My snowboard is a lot lighter than my friend Ryan's big mountain powder skis and their huge honkin' bindings. I know because I'm hauling them both off the baggage carousel at YLW, Kelowna's airport, as he sorts out the rental car. But it's not a competition for whose gear weighs less. There are only two rules on this ski escape: No. 1 is that we are not going to be competitive. No. 2 is that Rule No. 1 is total crap. Competition is entrenched in this mission: Snowboard versus skiing. Woman versus man. Revelstoke versus Kicking Horse. Lord.
"It's what, two hours to Revelstoke?" I ask the rental car guy.
"Maybe on my motorcycle in July," he scoffs, before adding, gently, "Count on three."
But with their epic fall lines and dry Selkirk powder, both Revelstoke (Revie) and Kicking Horse (KH) are well worth whatever drive you must endure to get there. And by the time we're on Revelstoke's speedy Revelation gondola the next morning, the three-hour journey in torrential rain over cavernous potholes on precarious mountain roads with dozens of transport trucks (déjà vu of my drive from Calgary to KH a few months earlier) is a distant memory.
Whereas KH is a giant line of smaller ridges that roll into one mammoth face before flattening out at the bottom ("too flat, if you bail," Ryan opines, and as a snowboarder I have to agree), Revie skis like an upside-down cone that fans out near the bottom. While KH has four bowls, Revie has many, though some are only accessible by Cat or heli, and the mountain is famous for being the only resort in the world to have lift, Cat and heli from one base, as well as being home to North America's greatest vertical at 1,713 metres. (KH rises to 1,260 metres—a mere 1.8 less than Jackson Hole—making it number eight in North America.) Of Revie's 56 runs, 47.5 percent are advanced; KH says 45 percent of its 120 runs are advanced, and 15 percent are expert. Both have beginner runs, but realistically, neither mountain is for the timid.
A Revie-stoked local advises that North Bowl is where we want to be, so we decide to rip a couple of blue warm-up laps then head over. It proves to be a winner and gets even better throughout the day as dry snow keeps puking down (with less than 24 hours left in March!) on what's already an awesome base. There's no fear of losing one another as all the lines funnel out at the Ripper quad chair, where there's never a lineup before we can be whisked back up near the top of the tree line for the next lap—this time hitting a booter we missed last run, or some knee-deep untouched lines that still exist well into the day.
At one point, I follow Ryan into the trees. The lines don't feel quite as steep as KH, but the turns are tighter, and when I bail, my consequent hike-out is a mission in the waist-deep snow—not that it deters me from going back for more.
Only a few hours in, my legs are pooched so I stick to the groomers and am rewarded with wide, rolling runs that I have all to myself and which go on forever, which makes for one hell of a lot of fun. Our final run out, which channels through a birch and aspen forest—a unique sight for those accustomed to skiing in B.C.—is called the Last Spike, and it's 15.2 kilometres long if you take it from the top. We've earned our après.
As we ease—some may say "dive"—into pints of Mt. Begbie (from Revie's local brewery), we begin to compare: Revelstoke and Kicking Horse are pretty close in how they operate and what they offer, but the ways the two mountains ski are completely different. We like that Revie has better lift access than KH. We like Kicking Horse's superior infrastructure at the base. When night falls, we both prefer the charming character of the town of Revelstoke (just six kilometres from the resort) to the blue-collar vibe in Golden (a potentially hairy 14 kilometres, if it's dumping). And while we didn't Cat or heli at either mountain, it's unanimous that we'll come back to do so, since we're both curious about which one is better than the other. Not that it's a competition. wl