Kicking Horse – A missed opportunity

A trifecta of missed opportunities actually: excellent terrain, fantastic conditions, and a guide ready to show me anywhere, and all I can do is putt along like a novice thanks to this damn bruised tailbone. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I went to the local hospital to have my tailbone checked. Fortunately it didn’t appear to be broken, despite the rather sharp pain that would occur even when just walking. Darn good thing.  A broken tailbone was quoted as taking 6 weeks to heal. That would have been well over half my remaining trip time. As it was, I was told 2 weeks, which was tolerable but still rather bad timing. I finished my drive through the sometimes cute town of Revelstoke and made my way east towards Golden. A bit short of town I found a perfect spot off the sides of the track and hunkered down for a few nights to give the tailbone a chance to rest.

It was a short final drive to Golden, the town sitting on the valley floor below the Kicking Horse base. It seems to be a fairly typical growing small town: a historic and fairly charming old core, and somewhat sprawling new development. After a stop for groceries and a badly needed load of garbage and recycling, I sought out a shower and found it at a most unexpected, but ultimately sensible, place. Turns out (some?) Husky Travel Centers, which is to say a generously accessorized gas station, includes showers intended for truckers. I was about to balk at the $7 price tag (more than I paid for a complete aquatic center pass in Kamloops after all), but I needed that shower and I’m beginning to learn that the time spent finding the other option virtually never pays off. Just as well, because $7 buys you more that a tiny, clearly amateur built stall like most coin showers; you actually get your own complete bathroom with a rather generously sized shower room. Nice, but man, things I thought I would never be writing about.

Feeling much more human again, I took the short road on the far side of town up to Kicking Horse. The place looks like everything was built this year. The daylodge, the guest lodges, virtually all the houses, and of course the lifts, all look brand new. Turned out they are damn near new, since the resort recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. The modern incarnation of the resort at least. There is one chair (which by fortune of the main gondola having mechanical issues was running today) which is clearly older, and I’m told is the original chair from before the little local ski hill became a resort. I commend the people who decided to start the transformation. It was a well placed effort.

Of course I would not be staying at the fancy new lodge, so I went about finding out which lot to park in. Kicking Horse is one of those relatively rare resorts that actually advertises their option to camp in their lots right on their website; just register at the daylodge. However the daylodge was closed and those employees who remained did not seem to know much. Eventually I found the lady who identified herself as the security representative (with the cutest French accent I have every heard), who didn’t know, but referred me to another young man who was also leaving. He told me confidently where to park, and I did as I was told. He was wrong. 10pm I got the knock on my door telling me the correct place was one lot over, next to the hellipad. I would have been a touch annoyed but he also informed me that free shore power awaited me there. Wow. Seriously, free overnight parking and a place to plug in? Nice. I sat my PJ’ed butt in the driver’s seat and gingerly (owing to nothing having been put away) one lot over.

The next morning found high clouds and few people, but just enough to keep the place from feeling dead. I signed up for the orientation tour (first time I’ve had to sign up ahead of time) and took a couple runs down a nicely groomed green… very gingerly. The verdict: I would be able to ski, but only slowly and smoothly, and I had much learning to do as to which exact movements I had to avoid.

At 10 I met my host, and here is where the first missed opportunity presents itself: the tour guide is a ski instructor (not ALSO a ski instructor, but on duty) and as such is allowed to take me anywhere. Every other host program I’ve partaken of, including our own at Whistler, is pretty strictly limited to greens and blues, and the occasional groomed black. It would be (another) private tour also, as apparently tours are not that popular at Kicking Horse, especially not during the week when there are so few guests here to begin with. Given the amount and variety of terrain available here, I find that a shame.

It took about an hour for Simon to show me the ropes. It would have taken alot longer had I been up to some heavier terrain but a short cut through some fine cut up powder told me I would not be partaking much of that today. And here came 1.5 more of those opportunities. The terrain here is fabulous. There is plenty of nice green and blue terrain sure, but the amount of challenging terrain is just fantastic. Lots of glades, some very steep upper treeline, some tightly spaced (but not too tight) midway down the generous vertical drop. But more to my liking, a TON of couloirs, bowls, and lines through cliff bands. Some of it requires a bit of hiking, but nothing too taxing. The other 0.5 opportunity was the snow. It was fantastic, and there was lots of it. Although the big dump was more than 24 hours before, between the amount of terrain here and the low visitor count (during the week at least) it actually lasts quite a while. Why just .5? Because I hadn’t seen anything yet.

