Take a trip to Red Mountain
By JOHN NAYE
Mercer Island Reporter Columnist
March 27, 2012 · 11:19 AM
If there was ever a year to use spring break to get a little snow riding time, this would be that year. The snow just keeps coming, and conditions are really good throughout the Northwest. In case you might want to consider going somewhere different than usual, I just happen to have an idea.
Back in late January I drove to a mountain that has only four chairlifts, none of which are high speed; has limited lodging and dining options; and where slopeside entertainment and shopping is virtually nonexistent. And I loved the place…
Ever heard of Red Mountain? Well, you have now. Located 2.5 miles up the road from the historic mining town of Rossland in mountainous eastern British Columbia, the resort is just 10 minutes across the U.S./Canada border and 135 miles due north of Spokane. Skiing has been part of life here since 1897, when rugged gold miners trekked uphill so they could make some turns coming back down.
Red Mountain Resort features world-class terrain with 2,919 vertical feet of incredible tree skiing, wide-open glades of champagne powder, corduroy groomers, terrain park, easy-to-access backcountry, and even a snow cat operation that runs right there out of the resort. The 1,685 acres of inbounds terrain offers a wide variety of challenges, plus there is even more side-country terrain easily available.
The resort actually has two mountain peaks inbounds, Red Mountain and Granite Mountain, with Granite being the higher at 6,800 feet elevation. You can actually ski or ride off the top of either peak in almost any direction. There are some great beginner areas, but Red is primarily known for its gladed runs, challenging steeps and fantastic snow.
According to management, the resort falls in the top 5 percent of all resorts in North America for snowfall accumulation: over 25 feet annually. But it is the quality of the snow that distinguishes Red from other NW resorts. It is the first stop on the renowned Powder Highway in the Kootenay Mountains, and the skier will find a much fluffier snowpack than you would in the more coastal Cascade areas. It is seriously good stuff; this region is, after all, the birthplace of both heli-skiing and cat skiing.
Some new condos and homes in a range of prices share the base area with older style lodging and Red’s no-frills daylodge. There is no base village, per se; just ticket windows, a rental shop, small store, and cafeteria where I had one of the best hamburgers to be found in ski country.
You know why this would be a great spring skiing choice, besides the fact that lift tickets are one-third the price at Whistler? I’m now quoting from Red’s promotional brochure: “If you are looking for an antidote to the stale, predictable mega-resort experience, you just found it. Many more famous resorts would kill to have our combination of deep, dry snow, accessible location, and exciting, varied terrain. They’d probably be a little intimidated by our uncrowded slopes and laid-back vibe, mind you. Us? We kinda like it this way…”
Even if you don’t go this spring, keep in mind there are some other fine skiing options in this region as well, certainly worth planning a trip for next year. About one hour further north lies Whitewater, which if anything gets even more powder than does Red. Just outside the town of Nelson, British Columbia, Whitewater has an average snowfall of approximately 40 feet. Of course, only the top six inches really count, and this resort is blessed in that category as well. Lots of powder can be had here over its 1,200 acres and 2,000-foot vertical drop.
There is no lodging at Whitewater, so a 25-minute drive from the Victorian-themed Nelson is the usual choice, but you could certainly make a comfortable day trip from Red Mountain if you were staying there. Whitewater is famous not only for its snow but for its award-winning food service. Though the day lodge is not spectacular by Sun Valley or Whistler standards, from personal experience the food itself is superb. It was so good, it made going back out for some more powder runs way more difficult than I expected.
But that seems to be a familiar refrain along the Powder Highway. There is so much reliable snowfall, with such small crowds, that getting on the lift late or having one more cookie won’t cause you to miss out on the powder. It’s a compelling combination.
John Naye is a Mercer Island resident and past president of the North American Snowsports Journalists Association, and eagerly awaits a return adventure along the Powder Highway.
Contact Mercer Island Reporter Columnist John Naye at firstname.lastname@example.org.