“The Powder Highway” has a pretty appealing ring to it, no? When we headed out on our #vanlife extended road trip, we booked it to Canada for the freshies. For the most part, our Canadian destinations were guided by the known powder spots. Below are some highlights and recommendations for the powder hounds and vehicle dwellers.
The Snow: Plentiful maritime snowpack, we hit Revy in early January and the snow was a bit heavy but super fun and still fluffy. Our favorite runs were in the glades off the Stoke Chair.
Food and Drink: The Bierhaus is a must and has the best Mac N Cheese and Kombucha on tap – ya can’t really beat that. We spent one of our town days working out of the Dose Cafe, good vibe, decent coffee. If you want to visit the local distillery, Monashee Spirits, plan ahead- they have limited hours.
Parking: Parking in Revelstoke was a breeze – the resort allows overnight vehicles and has a 24 hour locker room and bathroom, heated! There is also designated 24 hour parking downtown Revelstoke, it’s like this place was made for #vanlife.
Amenities: Must go to the Revelstoke Aquatic Center – it has a lazy river and a “deep water soloing” wall over the pool, and a 3 story slide. Seriously, this place is magical. There is public WIFI in the city hall building and the community center.
Observations: If you’re looking for Aussies in North America, Revelstoke is where you will find them. Generally, Revelstoke seems to attract an international crowd, though still mostly while folk. Also, Revelstoke is the heart of Heli skiing and if you want to Heli ski, this is where you should look into it – the rest of the powder highway doesn’t really have too many options.
Rogers Pass, #EarnYourTurns:
Observations: This is the epicenter of backcountry skiing in Canada, and is unlike anything we’ve seen in the US. We didn’t go to the backcountry huts, but they were highly recommended. If the avalanche conditions were more moderate, we would have loved to spend a week camping out here and skiing amazing terrain out the door.
The Snow: Visit the Discovery Center to check in with the rangers- even if you aren’t planning on skiing in a restricted area, they have incredible knowledge of the local terrain, and binders of photos of different ski zones. We were here during high avalanche conditions, forcing us to stick to very conservative terrain (laps on Teddy Bear Glades).
Food and Drinks: BYOBAB (Bring Your Own Bread and Beer)
Parking: You can straight up park at the parking lot, 5 feet away from the start of the skin track. Overnight parking is allowed and you can stay awhile.
Amenities: There are 24 hour bathrooms at the Discovery Center, but require a short walk from the parking area, which is not a big deal unless it’s -20 and whipping snow outside (pee bucket to the rescue!). The Discovery Center open during the day also has warm bathrooms right next to the parking lot and a ton of resources for backcountry skiers – rangers, info, maps, etc.
Observations: Fernie has a great small-town feeling, and we enjoyed the mix of quirky grungy local businesses and upscale venues that cater to oil money from Calgary. The tar sands boom has led to significant construction in the area, but the historic downtown (along 3rd Street) feels like a well-preserved mining town set in an incredible location.
The Snow: We arrived at Fernie after an 18-inch storm, and it didn’t stop snowing during our time there. The resort offers an excellent variety of terrain, with a lot of secret stashes available if you traverse endlessly (check out the Anaconda Glades). Ski patrol works hard to open up the bowls after storms, but only 2 of the 5 bowls were open during our day at the resort.
Much of the backcountry skiing has long approaches, and many zones are only accessible by snowmobile. The easiest access is at the Tunnel Creek trailhead, which has a variety of terrain concentrated around a great cabin maintained by the Fernie Trails club. The hut makes a great place to have lunch for the day, or use as a basecamp for overnight trips (booked through The Guides Hut gear shop downtown). Because of limited visibility and high avalanche danger, we stuck to conservative laps in the Sunnyside glades, and had some of the lightest snow we’ve ever skied. The excellent sign at the trailhead outlines different zones and avalanche risks.
Food and Drink: We caught a singer/songwriter at the “InfiniTea” tea lounge- a quirky environment that’s good for meeting people and enjoying tea-based cocktails. Highly recommend this place! While we didn’t go, The Royal is the locals’ choice for dive bar. The Fernie Brewing Company offers tours, but has limited hours- as we got back too late for their tasting room, we instead enjoyed the beers at The Northern, which also offers live music. We spent a day working at Freshies, a cafe with fresh pastries, excellent omelettes, great coffee, and kombucha on tap.
Parking: Resort parking both in the designated RV lots (for oversize vehicles) and in Lot 3 (the day lot) if there isn’t significant snow removal. Overnight parking is available in-town on side streets.
Amenities: Fernie has an Aquatic Centre, but we didn’t shower often enough to use it 🙂
Kootenay Pass, #Sufferfest:
Observations: Kootenay Pass is the highest year-round driving pass in the Kootenays and Canadian Rockies- so unlike Rogers Pass, much of the ski tours descend from the pass. As you drive up to the pass, keep your eye on snow levels, as they will dictate what’s skiable.
The Snow: Due to avalanche concerns, we skied Cornice Ridge, which was a long skin out over very flat and rolling terrain- the Ripple Ridge glades along the south side seemed like they may have been much better.
