A British Columbia ski couple are your guides to a truly Canadian road-trip.
Kelsey Serwa and Stan Rey know a thing or two about skiing. Growing up in British Columbia ski-town racing programs, both hit the big-time on the Canadian National Ski Cross Team to travel the world chasing snow and neck-metal before settling together on the West Coast. They’ve skied almost everywhere you can imagine—and many you can’t. Their ski pedigrees are impeccable.
Born and raised in Kelowna in the heart of Okanagan wine country, Kelsey was 2011 FIS World Champion and a two-time Winter X Games winner before scoring a silver medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and gold at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Born in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, Stan’s family had ski-racing and Olympic appearances in their blood before moving him to Whistler at age seven. Alpine racing under coach’s like Rob Boyd, Stan eventually turned to Ski Cross, making a name as a national champ and Winter X Games competitor before turning to freeskiing.
Serious chops for a pair who remain fun-seeking and funny, with a love for the sport and appreciation for its history and culture. In this time of stepping back into the light for all of us, there’s nothing they’d recommend more than a multi-day, multi-area ski trip through the wide-open spaces of B.C.’s mountains. Their picks? Big White, Fernie, Kicking Horse, Revelstoke, SilverStar, Sun Peaks and Whistler.
“You can tackle a few for a short trip, but if you want to hit all seven you’ll need two weeks,” says Stan. “Either way, give yourself a couple of days at each because you won’t see everything you want in a few hours of skiing.”
Beyond world-renowned skiing and powder, driving through B.C. is an attraction unto itself.
“The geography changes over relatively short distances are insane—and yet it’s all incredibly picturesque,” says Kelsey of the postcard scenery. Then her skier’s mind takes over. “The highways are good, but be strategic with weather. If it’s snowing hard, for instance, maybe stay put and experience that on skis instead of four wheels.”
But make no mistake, storm days included, a ski road trip in B.C. delivers an experience of both mountains and culture like you’ve never imagined.
Big White Ski Resort outside of Kelowna is a stand-alone peak with a reputation for value, views and wrestling snow from every passing cloud. It’s also Kelsey’s home hill.
“I have vivid memories of chasing my older siblings through Big White’s famous glades,” she recalls. “My parents felt very comfortable just letting us go explore.”
That’s saying something for a place of 7,355 acres. But Big White’s enchantments extend beyond snow-ghost glades and famous Okanagan champagne powder. It also has a tube park, sleigh rides, skating rink and a great night scene. "We used to go to Snowshoe Sam’s just for dessert—us kids would share cherries jubilee while our parents would indulge in Gunbarrel coffees," recalls Kelsey. "And I remember the rustic feel, all the kitsch on the walls.”
Kelsey saves her biggest praise for the mountain’s organization. “It’s still the truest ski-in/ski-out resort I know,” she says.
The resort is home to Canada’s second-largest lifting system with the capacity to move nearly 29,000 skiers and snowboarders up the mountain every hour. Translation? Less time in the lift lines and more time enjoying all that the resort has to offer, including the Okanagan-friendly wine lists at mountain restaurants such as 6 Degrees Bistro, The BullWheel, Globe, and Kettle Valley Steakhouse (all recommended by Kelsey).
Stan’s Big White memories revolve around a couple of life-altering visits—winning a Nor Am Ski Cross, and getting married in the daylodge. “Actually,” corrects Kelsey, “we got married outside and had the reception in the daylodge.” What Stan does seem to remember correctly is the mountain’s family friendliness and “huge amount of beginner and intermediate terrain.”
Credit the original developers with that foresight, which, it turns out, include Kelsey’s grandfather, Cliff Serwa. He cleared the road to the mountain, then started the actual resort with his partner and good friend, Doug Mervin. During the town’s annual Kelowna-to-Big White bike ride (L’Alpe de Grand Blanc), the couple has had a chance to hear some of her grandfather’s stories about the resort’s history. “Some of them are pretty funny,” enthuses Stan. “Like, if they ran into a big rock they’d just go to the hardware store, buy some dynamite, drill holes in the rock, and blow it up.’”
