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Castle Mountain, Alberta

Castle Mountain, Alberta

Travel
By Evelyn Spence
posted: 06/14/2004

Elevation: 7,458 feet
Vertical Drop: 2,833 feet
Snowfall: 300 inches
Acres: 1,560
Getting There: Castle is 21/2 hours from Calgary; take Highway 2 south to Highway 3 west, go left at the turnoff for Beaver Mines, and follow route 507 to route 774. Info: 403-627-5101, castlemountainresort.com

Beta: When you turn into the parking lot from Castle's dirt access road, don't worry about finding a space—the resort's biggest day last year saw 1,530 skiers. Weekdays, it's closer to 300. While the skier numbers don't pile up, the inches do: The mountain gets heaps of powder like its neighbor Fernie and high winds often hide tracks over the course of a single lap. And the place has pitch. Turn right at the summit for steep tree runs. Left for steep chutes. Hell, turn anywhere, it'll be steep. In fact, with 70 percent of Castle staged in avalanche terrain, patrol spends more time on avy work than on injuries. So, why haven't you heard about Castle? Probably because it's owned by a co-op of skiers who'd just as soon keep it on the down low. It's not on the real estate radar, either: Only 10 people live here year-round, and the weekend influx means the 80-some cabins, mobile homes, minivans, and truck beds at the base are packed.

POWDER DAY
From the base, take the T-Rex T-bar (with a 1,730-foot elevation gain in 11 minutes, it's the longest T-bar in North America) to the red chair, and make a few laps on Outlaw, the steepest pitch in the broad cirque to the north. When patrol drops the rope, head south to the chutes. Try 1,665-foot Lone Star for what Castle claims is the longest unbroken fall line in Canada.

3 DAYS LATER
Post powder day, the wind can erase tracks with Etch-a-Sketch ease. Ask a local which way it's been blowing. If the obvious routes are looking scissored, head for the trees of Northern Exposure and Northern Delight or a combo of Showdown and Sideshow.

PROVING GROUNDS
Marquee route: The ridgeline spine called Drifter is mellow at first, then it rolls over to a wide-open, 35-degree, lactic-acid-inducing pitch. Off-Broadway: Head OB. The 50-plus-degree Chimo's and K.C.'s—couloirs you can see across the valley from the South Chutes—go from main-street wide to sidewalk narrow. To get there, skin an hour and a half up Haig Ridge or find a local with a snowmobile to motor you halfway.

BACKCOUNTRY ACCESS
Castle has a laid-back open-boundary policy, but get lost or injured and the rescue's on you. If you don't want to hike Haig, drop off the saddle on the Skyline Traverse. Lines like Revolver and Six Shooter are just as long, sometimes steeper, than the inbounds chutes. When you hit bottom, it's a 40-minute walk out to the road. Those in the know drop a car, but you can usually hitch a ride.

LOCAL'S TAKE
"They built this place out of sticks and duct tape. It's steep, and we like it that way."—Tricia Donahue, golf pro and ski bum.

WEATHER
Castle sits on the east side of Crowsnest Pass; Fernie's on the west—which means storms unload on Fernie first. But Castle's higher elevation can mean snow when Fernie's got rain.

DON'T MISS
In March, race the World's Longest Slalom. Gates: 165. Vertical: 2,200 feet. Average time: 51/2 minutes.

UNDERGROUND
Spend a night here and you'll know everyone within 30 miles.

APRE`S
There's one spot: the T-Bar Pub & Grub. Once a machine shop, now a shrine to vintage trail signs and beer cans, it has live music on Fridays. Big acts have included a liftie's dad strumming blues.

FUEL
The T-Bar serves pizza; the day lodge serves basic cafeteria fare. Your next best bet is the paprika chicken and dumplings at Stella's (403-627-3002), 20 minutes down the road in Beaver Mines.

UP ALL NIGHT
Did we mention the T-Bar?

DIGS
There's no slopeside lodging yet, but there are a few B&B's nearby. Drive 15 minutes for the homelike Alpenwood (C$65—C$85, alpenwood.com) or 20 for the Aspen Grove (C$65—C$85, aspengrovebb.com).

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