Our Powder Highway pilgrimage resumed with two days at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, another of southeastern British Columbia’s world-class ski areas, located just outside of the wonderful town of Golden.
Straight up and down terrain dominates here, without a lot of long traverses required. Its epic 11,266-foot-long Golden Eagle gondola rises 2,850 vertical feet in just 12 minutes and reaches a major high ridge running east-west, with four sub-ridges jutting from it that run north-south. These sub-ridges are characterized by moderate to steep treed and gladed slopes facing south, and steep to very steep treeless runs on the north sides hemmed in by cliffs. Just pick your ridge and work your way along its top until you reach your chosen run.
The sub-ridges also enclose a series of five major bowls that start steep and then mellow a bit, including a few groomers that are treeless at their summits, then flanked by forests as they descend. One challenging beginner catwalk snakes off the top of the gondy to the base. We had a great time on day two after a surprise overnight 8 inches, skiing off Redemption Ridge’s south and north faces. Mid-mountain is marked by long cruisers and mogulled expert runs. And finally, the bottom portion is full of intermediate and beginner terrain served by its own chairs, including the old Pioneer Chair. So, there are lots of choices available here.
But I’d say its most defining word would be “challenging.” With its expansive size, vert, and high-speed lifts, you can ski yourself into the ground. We came to call it “Kicking Ass.” Home to the only stop in North America for the Freeride World Tour, it hosts many other extreme skiing and snowboarding comps every season, all within its expansive boundaries. This includes huge swaths of terrain accessed only by hiking, including Terminal Peak 1 (T1), Terminal Peak 2 (T2), and the expansive Ozone Peak sector. The trail map has 65 named double black runs and many more that are not formally recognized!
Trying to make sure we would not end up on a patrol sled, we pretty much avoided the hairiest runs, but after an ascent up the high-speed quad Stairway to Heaven, we were enticed up the same-named literal stairway and boot pack. Of course, at its high point, in a section aptly named The White Wall, we were enveloped in clouds. We made a series of very controlled turns down Certainty (better be certain about your next move!) until the pitch lessened a bit and the air cleared.
Doug Whiting, a snow host at Kicking Horse for the past three years who gets in about 60 to 70 days a season, noted during a gondy ride, “It’s an imposing mountain. When we opened in 2000, we didn’t have a lot of green or blue runs, and the blacks are solid black! It takes people who move here a while to become comfortable with it!”
He’s been in Golden for 12 years. “We came from Calgary for the skiing, and bought some land as an investment,” he explained. “We didn’t really know the town, but we found we really enjoyed it, and we made it work to be here all the time. It’s not just a resort town, like Whistler; it’s a real town with a solid middle class and blue-collar population.”
Andy Brown, Golden’s tourism director, echoed these comments. “When I was living in Calgary going to school, Kicking Horse was my favorite resort, beginning with my first stop in the 2003 – 2004 season. Following school, I traveled for a year and then decided I’d come here to visit some friends and do some skiing. One season turned into a reboot of my life.”
He’s now working on his fourteenth year in Golden. “I stayed, partially, because I found a really good job working for the resort, and because I became familiar with all the winter and summer activities around here — the six regional national parks, the mountain biking, trail running, camping, fishing (for 20-pound bull trout!), and on and on. As much as I love skiing, I really look forward now to summers. It’s really an outdoor lover’s paradise. It’s a great place for raising kids and we’re seeing lots of young families moving here.
“We attract a particular type of skier,” Andy continued. “We are not as well-known as Whistler or Banff, so people need to dig a bit deeper to find us. But I go to other resorts that market themselves as hardcore, and I find they don’t even come close!”
Most of their skiers come from Calgary or interior BC, but they also see people making longer drives from coastal BC or even the Canadian plains provinces. But more Americans, Europeans, and Australians are discovering the superb qualities of Kicking Horse and Golden, and it’s only a matter of time before it really takes off. See it before it goes BIG!
