See how you can make the most out of your BC ski trip by combining resorts and exploring further.
It’s early season and the snow is piling up in the mountains. Ski resorts are opening, and my idle thoughts are turning to skiing. Empty runs and open spaces, exploring a new resort with friends, throwing snowballs with my daughter, the adrenaline of a nice turn—or better, untracked terrain, and the way cold air and snow energizes me. But mostly, I dream about where I'll ski this winter.
As the technical editor at Ski Canada Magazine and a contributor to other adventure sport publications, I could plan a trip just about anywhere. My skis have flown from Colorado to Japan, Utah to Italy. But my priority is always planning a trip close to home—in British Columbia.
I’m not the only person who feels this way. Many professional skiers and snowboarders choose to live in BC, even when their passports are from the U.S., France, or New Zealand. And while other regions might have bigger lift systems or more alpine terrain, Mike Douglas, a long-time sponsored skier and filmmaker, says nowhere matches BC.
“The number one reason: It’s the most consistent place when it comes to snow,” he says. “But that wouldn’t matter if it wasn’t for number two: How vast and diverse the mountains and terrain are.”
The ultimate everything: Whistler Blackcomb
BC’s secret weapon is geography. Pacific storms stuffed with moisture loom over the province’s mountain ranges, from the glacier-topped Coast Mountains north of Seattle to the craggy Rocky Mountains beyond Montana. Every time the storms rise over the mountains, snow falls thick and fast, coating the 13 ski resorts hidden amongst the endless peaks. Each has its own character, including the bold Whistler Blackcomb, where my skiing dreams always begin.
As a lifelong skier, I’m drawn to its size; it's the largest ski area in North America, with alpine bowls, glaciers, and long tree runs. As a family guy, it’s hard to beat its variety of terrain, vibrant village, and diverse off-slope options. As a foodie, its restaurant and bar scene is delicious and extravagant. And as a practical guy, it’s the closest resort to Vancouver, the gateway to the province.
But, coming to BC on a ski holiday and only ever going to Whistler is like travelling to America and only visiting New York City. You can’t go wrong, but it’s worth exploring a little further and staying a little longer.
And this is a great year to come. The exchange rate favours American travellers and meteorologists are forecasting a La Niña weather pattern, which tends to dump snow in BC.
Fun for all: the Okanagan quartet
The four resorts in the Okanagan area are a good gateway to the rest of the province. Running from south to north through the centre of the province, they are Apex Mountain Resort, Big White Ski Resort, SilverStar Mountain Resort, and Sun Peaks Resort. Each has its own personality, but they share a family focus and ski-in, ski-out villages.
Apex is the quaintest of the four, with a cozy base area, an easy-to-navigate lift system, nearly empty slopes, and a lit skating pathway winding through the forest. A must do is an evening at the Gunbarrel Saloon, where you can sit beneath a giant moose head and sip a flaming coffee.
The upper slopes of Big White, further north, are famous for snow ghosts, trees so cloaked in snow they become cartoon characters. Beyond the dry powder, the sprawling resort is also known for the variety of ways to have fun, with everything from skating to dog sledding, fat biking to snowmobiling; while just an hour’s drive from the city of Kelowna, you’ll find little reason to leave Canada’s largest ski-in, ski-out village.
SilverStar’s colourful village, to the north, sits at the middle of the mountain. It's almost possible to ski into the shops—like Bugaboos Bakery for homemade soup—leaving more time for exploring. Warm up on the frontside groomers and mellow tree runs, then slide over to the backside to explore the steeps and empty pitches of Putnam Creek.
Finally, as you journey northwest, there’s aptly named Sun Peaks. It’s an oxymoron, in a good way, thanks to the resort’s consistent snowfall. With four mountains to choose from, it’s the second-largest resort by area in Canada, but everything feels close at hand. There’s Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, and horse-drawn sleigh rides right from the village. And the bustling pedestrian village, with its grand hotels, is not only ski-in, but also ski through.
Steeped in mountain culture: the Kootenays
To dig a little deeper into the Canadian ski scene, consider heading further east to the Kootenays, a mountainous region north of Spokane, Washington. The area has a rich mining history, which mixes with a hippie and ski-bum vibe, to create a unique and endearing mountain culture. This is also home to the epic ski safari known as the Powder Highway, a circular route that connects eight ski resorts in the Kootenays.
Nelson might be one of the coolest towns in the area (and the province), with its heritage buildings, lakeside location, and foodie scene. The latter extends to Whitewater Ski Resort, where the mountain is just a half-hour drive from town. Whitewater is almost as famous for its Fresh Tracks Cafe as it is for dry snow, snorkel-worthy tree skiing, and easy access backcountry touring. Here, epicurious skiers come just to dine at the on-slope restaurant, the source of a series of award-winning cookbooks.
Rossland and RED Mountain Resort are just an hour’s drive southwest. Ski bums pilgrimage here to test themselves on the mountain’s legendary steeps—a quarter of the terrain is double black diamond—and immerse themselves in one of Canada’s oldest ski towns, where its historic roots blend with funky businesses and welcoming locals. RED is also a great place to try snowcat skiing: It’s only $10 to catch a ride to a neighbouring peak. And if you love that, Big Red Cats operates day trips right next to the resort.
Big mountain adventures: Revelstoke and Kicking Horse
To the north of the Kootenays, the mountains get bigger—in every way. Revelstoke Mountain Resort boasts the longest vertical drop in North America and Kicking Horse Mountain Resort isn't far behind. Both resorts have hosted major ski and snowboard events (Kicking Horse is welcoming the Freeride World Tour this season) and enjoy some of the most consistent snow on earth; in 15 years of operation, Revelstoke hasn’t tallied less than 300 inches. What’s more, both are surrounded by helicopter, snowcat, and ski-touring operations.
Despite their similarities, the resorts are separated by a mountain range and each ski distinctly. Kicking Horse, for example, rewards the explorer with zones of bowls and chutes up high, with glades and quad burning groomers lower down, while Revelstoke is more fall-line skiing with big faces and endless tree skiing.
But don’t be intimidated by the big-mountain stats. Deep snow and long vertical also mean soft and fun groomed runs. Plus, the towns near their bases have a rustic charm that’s heading towards mountain hip, with an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants.
Scratching the surface: remote but accessible
Though they’re all deep in the mountains, most of the resorts are less than a two-hour drive from an airport, and none are more than three. Kelowna International Airport is the most central and best choice for Revelstoke, the Kootenay, and Okanagan resorts. The Kamloops Airport is about an hour away from Sun Peaks, and Kicking Horse is just over two hours from the Canadian Rockies International Airport in Cranbrook, further south.
And that’s just scratching the surface. There are countless ways to connect multiple ski areas into one trip as you meander across the province from the Pacific to the Rocky Mountains. There are more than 20 other, smaller ski hills, and they may not all be big, but they all add to the province’s stature as one of the world’s great ski destinations.
“When I’m travelling and I tell someone I’m from BC, they always say it’s their fantasy to ski here,” says Mike Douglas. “I can’t argue with them.”