Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Kootenay Rockies. Ski the Powder Highway!

The Kootenay Rockies, located in southwest British Columbia (Canada), is truly British Columbia's Mountain Playground. The Powder Highway consists of 8 world-class alpine ski resorts and more than 50 backcountry, nordic, heli and snowcat ski operators and lodges.
A destination for skiers from the Calgary area and Europe for years, the Powder Highway has mostly been an untapped resource for U.S. skiers and boarders. Extreme skiers know about the region — it is the birthplace of heli and cat skiing, after all — but the vacation crowd has stayed away, in part because it wasn't easy to reach. Unlike bigger resorts filled with high-end art galleries and trendy shops, the towns of the Powder Highway have remained relatively unchanged, funky little hamlets filled with laid-back residents who still use "eh" to punctuate sentences. "This is very grass roots, classic Canadian", says Ken Wilder, business manager for Panorama Mountain Village, to msnbc Travel. "It's not a sort of Gucci kind of experience. It's very real".
The snow along the Powder Highway is dry and fluffy, creating pristine champagne powder. There's a lot of it — most places average around 30 feet (over 9 meters) a year — so skiers can often find fresh powder three or four days after a big dump.
There's a wide variety of terrain, too, from the family-oriented groomers of Fairmont to the shoots, open pitches and tree skiing at Fernie. At Panorama, skiers can hit the backcountry from the resort's onsite heli-plex, then catch a couple black-diamond tree runs on the main mountain's Taynton Bowl in the afternoon.
And with so many options in close proximity, skiers and boarders can bounce from one resort to another and come back for 10 straight years with a different itinerary each time. "We're encouraging people to have another ski opportunity", says Laurie Reed of Kootenay Rockies Tourism to msnbc Travel. "It's another option, an opportunity to see where some of these great backcountry adventures were born".