Kicking Horse DETAILS
4,314 vertical feet in bounds with hiking, 3,500 lift-served; 3,486 acres; 250 to 280 inches annual snowfall; 8,218 feet highest summit via a long hike; 20 percent beginner, 20 percent intermediate, 45 percent expert, 15 percent double blacks. For details see Kicking Horse Mountain Resort.
There’s a fairly substantial base village at Kicking Horse with short-term rental homes, condos, and hotels, including the slopeside Glacier Mountaineer Lodge. Just 10 minutes or so away in the valley floor is Golden, a wonderful town that retains its character and charm of its roots as a mining, timber, and trade center of the late 1800s. It offers many lodging options. I can recommend Base Camp Lodge, a crafty timber structure with a central fireplace, a small public kitchen, very helpful staff, free parking, and other amenities within walking distance to a great coffee/breakfast spot, Ethos Café, and Whitetooth Brewing Co. Budget travelers can look to the Swiss Village Inn. There’s also a Best Western and a Holiday Inn Express.
In Kicking Horse’s base complex, Double Black Café serves up some excellent hot and cold sandwiches, rich pasta dishes, and all manner of hot and cold beverages. At the top of the gondola is the Eagle Eye Restaurant, with stunning views and fine dining. Though compact, Golden has a great range of good places to eat. A cool log mansion, The Wolf’s Den, is a great place to catch major sporting events (hockey anyone?), and excellent bar grub — massive hamburgers, salads, daily soups, and even some entrees. It’s also a popular live music venue. And yet another log palace with good Euro and Asian food is The Island Restaurant for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. A good choice for breakfast is Big Bend Café. For Korean and Japanese fare, try Q’s Asian Family Restaurant (250-344-2243), and for locally inspired fusion dining, visit Whitetooth Mountain Bistro.
Après & Off-Slope
Right off the ski area road in Golden is Whitetooth Brewing Co. with a cozy small serving room and tables inside the brewing space itself with its two-story stainless steel fermentation tanks. The Rockwater Grill and Bar has good gastro-pub food, craft cocktails, and beers, plus live music many evenings.
Golden is a snowsports capital, home to many heli-ski, snowcat companies, and guiding services for backcountry outings, plus snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice-fishing, ice skating, dog sledding, and other outdoor activities. Not far away are numerous provincial and national parks with tremendous sightseeing, and the famed Columbia River wetlands for bird watching. And in spring, as the snow clears from lower elevations, there’s excellent hiking and mountain biking. The region epitomizes British Columbia’s tourism tag: “Super, Natural.”
We arrived via the Powder Highway on our 1,100-mile loop beginning and ending in Spokane, but many visitors fly to Calgary and make the three-hour drive to Golden. For town and regional details, visit Tourism Golden.
Top image: Somewhere between heaven and earth: a skier above the clouds at Kicking Horse. Photo by Abby Cooper, courtesy Tourism Golden.
Editor’s Note: This is the third of four articles focused on the Powder Highway of British Columbia. Part 1 explored RED Mountain Resort and Whitewater Ski Resort; Part 2 covers Revelstoke Mountain Resort; Part 3 zeros in on Kicking Horse Mountain Resort; and Part 4 profiles Panorama and Fernie Alpine Resort. Part four will be posted Mrach 22, 2023.
Daniel Gibson was presented a Lifetime Achievement Award from the New Mexico Ski Hall of Fame in October 2022 for his snowsports writing. He is the co-author of Images of America: Skiing in New Mexico (Arcadia Publishing, 2021), with 183 historic photos; and author of New Mexico’s only comprehensive ski guidebook, Skiing New Mexico: Snow Sports in the Land of Enchantment (UNM Press, 2017). He is a member of the North American Snowsports Journalist Association and has written on the topic for newspapers coast to coast, websites, and magazines, including Powder, Ski, and Wintersport Business. He can be reached at [email protected] or via DanielBGibson.com.