Like many BC ski areas, Big White got its start from do-it-yourselfers with a passion for sliding on snow—a vibe that has survived the test of time.
Stan also raced at Fernie Alpine Resort as a kid and remembers falling in love with the terrain on a powder day.
“Each of the five alpine bowls are kind of their own little world. You can’t see them all from the bottom so you don’t really know what they’re like until you’re up there. Skiing the trees is awesome, there are so many little chutes and terrain pockets.”
Tucked into the alabaster ramparts of the Lizard Range in the eastern Kootenays, Fernie is a mountain for those seeking alpine adventure—but one that still caters to all levels and brings the off-piste vibe as well.
“There’s a fun après scene at The Griz Bar, in an old-school lodge that’s been there forever, but the town itself is small enough to have that same authentic feeling,” says Stan, who is also a fan of BC towns like Fernie each having their own brewery.
Kelsey lived in Fernie for a summer of training while on the Alpine National Development Team. “It felt small and quaint, with a super-supportive, athletic population.”
People live in Fernie for the lifestyle, and it shows—a slice of alpine life they’re happy to share with visitors.
“After we skied Kicking Horse I immediately wondered why I hadn’t been there before. It’s so well-situated,” Stan enthuses.
Well situated, indeed. Draped across the eastern slope of the Purcells, with views west to the mighty Selkirks and east to the Rockies that take in no less than five national parks, Kicking Horse Mountain Resort is nothing short of spectacular.
The sharp, rock-riddled peaks lining the horizon channel the Alps—which is how the award-winning Eagle’s Eye Restaurant atop legendary CPR ridge delivers the best view from a bar stool in all of Canada.
People don’t ski Kicking Horse for the same ol’ same ol’. An annual stop on the Freeride World Tour, they instead come here for hike-to peaks, massive bowls, heart-stopping chutes, and Jekyll-and-Hyde ridges—wind-buffed on one side, snow-loaded on the other. The fact that somehow neither Stan nor Kelsey had skied there before only fueled their adventure.
“We arrived two days after a storm,” recalls Kelsey. “Fuez Bowl had been closed until then, so we skied deep powder on steep, big-mountain terrain and in trees, but it all felt very safe with no big exposures. The long groomers were also great—steep and challenging. I had a blast ripping them.”
Fair to say the pair discovered why so many first-time visitors to Kicking Horse are blown away.
Revelstoke Mountain Resort is another stop that immediately makes first-timers wonder how they’ve overlooked it. Reading about the resort’s North America-leading 1,713-metre vertical alone opens eyes, but of course seeing is believing.
“I first skied there as a kid when it was a single T-bar hill called Mt. Mackenzie,” says Stan. “But I’ve skied it a bunch since the new resort opened and it’s awesome—some of my best tree-skiing laps ever and outstanding side-country.”
Stan also competed in his first freeskiing contest at RMR. “I crashed on all four runs but had a blast,” he reminisces.
“Well, you did win a custom-made axe for ‘gnarliest descent’,” adds Kelsey. “It’s hanging on our wall now but at the time you used it to cut up a 5-foot Subway sandwich.”
Kelsey’s own take on RMR is true to her racer core: “With such huge vertical, the best challenge is to go top to bottom without taking a break.
Stan also appreciates how the town’s old brick buildings channel the feel of a mining-logging centre. Fun fact: with the waning of extraction industries, Revelstoke has transformed into the hub of a vastly different resource universe—B.C.’s world-renowned powder industry of backcountry lodges, cat- and heli-skiing, several of which have offices in town and can be booked right at the mountain.
Just up the road from Kelowna and Big White is Vernon, home to SilverStar Mountain Resort. When Kelsey was young, there was always deliberation over which of the two mountains skiers would chase Okanagan powder on after a storm.
“There’s very cool skiing in the backside Putnam Creek area. Really good, steep, black-diamond terrain and lots of it. There are also rustic little shacks all over the place with wood-burning stoves—and I always liked how colourful the village is.”
