Canadian Ski Resorts – Which is the best?

Now that I’ve visited a fair few of these, I think it’s time to give you a little run down of my thoughts and hopefully pass on some useful information to people who are looking at coming across for a holiday or season.

A note for Europeans – North America doesn’t have ‘Red’ runs, they have two different black runs (which makes no sense!) single and double black, marked with diamonds.

Mount Washington

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A little hill on Vancouver Island, I only rode in the evening here, late in the season so conditions were slushy and the un-groomed sections were un-ride-able. But the hill had a nice friendly vibe and was not at all busy. I imagine it would suffer from the usual ‘wet coast’ problems, thick heavy snow, but frequent dumps might give powder hounds some fun. The park was nicely laid out and groomed, nothing crazy big, but plenty for me to play on. It’s not huge, and getting over to the Island is a bit of a pain, but if you’re heading that way it’s worth a visit.

  • Beginner areas – 8/10
  • Overall Size – 7/10
  • Park – 8/10
  • Base Facilities 9/10
  • Runs 7/10

Sun Peaks

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Home of my first season, this is a great hill, with (supposedly) the second largest ski area in Canada. It’s in the interior of BC so it’s not the easiest to get to if you’re flying, unless you fancy those expensive domestic flights. It also doesn’t get the big powder dumps of the higher altitude resorts in the Rockies, or the constant snow of the west coast. The hill itself has a really good variety, plenty of greens and blue for progression and a decent amount of black runs as well. It’s pretty much all groomed the whole time, so not too many mogul fields (although they’re there if you want them) and there’s a few places that don’t get too tracked out too quick. The tree runs are tight, but can be a lot of fun. The Gills are a good hike into the mid country where you can get some amazing powder runs on a good day. There’s also a large park, with a great selection of terrain, although I found it wasn’t great for beginner/intermediate progression. The town is small, not a huge amount of food options or bars, but enough for a week – just gets a bit stale over a season.

  • Beginner areas – 9/10
  • Overall Size – 9/10
  • Park – 8/10
  • Base Facilities 8/10
  • Runs 8/10

SilverStar

20180330_131559_HDRI did just one day here, but it felt very similar to Sun Peaks. A smaller ride-able area, and not a huge amount of back-country style terrain, just groomers covering a decent sized area. The base has a reasonable selection of bars and restaurants, again nothing too crazy. The park was quite nice, a wider layout meaning it felt like there were more options, and more features focused for a mid-level rider meant I had fun in there. It felt very family friendly, with a very accessible base area and some nice non-bar options for the evening. I had friends who did a season there, and the general consensus was that Sun Peaks was a better hill.

  • Beginner areas – 8/10
  • Overall Size – 7/10
  • Park – 8/10
  • Base Facilities 9/10
  • Runs 7/10

Big White

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Again, another one day experience, but I think I got to see most of the hill. It felt huge, especially with the lower parts of the mountain, and seemingly endless runs of on lookers left side of the map. The trees were pretty good, a little less tight than other hills, but not the openness of Revelstoke. Didn’t get much opportunity to try the park here, as we were kept busy with the rest of the mountain. Again, the resort facilities looked pretty good, although I got some terrible service in the gear shop as the idiot staff tried to sell me the exact opposite of what I wanted. It felt a lot busier than other hills as well, but that may just have been for the day. I have heard a lot of stories about ‘Big White Out’ and the clouds that haunt the hill. Lots of grey skies and often it’s low enough to ruin a good day. There’s also the running joke about the ‘white’ meaning cocaine – be careful if you’re looking at doing a season.

  • Beginner areas – 8/10
  • Overall Size – 9/10
  • Park – 7/10
  • Base Facilities 7/10
  • Runs 8/10

Revelstoke

20180324_112706_HDRI had a whole weekend here, and despite the poor snow and slushy conditions had a really good time. The hill is a strange set up, with a long gondola taking you up to the main ski-able areas, from which you take chairlifts up from. It means the base area is a bit quiet and there’s not much atmosphere, and the gondola mid-station is the hub for lunch, but is empty by 3pm. So not a good one for a beer on the mountain, but the glades more than make up for that. The tree runs are ‘gladed’, meaning they take out the dead and fallen trees, and open up the gaps between the rest of the trees making it much easier to get a line through. It also stops the routes being carved up so much as there’s more options, so the snow stays nicer for longer. Revelstoke is famous for it’s powder as well, although that is still the stuff of legend to me. There is a small park, but it’s not big and not really a priority so don’t expect too much. One advantage of the gondola situation, is that the town of Revelstoke (which is a real town and not just a resort) is much closer, so you’ve got lots of options for food and drink.

  • Beginner areas – 6/10
  • Overall Size – 8/10
  • Park – 6/10
  • Base Facilities 10/10
  • Runs 9/10

Kicking Horse

IMG_20190204_191612_564This one is a beast, lots of big bowls and un-groomed double-black diamond runs. There is a snaking green run that will get you from top to bottom, but it has plenty of flat bits and really is not interesting in any way. There are also a lot of blues on the front side, as you exit the bowls, these are a bit more exciting, and with a few mountain bike trails in the glades there’s some good fun to be had on the lower half of the hill. But the main draw is the bowls, huge areas where you can hike or traverse and access a fresh snow and make your own lines (so long as you go when there is fresh powder to be had) It offers a lot of the big mountain features – steep and deep – without day long hikes.

