free for a couple of months, that did’t last long.
We set off in heavy snow and -6. The first issue we encoded was leaving Red Mountain. As we came to the highway we hit some black ice just slide straight in to the middle rather than turning left, luckily there were no cars as there was nothing we could do. As it turned out this was as dramatic as the journey got. 5 mimutes later we were driving in bright sunshine and were treated to a beautiful drive home. We did see -10 but the road was clear of snow/ice and the Crow’s Nest Highway is spectacular.
We got back home about 10 which wasn’t too bad and straight to bed as had work the next day.
It brought to an end an epic weekend that was so worth the long journey. The annual leave in Canada is so bad, and most of mine is racing, you really have to make the most of the long weekends and I will continue to seek out adventures.
Now I really need to start focussing on training as the triathlon season is picking up and the ski season winding down. I still have quite a few days skiing paid for but not sure I am going to get round to using them all unfortunately. Fingers crossed on the ones I do use I can be sensible and take them easy!!!