Travel Photo Credit: Red Mountain

Winter is Coming: Red Mountain

The freshest snow, the coolest gear and the best vistas. They're all but a short trip for you. You just need to know where to look.

All Rossland, B.C., residents are ski fanatics. I might have that wrong—surely, not everyone moves here for their love of nearby Red Mountain—but anecdotal evidence seems to be on my side. There’s the kid I meet at the top of newly opened Grey Mountain—the 1,000-acre expansion that Red just completed this year—who claims he is the only true Rosslander in the bunch given that his parents arrived here 20 years ago to, yes, ski Red all the time.

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And then there’s the pair I meet on the lift. As we roll up, the seatmate to my left leans over me to engage the one to my right. “How’s Don?” he asks. “Just fine,” she nods back. Me, the newcomer, joins in. “You two been skiing here long?” His whiskers are lightly dusted with ice and snow, and despite the cool temperature and few hairs on top to act as insulation, he’s hatless (helmets be damned). She’s got the weather-beaten, tough-as-nails skin of someone who has spent her life outdoors. “Since ’64,” they reply in unison.

It turns out he used to clear brush on the trails in the fall on order to get a discount on the lift ticket come snowfall; she would slip-ski down the mountain to get the surface prepped for race events. They paid $25 for a season’s pass as kids, and they’ve been here ever since.

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When I tell this story to Red’s VP Operations and Development, Don Thompson, he tells me the brush clearers still exist. “They come out of the woodwork at end of season,” he explains, “and still do the work for season’s passes. They’ve been doing it over 30 years.”

Red is exactly the kind of mountain you can become fanatic about. In some ways, there’s not a lot to it. There’s one main après bar, Rafters, that’s the kind of no-nonsense place where the beer is cold, the live shows sweaty and the food decent—meaning classic nachos and wings, but also wild rice and quinoa salad and gluten-free pizza. (In fact, its well-worn appearance is honest: it was built from original 19th-century timbers taken from a compressor building for the local Black Bear silver mine, the reason Rossland exists in the first place.)

Last Best Place | It might be difficult to get to‚ but Red Mountain makes it worth the while. The isolation, coupled with momentous snowfall and amazing views, like the “Kooteney Sea” at right, all make for a superlative ski experience.
Last Best Place | It might be difficult to get to‚ but Red Mountain makes it worth the while. The isolation, coupled with momentous snowfall and amazing views, like the “Kooteney Sea” at right, all make for a superlative ski experience.

And, to be honest, the journey there isn’t easy: it’s about an eight-hour drive from Vancouver, or a short flight to nearby Castlegar, where you may or may not be able to land thanks to a sometimes-low ceiling and a tight runway. Taking off also poses the same problems.

But the skiing? Everything you need, and nothing you don’t. The Grey Mountain expansion has bumped the total area up to 4,200 acres (that makes it bigger than Lake Louise) so there’s a wide range of terrain, but it’s the preponderance of blues and blacks that feeds its reputation as a skier’s mountain. Crowds, it seems, are for other resorts to deal with. On one weekend in peak season, I get in more than a dozen runs where I’m the only one on them—ducking between trees and taking long, lazy turns across cruising tracks, the kind of luxury only allowed when you’re not likely to run into the beginner snowboarder crashing down the hill behind you.

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And that was before the Grey expansion (itelf the size of Mount Baker’s ski area). I got a taste of it last year when the resort offered “cat” skiing—usually a luxury afforded only to those who can pay the premium, but in this case, for $10 each, a cat trundled me and some fellow curious skiers up to Grey to get a sneak peek before it officially opened. (And don’t worry, this year, the same cat will provide the same experience to skiers looking to explore the as-yet undeveloped Topping Creek area.) It’s intermediate-plus terrain: blues on one side, double blacks on the other, and there’s not a single non-awesome way down.

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That feeling, that the mountain is yours and yours alone, is what Red’s all about. The fog hangs low in the valley, so up on the runs you’re surrounded by what locals call the “Kootenay Sea.” It hangs like a wavy inland ocean, peaks pushing through every so often, creating the sense that you’re the last person on earth, perched up on this lone mountaintop. A perfect place to live to ski. WL

The Revolution is Here

The new school of skiing is not just for kids. Two decades of feverish evolution in ski design has enabled even seasoned rippers to send ever-steeper powder lines at higher speeds and with more control. Sure, it’s weird when warriors in their 40s or even 50s are still actually improving, but that’s what fat, rockered skis can do for a fossil.

Here are three out-front models guaranteed to stave off the inevitable for one more season.

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Local Hero
Canmore-hatched Eric Hjorleifson charged his way to legendary status in freeskiing circles in 2005, the year he began designing and hand-building his signature model, Hoji ($750; 130-112-121; 4frnt.com) for ski Utah mainstay, rider-owned 4Frnt. Notable changes include dropping the Pilsner beer-case graphics (disgruntling some fans), and even skinnying down the waist to a modest 112mm. But if Hoji does it, zillions of skiers better than you will too.

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Bro Hug
Canada’s latest buzz boutique is in Vernon, B.C., where brothers Gregg and Glenn Anderson—an ex-shop rat and a mechanical engineer—are honing the ultimate Western powder weapon. Their flagship model, the Skevik Anton ($750; 142-122-135; skevikskis.com) is named in reverse order for their Norwegian great-granddad. It’s so beloved by interior powder freaks that they didn’t even change it this year. You can select from a set of iconic northern graphics for the translucent topsheets to make them your own.

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Rock Star
Ski mutation (read: obesity) was already well advanced when Über-cool Salt Lake boutique producer Drake Powderworks threw down yet another gauntlet: the DPS Spoon ($1,300; 158/148/151; dpsskis.com) rockers side to side in addition to fore to aft. Although that convexity is dialled back slightly from early models, the Spoon still delivers the essential slarving experience—a simultaneous sliding and carving which yields a grade of fun far beyond any with which you’re familiar.

 

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