Why choose between Red Mountain’s steeps, Whitewater’s glades and Kimberley’s cruisers? On this five-day Calgary, Alta.–Nelson, B.C. road trip, they’re all yours. Little ski resorts with big hearts and crazy snow. Combine gritty town histories with cheap lift tickets, superb restaurants and zero lineups, and you’ve got the makings of a ski odyssey.
Kimberley Alpine Resort
Back in 1916, when B.C. miners talked job perks, they weren’t thinking about dental coverage or gym memberships. These European immigrants who were toiling in the world’s largest lead-zinc mine wanted a ski resort. Eventually, they made it happen. And today, it’s well worth a visit.
Kimberley Alpine Resort has mellow terrain—62 per cent of the runs are labelled beginner and intermediate—no crowds and cheap lift tickets ($67.95 for a full-day pass). And that peak you see from everywhere? It’s Fisher Mountain, jabbing the skies at 2,846 m. Ski over to Kootenay House for the best view of Fisher. This warm-up shack, whose humble walls are lined with old black-and-white photos of famous skiers, also offers free hot chocolate—just grab a tin miner’s cup and plunk some change in the donation jar.
For accommodation, stay in Kimberley (pop. 6,500) or at Mountain Spirit Resort, a ski-in, ski-out resort with kitchens, a swimming pool, hot tub, in-suite laundry—the works. The only thing lacking is an après-ski scene.
Eat: For flat-out European atmosphere, make a beeline to The Old Bauernhaus. Built more than 350 years ago in Germany, the log farmhouse’s remarkable story is told on its walls and in its traditional menu. Load up on hearty schnitzel and spaetzle, or dip your skinny fork into a big pot of gooey cheese fondue.
Secret: Stash Head to the Black Forest area off Vimy Ridge and veer on to Flush. A quarter of the way down, the floor drops out and the white-knuckle chutes begin.
Red Mountain Resort
Back in the 1890s, Rossland was famous as the largest Gold Rush town in the interior of B.C., with 42 saloons and 7,000 residents. What’s more famous today is the area’s claim to have produced more national ski members than any other town in North America. Nancy Greene, Felix Belczyk and Kerrin Lee-Gartner all cut their first snowplows at Rossland’s backyard resort, Red Mountain.
Notorious for its steep, knee-buckling terrain (45 per cent used to be black or double black diamond), Red has a new offering this season with the opening of a whole new peak called Grey Mountain. Perfectly volcano-shaped, the addition of Grey’s 997 acres will allow for 360-degree skiing from a single lift. The expansion will bump Red’s skiable terrain to 2,682 acres. This is a big deal in Red’s long history. After all, it was ski club volunteers who built Western Canada’s first chairlift here in 1947. The lift ran for 26 years, which is impressive for a rig built from used mining equipment.
Eat: Not only is the ambiance at Idgie’s adorable, but the steamed mussels and crusted lamb chops at this converted little house are superb. Or make your dinner a true event by skiing to your table at Gypsy at Red for a wonderful feed of tapas, steak and daily specials.
Secret: Stash Head to the front of Granite and look for Third Slide run—2,200 ft. of straight fall line powder with not a bench or traverse to interrupt the relentless bliss.
Whitewater Ski Resort
“Keep Nelson weird,” reads the bumper sticker on a VW van grinding past massive snow banks on the way up to Whitewater, the ski resort closest to Nelson, B.C.
Hitchhikers dot the road, and there’s a food truck (an extension of Whitewater’s tremendous restaurant that’s spawned a cookbook and a legion of fans) wedged into a wall of snow at the base of the resort’s newest lift, Glory Ridge.
Having opened in 2010, soon after three Calgarians bought Whitewater from long-time owners Mike and Shelley Adams, this new chair doubled the terrain. Skiers can spend hours cruising down Claim Jumper, Tailings and Silverline, marvelling over the lack of lineups or scrapey ice. The $68 lift tickets make the seven-hour drive from Calgary infinitely worthwhile.
The lack of on-hill accommodation is also not an issue at Whitewater, as Nelson (a 20-minute drive away) has plenty of lodging and is one of the funkiest, cutest towns in Canada, or so reports John Villani in his book, The 100 Best Small Arts Towns in America. For the past two decades, artists and athletes have flocked to this Kootenay Lake charmer, most remembered as the setting for the 1987 Steve Martin comedy, Roxanne.
Check out the remarkably preserved Victorian homes and store fronts—there are some 350 heritage buildings in this town of 10,000 people. Downtown you’ll spot coffee houses, yoga studios, diners, pottery and bike shops—plus Canada’s only Patagonia Outlet Store.
Eat: Nelson is speckled with funky, intimate cafés. For a bit of a splurge, go to All Seasons Café (the prawn cakes are divine) or BiBo (for walnut-crusted Brie, risotto and gnocchi).
Secret: Stash The pillows of snow that fill the gladed chutes on Glory Side mean there are plenty of stashes to be found.