Atop Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, a tiny blond-haired girl in a one-piece candy-striped snowsuit clutches a doll while singing into a summit-top microphone. “Ohhhhh, Canada. Our home and native land…” Five-year-old Amelia Hudson from Golden, B.C., the matter-offact town at Kicking Horse’s hoof, croons the national anthem a cappella to kick off the Canadian Ski Mountaineering Championship (also known as the Dogtooth Dash). Her tidy braids quiver in the wind as she sings. “With glowing hearts, we see thee rise, the True North strong and free…” The assembled spectators— mostly rugged-looking skiers on fat powder boards, their Gore-Tex hoods raised against the chill wind—sing along.
The competitors—a wiry group notably lacking in body fat—are clad in Lycra and bike helmets. They clutch skinny randonée gear in hand while jockeying at the start, pawing the snow with lightweight boots. Around them sprawls a stunning mountainscape of fluted, snowy peaks. Two rivers meet far below. Three mountain ranges (the Rockies, Selkirks and Purcells) circle on all sides. The scenery is vast, and it’s filled with adventurous skiing.
When Kicking Horse first opened in December 2000, it made big news. No wonder: The big mountain with the purported champagne powder and dazzling alpine bowls was the first new ski area to open in North America since 1981, when chairlifts began turning at both Beaver Creek, Colo., and Deer Valley, Utah. It mattered little that few could pinpoint its location—in eastern British Columbia’s Purcells, overlooking the Rocky Mountain Trench and 125-year-old Golden, some three hours due west of Calgary—without the aid of GPS. With a vertical rise just six feet shy of the U.S.’s largest (at Jackson Hole), a slick base-to-summit gondola and effusive advance reviews, Kicking Horse was suddenly on the ski map.
Today, it should be on yours, if it isn’t already. Ten years of slow but steady improvements both at the resort and in the region at large (including significant highway upgrades from Calgary International) have turned unpretentious Kicking Horse into a rare find. This is the place for uncrowded slopes, an easygoing vibe, enough slopeside amenities to make a vacation feel like a vacation and a mountain that offers ever greater challenges, no matter your ability level. And Instead of a Four Seasons or a Starbucks, there is a resident grizzly bear, a lavish summit-top lodge and events like the Dogtooth Dash.
“O, Canada, we stand on gua-a-a-rd for- r-r-r the-e-e-e-ee!” Amelia hits the anthem’s final high note. The crowd shouts “Go!” The competitors begin to run. They slip, stagger and stomp through the snow as they circle the summit and its signature timbered lodge in a melee. They lap back over the starting line then toss their skis into the snow, click in and shove off. For the next four hours, they will descend and climb, descend and climb through the ski resort’s alpine bowls, racing mostly uphill for thousands of vertical feet. In Golden, this is not considered an odd form of recreation.
But for the rest of us, a typical Kicking Horse day includes ascending more than 4,000 vertical feet in one shot on the Golden Eagle Express gondola, gliding down empty groomers such as Sluiceway and It’s a Ten, traversing CPR Ridge— which drops steeply on both sides—peering down one of the resort’s 85-plus chutes and feeling your toes curl. Get used to that sensation: It will keep on happening.
In a flash you get the Horse’s distinctive allure: Challenging entrances mean fresh tracks and sweet rewards. While there’s plenty of less hair-raising play amidst this mountain’s four wide-open bowls and on its broad intermediate avenues (notably improved in recent years), this place is all about technical steeps and the great snow they serve up.
When you’re good and whipped, belly up for pitchers at the Local Hero Scottish Pub to recount the day’s adventures. And tomorrow? Repeat.
“O, Canada,” indeed.
skiable acres 2,825
vertical feet 4,133
summit elevation 8,033 ft.
Lodging Selkirk Townhomes offer roomy ski-in/ski-out options (from $535; kickinghorseresort .com); Copper Horse Lodge is a boutique inn at the base (from $195 per double room with breakfast; copperhorselodge.com).
Dining Try Corks, at the base, for epicurean thin-crust pizza (kickinghorseresort .com) or Whitetooth Mountain Bistro, in town, for Alberta bison sliders and wild elk cassoulet (whitetoothbistro.com). Golden’s Cedar House ranks in Canada’s top 50 gourmet restaurants (cedarhousecafe. com).
Après-Ski Local Hero pub has worthy beers on tap and fun games; hit Peaks for Bloody Caesars and live music. Both are located at the base.
Don’t Miss Peeking at rescued grizzly bear Boo at the research-oriented bear refuge, under the gondola near the Catamount lift.
Must Ski Super Bowl, newly opened for this season. You’ll need a guide; hire one from the Big Mountain Centre.
Getting There Fly to Calgary, Alb., then drive 2.5 hours west, on the newly improved Trans-Canada Highway.