|Skiing at Kicking Horse // photo by Kicking Horse Mountain Resort|
Gabriella Le Breton, The Daily Telegraph, December 8, 2015
With its steep chutes and bowls, Kicking Horse in BC, Canada, has earned a reputation for hair-raising terrain – but it also has a softer side"For the past 10 years, we’ve been really good at scaring people,” says Eric Whittle, director of sales and marketing for Kicking Horse Mountain Resort (KHMR) in British Columbia. Standing on Redemption Ridge, considering the spine-tingling drop under my ski tips, I understand all too well what he means.
I try to quell my nerves by admiring the views. I’m perched on one of the four razor sharp ridges which fan out above Kicking Horse’s base village. We’re in western Canada’s Purcell Mountains, two-and-a-half hours’ drive from Calgary, and Redemption Ridge, together with CPR Ridge and Terminator 1 and 2 Peaks on my right, is part of the well-named Dogtooth range. The forested flanks and snowy peaks of the countless mountains surrounding me are highlighted against an indigo sky, while the Columbia Valley far below is still blanketed in morning fog. Serenity restored, I drop into the wide open Feuz Bowl below me, whooping with excitement and relief.
While the exhilaration of navigating Kicking Horse’s four powder bowls and 85 steep chutes holds infinite appeal for strong skiers and snowboarders, Whittle is correct that the resort’s fear factor is largely to blame for it not (yet) having achieved its aim of becoming one of the world’s premier resorts.
A potted history: KHMR launched in December 2000, enlarging and replacing Whitetooth ski area, with an ambitious 40-year master plan to expand the terrain and construct a resort at its base (the nearest town is Golden, located 13km of switchbacks away in Columbia Valley). Eleven years later, KHMR was sold to the Resorts of the Canadian Rockies group, which also owns and operates the likes of Fernie, Kimberley and Mont-Sainte-Anne. Although Kicking Horse doesn’t boast much in the way of residential development, it does have some 3,000 acres of terrain, Canada’s third greatest vertical drop (1,260m) and its highest restaurant.
Despite being under new ownership, KHMR’s master plan remains largely unchanged, with hopes to bring the total lift tally (currently five) up to 11, providing access to more than 4,000 acres of terrain, and to continue residential and commercial development. However, there’s a tangible new focus: the “softening” and “rounding” of Kicking Horse, to show there’s more to the resort than heart-stopping ridges and chutes.
There’s the lattice of tree-lined, gently undulating trails that make up the lower two thirds of the ski area, which can be easily lapped via the Catamount chairlift from the base area; slighter, steeper yet intermediate-perfect runs either side of the Stairway to Heaven lift (which reaches the resort’s high point at 2,450m); a gentle nursery area at the base of the slopes; and The Learning Centre (TLC), with dedicated novice classes. Groomed entrances have been created to enable more tentative slope users to drop safely into Feuz Bowl and Crystal Bowl, and the excellent Big Mountain Centre (BMC) guides are on hand to introduce intermediates and above to big mountain skiing and riding, and teach avalanche skills.
As if that’s not enough, KHMR is also home to the orphan grizzly bear Boo, who lives in the world’s largest enclosed and protected grizzly bear habitat on the resort’s lower slopes. As I peer into Boo’s “yard” from the gondola, knowing he’s snoozing peacefully down there, I realise how his presence reflects the way that, if you look beneath the gnarly chutes and cliffs of Kicking Horse, you can discover its lesser-known yet lovably soft and cuddly side.
British Airways ( ba.com ) and Air Canada ( aircanada.com ) fly between Heathrow and Calgary. Air Transat ( airtransat.co.uk ) flies from Gatwick. From Calgary, take a 2.5-hour shared transfer to Kicking Horse ( airportshuttleexpress.com ). For more information about British Columbia, visit hellobc.com .
A seven-night b & b stay at the Vagabond Lodge with Ski Independence ( ski-i.com ) costs from £1,568 per person (based on two sharing a double room). Price includes return flights to Calgary and car rental.
The inside track
- Take a free mountain orientation tour (at 10am or 12.30pm). These last about an hour and a half and stick to blue and green runs. Register in advance at the Guest Services desk in the Day Lodge.
- Join the locals and go cross-country skiing. The Dawn Mountain Nordic Centre offers 32km of scenic trails through dense forest and open meadows (£5.60 per adult per day). Rental equipment is available from the Performance Rental Centre in the plaza at the bottom of the Golden Eagle Express gondola, from £14 per day.
- If you hike to Terminator 2 Peak, take a backpack on to which you can attach your skis – it’s easier to negotiate certain sections of the path with both hands free.
- Kicking Horse does not use hands-free lift pass technology. A retractable lift ticket holder (£3.99 from trespass.co.uk) will stop your pass flapping around on your jacket.
Where to stay
Silver Fox Large, ski-in/ski-out, timber and stone self-catering lodge ( lushmountain.com ) in the Selkirk area. Sleeps up to 10 with four large bedrooms, an open living and dining area with a bar and fire, hot tub and double garage. Seven nights costs from £2,324, based on eight adults sharing.
Winston Lodge An intimate property ( winstonlodge.com ) with 11 suites featuring rustic furniture, large balconies and spa baths with mountain views. Breakfasts are basic, but the après snacks and dinners are exceptional. From £109.50 per room per night (based on two sharing).
Eagle’s Eye Book one of the two suites above the Eagle’s Eye restaurant, Canada’s highest restaurant, and you’ll be rewarded with total privacy, with only your private chef and butler in the building to cook and serve your dinner and breakfast the next morning. Also thrown in is a day’s guiding, lift pass and guaranteed first tracks. From £1,345 per suite per night with Ski Independence ( ski-i.com ).
Where to eat
Peaks Bar & Grill Popular venue for lunch, après and early dinners, with superb French onion soup, colossal salads, a gluten-free menu, and Quebec favourites such as Poutine (fries, cheese curds and gravy) ( peaksgrill.com ).
Corks, Copper Horse Lodge Atmospheric bistro and bar with a diverse menu featuring predominantly locally sourced produce, such as Mt Begbie braised pork shoulder and seared BC rockfish. Also offers great pizzas, which can be delivered ( copperhorselodge.com ).
Eagle’s Eye Hand-carved wooden tables combine with floor-to-ceiling windows to create a welcoming vibe with mesmerising views. The cuisine is excellent, for both lunch and dinner (on select evenings), with favourites including pan-seared black cod with wild boar rösti and grilled venison loin with squash barley risotto ( kickinghorseresort.com ).
This article was written by Gabriella Le Breton from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.