My first visit to Kicking Horse Mountain Resort (KHMR) was in 2001 when the resort was being redeveloped from the former Whitetooth Ski Area. A brand new 11,266’ gondola had been installed as well as a small day lodge at the former Whitetooth Ski Area the year prior. We stopped by his ski area perched high above the Kicking Horse River Valley as a destination stop on tour from Banff to Fernie, when we hit various ski areas along the way on the powder highway, including Lake Louise, Sunshine Village, Fernie and Kimberly.
Of all of the region’s ski areas, Kicking Horse seems to be is the most rugged, dramatic and has the steepest, most adrenaline-pumping sustained pitches in it’s four huge in-bounds bowls. The bowls boast some of the steepest terrain I’ve ever skied and the powder was thigh deep in 2001. We could only ski 5 runs that day, since we had to ski all 4133’ every run in deep powder. That much vertical can really make your legs scream. It really kicked our asses. After that incredible day, we knew we had to go back and spend a few days to fully enjoy this mountain by experiencing it’s many chutes along it’s high ridges.
Unfortunately upon our return in 2015, El Nino brought in the Pineapple Express. It rained and froze the week prior and the skiing was not at all soft or deep. Since we did not check in with El Nino before booking the trip, we ended up going out there during a very dry snow year. Our dreams to ski deep powder in those steep bowls evaporated. Despite the less than stellar ski conditions we did manage to get the adrenaline flowing in those steep alpine bowls.
During the 2015 trip we seemed to have had the whole place to ourselves in the mid-week holiday period. The low-snow year kept the crowds away, and during some of the 12 minute gondola rides we would not see another person. The vast terrain at Kicking Horse includes over 2800 acres spanning 4 very large in-bound bowls with ridges that give you access to the steepest lines.
The Gondola dropped us off at 7700’ on the divide of 2 bowls, Bowl Over and Crystal Bowl. The north-facing slopes held the best snow boasting dry carveable chalky conditions. This was fun stuff and we found similar conditions in Super Bowl and Fuez Bowl. Groomed sections in the middle of the bowls gave us fast lines to ski on a nice corduroy surface.
The Stairway to Heaven lift, which was built in 2002, rises to over 8000’ and gives access to the Whitewall of the Fuez Bowl and the north-facing chutes off Redemption Ridge. A couple of dozen metal stairs followed by a steep boot pack gets you to the top of the ridge. On the day we were there, the bootpack was icy and treacherous. We had to keep focus on good footing and upward motion. One misstep could have led to a really bad fall. This is just one of many challenging access points to fantastic terrain. Another hike that we did not attempt in the firm conditions was a boot ladder with a rope assist.
Crystal Bowl from the Stairway to Heaven Chair
The best part about being high in the mountains is the view. The view from the top of Stairway to Heaven is a breathtaking 360 panorama though we were left sucking wind by the strenuous elevation gain and thin air, we were able to revel the majesty of the mountains.
View from Heaven
The descent of the Whitewall was the steepest and longest drop we found, producing many super turns down a pitch that really holds your attention.
The Redemption Ridge takes you to the chute of your desire with the help of gravity. We stuck to the north facing chute which dropped us into Fuez bowl between the rocky outcroppings. The stiff, styrofoam snow skied well in these bowls.
Looking into chute into Feuz Bowl from Redemption Ridge
Skiing into a north-facing chute off Redemption Ridge
The hike up and over to Super Bowl, the bowl farthest to skier’s right, is a worthwhile adventure. A short hike will get you to the bowl, and there are additional hikes to get to the chutes on the T1 and T2 ridges, some sketchier than others. Since the mountain was devoid of new snow, we stuck to the north faces and the less scary hikes. On a good powder day with a deep snowpack there are a lot more skiable lines and not as much exposed rock.
Since our first visit, the base area has been developed into a nice large patio with new cafes, bar and shops. The Double Black Diamond Cafe has delicious soups and sandwiches and we enjoyed a steaming hot mocha topped with whipped cream in a mug at the tables outside the cafe in the sunshine. The Peaks Grill offers poutine and mouth watering Bloody Ceasars (Bloody Mary with clam juice, spices, vegetable garnish). This is a great place for apres ski until the sun drops behind the mountains. For a fancier meal with a view, head to the highest restaurant in Canada, the Eagle’s Eye Restaurant at the top of the Gondola.
View from the Black Diamond Cafe
A nice variety of lodging options are located right at the base of the mountain, including a boutique hotel, condos with private hot tubs, and luxury homes. If you are on a tight budget and going “dirtbag style” less expensive motels are down in Golden, just a 10 minute drive from the mountain. We found a nice condo on AirBNB with a private hot tub that had very comfortable beds and plenty of room for the 3 of us.
Kicking Horse is an expert skier’s dream and a place we must return, but not until powdery conditions are back.
Come back when there is fresh powder
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