  • Beginner areas – 5/10
  • Overall Size – 7/10
  • Park – 0/10
  • Base Facilities 9/10
  • Runs 9/10

Panorama

IMG_20190113_112223094Another big mountain style hill, but a lot more family friendly, a lot more variety and only one bowl. In the same valley as Kicking Horse so it gets a similar snowfall, and it tends to be nice and fluffy. This is probably one of the best all round hills I’ve been too, and due to it’s distance from the cities it was very quiet when we went. Not great for park riding, but that’s probably the only major thing it’s missing – it’s park was strange, some very basic features that lead straight into huge rails. From the top of the highest lift it’s also possible to catch a snowcat around the rim of the bowl, opening up a huge area that is otherwise only accessible by hiking so the far side is usually pretty fresh, even a few days after a dump

  • Beginner areas – 8/10
  • Overall Size – 8/10
  • Park – 3/10
  • Base Facilities 9/10
  • Runs 9/10

Fernie

IMG_20190224_101000307At the southern end of the Canadian Rockies, this hill is an integral part of Fernie town so it has the facilities of a full town within a very short drive. It has a nice vibe here as well, quite a youthful scene, not so many families, but definitely not un-friendly to families, just a bit more of a rough and ready party style. The hill has some great areas for powder hounds, mostly pretty easy to access, with a bit of back country for those hikers. They have a rail park only, but there’s so many side hits you’ll be happy getting air, and the rails are set up great for progression, perfect for the intermediate rider.

  • Beginner areas – 9/10
  • Overall Size – 9/10
  • Park – 9/10
  • Base Facilities 9/10
  • Runs 9/10

Sunshine Village

IMG_20190211_155850424_HDRMy home mountain for my second season in Canada, this is a very popular hill being easily driving distance from Calgary. Avoid at the weekends and holidays if you can. This hill has some nice hidden secrets that are a treat for the seasonaires, but even if you’re sticking to the groomers you’ve got a good variety of greens, blues and single blacks. I find the double blacks get tracked out very quickly and are moguly hell holes most of the season. I tend to head for the trees if I want a challenge. There’s also Delirium Dive, for those that don’t mind a hike and a great reward. It’s a big open bowl that offers some great powder opportunities, but it does require a full avalanche pack before you’re allowed in. There;s a lot of park here, but I find it caters much more for the higher level riders, with no much chance for progression in the middle tiers.

  • Beginner areas – 10/10
  • Overall Size – 8/10
  • Park – 7/10
  • Base Facilities 8/10
  • Runs 8/10

Norquay

IMG_20181219_130346780The most local hill to Banff town, this is a very small hill, with 4 chairs all heading up the same bland face of the mountain. The runs are a bit samey, and the low elevation mean it doesn’t have the best snow. It’s good for beginners and those just keen to hit the Canadian snow as a novelty, but it doesn’t take long to see all it has to offer. The park is all over the place, but with the night skiing it is fun to try out. If you’re short on time, or budget you can do a lot worse.

  • Beginner areas – 7/10
  • Overall Size – 4/10
  • Park – 5/10
  • Base Facilities 7/10
  • Runs 5/10

Lake Louise

IMG_20181230_132159468_HDRThis is a good all-rounder, with an emphasis on the big mountain stuff over park. Where Sunshine lacks, Lake shines! While the front mountain is pretty plain, the back bowl is a lot of fun. Lots of big steep un-groomed areas that are ripe for a thrashing, if you can handle your double-blacks. Beware of some of the runs though, it’s worth taking the easy route round first and checking out the conditions from the chairlift, some of them get really churned up and nasty. The back isn’t all Blacks though, and there’s some fun to be had for all abilities, just watch out for the bottleneck at the end of the valley where all those runs finish up. The park is reasonable, nothing crazy but a couple of nice features. Facilities are really top class, nice fancy restaurants, easy going bars, cafeteria food – whatever you need. Just don’t go when it’s super busy!

  • Beginner areas – 8/10
  • Overall Size – 9/10
  • Park – 5/10
  • Base Facilities 9/10
  • Runs 9/10

Castle Mountain

IMG_20190225_145713638_HDRI’ve only done one day here, and it was the coldest day I ever had on a hill. On that day the chairlifts felt tortuously slow, in fact they were all bought on the cheap from other hills, so it’s no surprise. The mountain is nice, not much in the way of park, but good solid runs all round, and I’m sure there would be some epic un-groomed runs if the slow was better, we just got unlucky that day. I’d be keen to go back, but it’s not the largest mountain there is, and it is far from pretty much everything. The base is a bit dated, but it’s still functional and it was a ghost town the day we went.

  • Beginner areas – 6/10
  • Overall Size – 5/10
  • Park – 5/10
  • Base Facilities 8/10
  • Runs 8/10

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

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