After the tour I decided to try my hand again at the beautiful snow (steep and deep is ultimately my favourite kind of skiing after all) and entered Bowl Over, which we had not hit during the tour. I wasn’t getting through with any style, but I was getting through a bit of powder at least. Maybe I would figure out how to do this yet.

After a hot lunch (courtesy of the outlet) I went up for more, and found things starting to click. A couple runs later I finally figured out how I could get through some deeper and steeper snow without uttering some kinda of mild expletive every turn. This was starting to be fun, and not a complete waste of a great thing. Having explored most of the hill I took a turn on the last chair, which runs up Redemption Ridge. Viewing the map at the top of the chair I realized there were only two parts of the resort I hadn’t seen yet: Super Bowl, which required a substantial hike I knew was not going to happen, and Feuz Bowl which was a relatively short hike over the top of the ridge I stood on. I chose the spirit of adventure, gritted my teeth (climbing tends to hurt pretty good) and headed for the Stairway to Heaven (a metal staircase that starts the climb over the top).

The climb was longer than I thought, and the wind had picked up pretty good. My balance faltered under the wind and iffy footing a couple times, leading to more tailbone driven expletives, and then I got to the peak, with what appeared to be a blind cornice that fell away to nothing. Being clueless as to how far I would fall to my death, a followed a couple who seemed to know where they were going. They continued past the peak and along the top of the huge bowl a ways, until the fearless leader cleared the edge of a cornice to find a reasonable entrance. An entrance to what appeared to be a massive bowl of at least 2ft of new powder, completely untouched. And it was so. Oh it was gloriously so. The snow was just the right weight for me. Not champagne but certainly not the heavy crap I had experienced for most of the trip. And there was SO much of it. And it was deliciously steep. All just how I like it. Between having figured out the non-painful way to turn and the perfect and unmolested consistency of the snow I thoroughly enjoyed turning my way down the bowl, but simultaneously felt bad that I was slicing up this heaven for someone who may be able to enjoy it more than I. That, and I felt sick that I wasn’t able to make the most of it. I do not exaggerate when I say this could have been the best run of my life if I were in better shape. But, c’est la vie.

I wouldn’t be able to make it back up in time again, so I satisfied myself with one last run top to bottom, exploring the outer edges of the lower half of the mountain, and tried to spread the word of the Glory of Whitewall (the name of the upper entrance to the bowl) to those quicker young bucks I shared the gondola ride up with. They must just have opened it as everyone mentioned they thought it was closed. Seems the luck I found in Big White is still following me. I hope it chooses to join me for the rest of the trip.

It is hard to give an accurate verdict on a resort when you have experienced a particularly fantastic or horrible day, and I definitely had the former here. But considering how few guests Kicking Horse gets on a typical day, and how many acres of terrain they have, and the typical interior snowfall they get, this probably isn’t that extraordinary a day. The very fact that I found so much grand snow left over a day after a dump speaks volumes. One day the skiing public may discover this place, come in droves and ruin it the low skier per acre gift, but that may take a while since it takes some effort to get here and tourists don’t seem to be very willing to put effort into traveling to a destination. And there isn’t all that much of a population nearby to flock here on a good day. Golden is pretty out there, and the more hyped Revelstoke isn’t far. All I can say is I will be back on day. There is alot of terrain here that I want to hit full swing, and it is close enough to home that I could drive out in a (rather long) day when conditions are just right. Is it better than Whistler then? In some ways definitely. But it is hard to get to, and for those who want more than just skiing (ie. some nightlife) when they go to the mountains, I think Kicking Horse will fall short. But for my money, it is a top notch option.

Kicking Horse

The ski hill, with the main guest lodges and day lodge to the right. All the good stuff is in the four valleys between the peaks seen in the center.

The ski hill base in the near background (hard to see) and the town of Golden lining the valley in the distance. Sorry, not a great picture.

All of two tracks through a couple hundred acres of 2ft deep virgin powder.

Kicking Horse has a ton of gnarly terrain like you see here.

The restaurant at the top of the gondola, said to be the highest eating place (not counting bars) in Canada. The perfectly calm weather at the based belied the stormy winds that were tormenting the exposed top.

Not a bad place to spend a couple nights, and just across the street from the lifts to boot.

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