SilverStar’s multi-coloured theme village is a perennial draw, and like Big White, compact and organized, with stores, restaurants and activities all a snowball’s throw from each other. “There’s such a concentration of things to do,” says Stan. “I remember playing hockey at night on the outdoor rink there—and it’s also got a great terrain park, which pumps out a lot of good ski and snowboard freeriders alike.”
But SilverStar’s biggest claim to fame is snow quality. The village sits at 1,600 metres and draws 700 cm of annual snowfall, which allows the mountain to operate without snowmaking. Reliable snow also draws cross-country aficionados to 105 km of trails shared by SilverStar and adjacent Sovereign Lake that together comprise Canada’s largest groomed-daily network.
Sun Peaks stands proud as the province’s second-largest ski area. Spread over three unique terrain pods, it can feel like you’re in a totally different location depending what mountain you’re on. “Some runs are like secret-garden glades, but you’re not dodging trees because they’re wide enough to do big, arcing GS turns,” says Kelsey. “The main groomers are also excellent and set on good terrain.”
As a frequently visiting racer, Stan spent a fair amount of time freeskiing Sun Peaks. “One day before a race, a group of us found this gap jump on a run with big rollers. We scoped it out then tucked the whole run from the top to hit the gap, flying 30 metres—of course, the coaches weren’t looking.”
“The village is really cute, too,” says Kelsey. “A little bit like Europe—family owned boutique shops and lots of cool crafts. They used to hang a sign at the bottom when [famous Canadian Olympian] Nancy Greene was out skiing that said ‘Nancy Is Skiing Today.’ It meant you could go meet up with her—how cool was that?”
Facing west, day’s end at Sun Peaks is awash in golden light. “We had a great après at Mantles Restaurant & Lounge in the Sun Peaks Grand Hotel—warm olives, fresh bread and a charcuterie platter with a good view of the mountain and unbelievable sunset,” says Kelsey.
As we all know, a good sunset is the best sendoff ever.
“I’ve travelled everywhere to ski and bike and taking both into consideration, I’d say Whistler is still the greatest resort on the planet to live in,” says Stan.
That might be a bit of home-town braggadocio, but a global fleet of ski magazines seem to agree. With two mountains, each larger than most ski areas, Whistler Blackcomb’s 8,000-plus acres of alpine bowls, glaciers, trees and 200 cut runs deliver a similar sentiment to visitors. Not to mention the almost city-like food and entertainment options.
“As an outsider I was immediately impressed with all the free outdoor festivals, events and quality food experiences,” says Kelsey. “Culturally and sport-wise, there’s always something going on.”
Certainly as centre of the North American freeski galaxy, the sport’s future is always on display here. “Sometimes I’m asked to go out with a group of young freeskiers, and they’re so skilled I wonder why they want to ski with me,” says Stan.
“Ah, but that’s the beauty—the poetry—of sport,” chimes in Kelsey. “You’re playing your role of inspiring the next generation.”
“True. As a kid here I’d often see my heroes on the mountain,” recalls Stan. “When I was about 14, I met [freestyle superstar] JP Auclair in a lift-line and he invited me to ski Spanky’s Ladder with him and a friend. You never forget something like that.”
Stan shares a story that summarizes the Whistler vibe. “We had a schoolteacher who was on the board of Avalanche Canada. Sometimes he’d tell us he had a board meeting next morning and that we’d have a substitute teacher. This always happened during a snow cycle. One time after a big dump, a bunch of us skipped school to go skiing and we saw him on the hill. We were like, ‘Aren’t you supposed to be in a meeting?’ and he said, ‘Aren’t you supposed to be in school?’”
Skiing-wise, Kelsey still claims the epiphanies of a wide-eyed visitor: “I’ve been here 10 years and there are still things I haven’t skied. It’s endless—a lifetime’s worth of exploration.”
If there’s a lifetime’s worth of exploration at just one B.C. resort, imagine visiting seven.