Food and Drinks: BYOBAB (Bring Your Own Bread and Beer)
Parking: Kootenay Pass regularly closes for avalanche control, and there is no overnight parking at the main parking lot (this may not be enforced during the spring or when no snow is expected). Overnight parking for the Ripple Ridge Cabin is available east of Bridle Lake, but I’m not sure what overnight regulations are. We ended up being here during a serious winter storm and the pass closed. We crested the pass and drove down the west side and pulled over at a large pull-out just off the highway to sleep because it was late and stormy and it had been a long day. Woke up to the pass closed and large semis parked on all sides – surreal feeling tiny in our large vehicle. It was one of those trample over a snow-bank to drop a deuce while tuckers may or may not be watching you kind of morning.
Amenities: Pretty much none. There is a trailhead bathroom and a map of the area.
Observations: The Panorama Mountain Resort is a 40-minute drive into the mountains west of the town of Invermere- which is a sprawling development of lake homes for Calgary residents. We spent a day in Invermere, working at the Invermere Bakery.
The Snow: We opted out of skiing Panorama as the snow didn’t seem extraordinary, we weren’t stoked on Invermere and tie was ticking.
Food and Drink: The Invermere Bakery is awesome! They have delicious bread and baked goods and their “day old” deals rock. Super nice staff and cozy atmosphere.
Parking: We parked in the town with our blackout blinds and it worked out fine. The public bathrooms are open during the day but closed overnight.
Amenities: Nothing of note.
White Water/Nelson, #BestEver:
Observations: This was our first destination which felt like a city, not a small town. A bit grungy, a bit hip, and a bit drizzly, Nelson felt like a smaller version of Seattle- expect to see a lot of hippies who moved here to avoid the draft and haven’t changed since. It’s a fun place to explore with plentiful coffee shops, restaurants, and shops.
The Snow: The best ever! Whitewater ski resort is the smallest (3 lifts) and shortest (1300ft vertical) of the resorts we visited, but the snow is unbelievable and it quickly became one of our favorites.
The sidecountry options are extensive- check out the backcountry info area in the main lodge, which also sells backcountry maps. We spent two days skiing the Black and White Queen areas in Considerable avalanche conditions, and had the lightest snow of our life with limited signs of instability. Get the one-lift or two-lift ticket to save some time on the uphill, or look for a skin track just outside the resort boundaries. Uphill skiing is a common and encouraged activity here.
Food And Drink: Kootenay Co-op has a great selection of produce and other grocery-like products, they also have a great cafe with WiFi inside the co-op and sell Kombucha on tap. Outer Clove for great food with plenty of vegetarian options. The resort cafeteria has gourmet food at great prices- try the yam poutine with miso-mushroom gravy! Mike’s Tavern is the locals’ favorite dive, and has a great vibe.
Parking: Overnight parking at the resort in Lot 2 but no bathroom access. The town has very limited (and highly regulated) parking, and we ended up spending a night in the Walmart parking lot.
Amenities: Extensive community center with a gym, variety of pools, sauna, steam room, hot tub, lazy river, showers, etc. all included in the admission which was something along the lines of $5 per person. While we were here, the girls synchronized swim team was practicing, which was pretty fun to watch.
Banff Sunshine Village and Lake Louise:
Observations: While not on the Powder Highway, heading East from Golden to Banff is worth the drive, particularly if you like ice climbing. The scenery is totally mind-blowing! While Lake Louise is little more than a few gas stations and hotels, Banff is a picture-perfect town situated inside a national park- a sort of Disneyland feeling. This is also the southern terminus of the Icefields Parkway, which has some of the world’s best ice climbing.
The Snow: Storms have dropped most of their moisture by the time they make it over Rogers Pass, where they hit cold air from the Alberta plains- making this area colder, drier, and icier than the Kootenays. This is great for ice climbing, but means that skiing is at its best in March-May, with (purportedly) excellent spring skiing. However, the vistas at Sunshine Village and Lake Louise are fantastic, and the sidecountry at Lake Louise is extensive and incredible.
Food And Drink: For a five-star experience on a limited budget, get a beer and Poutine at the Lake Louise Fairmont. The vistas are magical, and the Poutine is the best that we had in Canada- and is the cheapest item on the Fairmont menu. For a similarly highbrow-on-a-budget experience, we’d recommend the cauliflower fritters in the Rundle Room bar at the Banff Springs Fairmont. We also ate at the Indian Curry House in Banff – highly recommend their Dosa and the spot in general. We went to the Park distillery in Banff as well and although the flight at a distillery is a fun experience, this place is pretty pretentious and quite pricey and we wouldn’t go again.
Parking: There are year-round campgrounds in the area, but otherwise sleeping in your vehicle overnight is illegal throughout the national parks which encompass these towns. That being said, there is overnight parking on many of the side streets of Banff, and we spent a while here and loved it and never encountered any issues.
Amenities: The town of Banff has public restrooms open during the day that are nice and clean, the grocery stores are good places to use the restroom, otherwise we didn’t really use the amenities as we showered in Eric’s brother’s hotel room. Note: there are plenty of nice fancy hotels with likely poachable hot tubs.
We may have said this once or twice before, but Canada is awesome and we loved it! Any Canadians looking to foster some Cali dirtbags, y’all just let us know…
Note: Probably wouldn’t recommend van or car living in these parts in winter without a reliable heater.
What’s the best snow you’ve ever experienced? What’s been your favorite ski vacation?