The ride to Revelstoke is every bit as awe-inspiring as the ride around Banff…but in a different way. The mountains meet the highway and their largess is in your face, literally. You can practically reach your hand out the window and touch them. There is a lot of avalanche control that goes on along the highway, and there are tunnels on the mountain to allow avalanches to pass over the highway instead of burying it. It’s hard not to get excited when you are driving amongst these huge rock giants covered in snow just begging to be explored.
The area of Rogers Pass between Kicking Horse and Revelstoke is a huge backcountry skiing area with its own guidebook and everything. When we go back it will be on the list. But for this trip, we were doing recon and sticking to the avalanche controlled resorts.
When we arrived in Revelstoke we headed right to our B & B, Powder Pillow Inn. It is approximately 4 minutes from the mountain and 4 minutes from downtown. “Perfect location” is a pretty good summary. The apartment is spacious, neat, clean, and well appointed. We really made ourselves at home and thoroughly enjoyed our time here. Our hosts Nicole and Dave are super nice and very gracious.
The town is cute, but not too cute. And it’s very friendly. Most of the people, shops, and restaurants are very unassuming and have a chill, welcoming vibe. One local haunt plays sick shred flicks while you eat some pretty decent food. They will seat you at a table with another party if space allows, to reduce your wait. This was not the only place we encountered that. The Canadians that we ran into were a very friendly, laid-back lot. And the overall vibe of the town was exactly what it should be for an unpretentious ski town. Society is the snow and skate shop in town, and they are really dedicated to spreading the stoke which shouldn’t be hard given what they have to work with.
Revelstoke is a 515,000-acre recreational paradise. It is largely accessed by heli and cat. The resort takes up 3,121 acres of that serviced by 4 lifts that will take you to the most lift-served vertical in North America at 5620’. From the highest lift, you can hike even further to 4 bowls.
After taking two gondolas to the day lodge we rode down to the Stoke Chair, which will give you a ride to the top. Looking aimless as we got off the chair an ambassador approached us. I told him I’m a blue and green kind of gal and he said, “Well we have one pretty dark blue over here and a proper green over there.” I intimated that “proper green” = flat. It was confirmed that this is the case in spots since the main green trail is the cat track. There are a couple of spots that are challenging on a snowboard, but most of it has enough pitch to not be too annoying.
If you take that cat track- The Last Spike from top to bottom…you will cover 8.43 miles.
There is truly something for everyone on this mountain, and with a few inches of fresh snow, we were ready to find it. Revelstoke is much less intimidating to me than Kicking Horse. There is really steep terrain there too, but it isn’t all or nothing. This mountain doesn’t take much snow to be refreshed. Just a few inches does wonders for it. When we took off I found myself ducking into trees, dropping in to make tracks between switchbacks on the Last Spike, and checking out anything that looked interesting regardless of what color the trail might be. That’s a big step for this intermediate snowboarder.
It was one of my top 5 days on any mountain. And I was so proud of myself for not overthinking every proverbial step I took, just going after what looked fun.
We spent the first day on the main part of the mountain, not venturing over to the Ripper Chair. There was so much to discover around there. One blue trail between the top of the gondola and the day lodge had a foot of barely touched (other than by me) powder for four days! Finally, the weather wrecked it for the last day, but it’s amazing that there can be fresh snow out in the open for so long.
We knew there was a whole section of the mountain yet to be explored, so we headed over to the Ripper Chair located in the North Bowl area. It is flat getting there. The first day I got stuck in several spots and had to skate. With overcast skies, I had no idea how pleasant that skate could be when you could see the views. The rest of the trip I didn’t mind the forced photo op at all.
It was like this whole other resort loaded with blue trails and glades. There is some mellow stuff over here, but there are also cliffs, chest high moguls, and glades so steep and tight all but the elite might find themselves rethinking their route. Revelstoke as a whole encouraged me to push myself in ways I haven’t before, and I had more fun than I could imagine.
From the lift, I saw some trees I wanted to explore. I ducked into the woods and had a great time, it was fairly low angle, and there was enough space between the trees to link some turns and get a little rhythm going. I popped back out onto the trail and…cliff. So I ducked back into the woods and was surprised to find a cliff there too. It was a little baby one so I hopped down it on my butt. Not so bad. Until I found myself entrenched in terrain that was way over my head. I took my time, scooched down when necessary, made some turns when possible, stayed away from tree wells, and eventually tumbled back out onto the trail.
I stayed away from the trees for a while after that- sticking to side hits, and little powder shots where I could find them. But Mark told me of some other glades that would be good for me. He led me to and through them so I could go back and play by myself. He’s much better at scoping these things than I am.
Pro tips…the Ripper Chair typically has better visibility than the main part of the mountain on low visibility days. With more trees and less wide open spaces, there is almost always something to provide reference over there.
Plan ahead on this mountain. The lifts close earlier than we are used to in New England because it can take an hour to get down the mountain. If you are meeting for lunch, leave plenty of time. Depending on your chosen route and where you are coming from, it can take an hour. If you are heading over to the Ripper Chair, hydrate ahead. There are outhouses, but unless you bring your own, there’s nowhere to get a drink while you are there.
The mountain is not huge on amenities. We’re good with that. The 4 lifts actually service the mountain quite well. The ultimate development plan for Revelstoke aims for 20 lifts and 100+ named trails. There are only 69 named trails right now. For a little northeast perspective, Loon has 61 for their 370 acres. And they plan to add a ridiculous amount of housing and commercial space on the mountain. Hopefully, that won’t destroy the allure and character of the mountain at all, because it’s pretty damned good the way it is!
We were there on a Saturday pow day and the line for the gondola was backed up to the parking lot an hour before it started turning. Once it starts moving, things go along pretty quickly. And once people start to spread out on the mountain, lift lines aren’t bad and trails are rarely crowded. We never waited more than 10 minutes for either Chair. And given the length of the runs, that’s not bad at all.
The last couple of days there was rain in the valley and on the lower mountain that ended up freezing making things a little sketchy. The last day was like classic east coast riding, except on a giant mountain. So that wasn’t so great. But until that point, there was snow every day. Even after a few days of traffic in the trees when things looked all tracked out and packed down, the snow was still soft. The only snowmaking on the mountain is on the lower section to extended the top to bottom skiing season.
This area allows you to select a number of “targets” and practice finding them with your beacon before you venture into the side country.
The other thing that is kind of good about only having a few lifts is that there are only a few places you can possibly end up, and it’s hard to end up somewhere that you don’t intend to. I found myself checking the trail map- a lot. But really most of the trails were going to lead me to the day lodge. You couldn’t accidentally go to the bottom (you have to pass under a bridge). You can’t accidentally end up at the Ripper Chair, the traverse is unmistakable and there are plenty of places you can turn off before you are completely committed. And it’s kind of tough to miss the Stoke Chair if that’s what you’re looking and you are paying attention to the signs.
Overall Revelstoke is a whole package unless you are really jazzed about resort amenities. The town is an ideal ski town for us, and the mountain is all that and a bag of chips. If you are considering a trip to interior Canada, to the Powder Highway, or if you just don’t know where you want to go, Revelstoke should probably be on the shortlist. It’s not the easiest place in the world to get to, but that’s part of what is keeping it so awesome.