A hardscrabble way station of a town off the Trans-Canada Highway, Golden, B.C., used to be a great place to take on a fresh tank of diesel and a hot cup of joe for the long haul over Kicking Horse Pass. It still is. But lately, Banff-bound truckers and 4,000-odd predominantly blue-collar locals have had some company in Golden: Odd folk—foreigners, even—in colorful clothing, toting elaborate equipment and grinning like lottery winners. Skiers.
Skiers, that is, lured by the doings five miles down the road at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. Four years ago, Kicking Horse was the amenity-free, 1,000-acre Whitetooth Ski Area. Now, after a massive terrain expansion and in the midst of a development boom, it's become western Canada's newest born-again ski resort and, arguably, one of North America's stealthiest powder stashes. Last season, this towering 2,600-acre area hosted an average of 600 skiers a day. The lines are still longer at the truck stop—but they won't be forever.
An inspiring mountain setting, reasonable (read: Canadian) prices and powder aplenty make the resort worth a visit, but it's the terrain that puts the kick in Kicking Horse. Three sprawling peaks hold cornices that'll send you back to ski school and an upper mountain that's more black than blue. Most of the runs are reachable via the Golden Eagle gondola, installed just four years ago—the same time the Eagle's Eye Restaurant opened at the summit of Kicking Horse's central peak, which affords stunning 360-degree vistas of the Canadian Rockies, the Purcells and the Selkirks. From there, it's down a chute to a plentiful bowl of virgin fluff, where skiers can carve figure eights all day. "Simply amazing," says Paul Ehman, 40, a sports-event promoter from Hawaii whose first taste of Kicking Horse happened to coincide with a 10-inch powder day. "I was laughing my head off on every run."
Until recently, ski terrain was Kicking Horse's primary—perhaps only—appeal. A small day lodge sat marooned amid an ocean of muddy parking lots, and the only overnight accommodations were two ultra-luxury suites at Eagle's Eye. But the momentum that more than doubled the terrain three years ago is finally trickling down to the base area. Glacier Lodge, a condo hotel dressed up in a Canadian Rockies motif of timbers and stone is slated to open next season, offering more than 70 one- to three-bedroom residences, an indoor fitness club, a ski rental shop and a restaurant and pub. A mere 100 feet from the gondola, the Lodge is the first of a half-dozen buildings that will form the village core.
Amenities have already arrived down the road in Golden. The Cedar House, an intimate restaurant on the banks of the Columbia River, eschews burgers and fries in favor of fare like carpaccio with shaved Grana Padano cheese and arugula. The Kicking Horse Grill is the quintessential rustic mountain bistro, but its menu delivers a culinary tour of the world. You won't go wrong with the Indonesian rice dish of nasi goreng or the house special, boerenkool met worst, a traditional Dutch recipe. For quaffing, it's hard to beat the Mad Trapper Pub, a back-to-basics place that's ideal for shooting pool and sloshing ale with locals.
Diversity is also coming to Golden by way of new accommodations. The Vagabond Lodge is a boutique 10-room, Swiss-style property scheduled to open by December. The Kicking Horse River Hostel, a 90-unit hotel fronting the river will be comparable to upscale hostels at Lake Louise and Banff. Opening is scheduled for early 2004. Also slated to open this season is Riverside Meadows, a 46-unit condo and retail complex.
All of which raises the question: Will Kicking Horse ever become the next Whistler? Not likely, say locals. "The mountain draws active, high-energy people," says Mike Burns, 29, developer of the Kicking Horse River Hostel. "And the beauty of this place is that it has a real homey feel."
Click below to view details and a slideshow of Kiccking Horse.