Be one of the privileged few in on British Columbia's newest winter secret: Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, deep in the heart of the Canadian Rockies.
It's been 25 years since a new ski resort opened in the Canadian Rockies, but the skiers and snowboarders who took to Kicking Horse Mountain Resort's trails in its inaugural season say it's been worth the wait. Sky-kissing mountains, abundant and consistent snowfall, the languid Canadian dollar, and recent lodging expansions and trail openings make it this winter's destination du jour for skiers from around the globe. In fact, annual visits to British Columbia's resorts were up more than 70 percent from only a decade ago, to nearly 6 million last year.
Kicking Horse at a Glance
Number of trails: 64
Trail breakdown: 20 percent beginner, 45 percent intermediate, 35 percent advanced
number of lifts: 3 (eight-passenger gondola, one quad, one double)
Skiable Acreage: More than 2,200
Annual Snowfall: 275 inches lift
Ticket: $48.75 cn (approximately $30 u.s.)
Season Opening: December 14 (skiing ended mid-April last season)
info: (866) 754-5425 or www.kickinghorseresort.com
These numbers go a long way toward explaining the zeal with which investors are eager to participate in Kicking Horse, a new resort that opened modestly last season in the blue-collar mill town of Golden, about 160 miles west of Calgary. The project, which is expected to cost nearly $250 million when fully completed, means that Whistler-Blackcomb, long the crown jewel of western Canadian skiing (the lauded resort racked up more than 2 million skier visits last season), might just have to learn how to share all that shines.
That's all well and good, but all the money in the world can't make a great ski mountain. For that, you need, well, snow. Kicking Horse is blessed with 275 inches annually, nothing to brag about in and of itself (Whistler-Blackcomb, for instance, averages 360 inches, and Utah's Alta Ski Area regularly racks up 500-inch winters), but as any powder junkie will tell you, quality is just as, if not more, important than quantity. While coastal peaks like Whistler must often contend with the high tempera-tures and moisture content that turn powder into cement, Kicking Horse's location near the Continental Divide makes for consistent dumps of dry, fluffy flakes. "They're not lying when they advertise champagne powder," says Shane Lehmann, a local ski instructor who logged more than 60 days on the mountain last year. "Even in April, we'll get that light, powdery snow that just blows over your head as you ski."
Even better, Kicking Horse's 4,000 acres of terrain mean there will be plenty of fresh trails to go around. Currently, two lifts (one quad, one double) and one eight-passenger gondola serve 64 trails, but when the project reaches completion (five to seven years from now is everyone's best guess), a total of seven lifts will whisk as many as 225,000 skiers to the mountain's 8,033-foot summit every day. From there, skiers will have 150 trails to choose from. And we're not just talking ski slopes. Ice climbing, from beginner to grade six, is nearby, as are snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and dog sledding.
Obviously, there's little reason to put off a visit. In fact, right now is the best time to experience Kicking Horse, before the hype machine shifts into high gear. "It's still very quiet compared to other mountains," says Lehmann. "There's this wonderful feeling that there're not many other skiers out there." Which is exactly why you should be one of them.