Huge fluffy flakes continue to fall from the sky as a group of laughing kids chase each other down the mountain, making a beeline for their mothers, while an older man bursts out of the forest yodeling loudly. In the lift line we can clearly feel the sense of excitement around us: young and old let loose and ski with youthful exuberance. During this inspiring journey through the Canadian wilderness we discover that skiing isn’t just a sport, but a way of life!
To satisfy our need for limitless powder, Caroline and I, two Dutch ski journalists, fly to Calgary to explore the Kootenays. Our adventure begins in Castle Mountain, where we stand in line for first chair and where the trees are covered with at least thirty centimetres of fresh snow. It feels like time has stood still in this powder paradise for the past 30 years. Castle Mountain, a 3-hour drive from Calgary, is an authentic ski hill and mass tourism is nowhere to be found. Old-fashioned, second-hand chairlifts take you up to extremely steep tree runs and open faces. When we drop in, the snow is so light that our spray remains visible like a cloud of smoke in the air. The snow is so light; it is almost like dust making it virtually impossible to breathe. This is the legendary B.C. "cold smoke," one of the reasons we came here all the way from the country below sea below, the Netherlands!
Everywhere we go, it keeps on dumping! Our next stop is Fernie, where we visit a ski friend and his family who show us that powder is a priority for them. Their 17-year-old son Keegan has started a coffee roasting business from the roof of his house, hence the name Rooftop Coffee Roasters: “When I finished high school, I decided to stay home for an extra year to start my own coffee roasting business. Every day I roast coffee that we sell to coffee shops in Calgary and around the Kootenays. It is really the perfect job, as I enjoy the science around roasting, as well as the tasting of different coffees. But most importantly, I get to ski all day and roast at night!” Keegan is not the only local who is looking to ski as much powder as possible, Fernie has actually adopted the "20 cm rule", which exists in most ski towns. According to the rule, if it has snowed more than 20 centimetres, the shops don’t open until noon. What a difference from the Netherlands, where most people associate skiing with just a weeklong winter holiday!
Dotted with Victorian gingerbread cottages, the Canadian town of Nelson in the Kootenays is home to dozens of artists, musicians, yogis and of course powder junkies. This town was voted "Best Ski Town in North America" by the readers of Powder Magazine and Whitewater ski resort is actually one of our favourite places to ski in the world! We timed our visit to be here for the annual Coldsmoke Powder Fest, a three-day mountain festival, where outdoor lovers celebrate the Kootenay mountain culture and their love of snow. This unique festival combines social events, with competitions, free demos, ski touring and instructional clinics, geared for snow enthusiasts of all disciplines and ability level. A clinic only costs $120, which includes a day pass worth of $76. During the festival we meet many great people and dedicated ski bums of all ages make me realize that skiing is more than a sport; here, it is a way of life. I feel privileged to be out there with such fervent and fanatical skiers and to be able to share my passion. The abundant powder, the pure stoke at Coldsmoke and genuine atmosphere make WH2O a special place. It is refreshing to be in a place where everyone is accepted as they are. Our friend Phil, points Rudy out to us. He is enjoying his lunch with a bright green parrot nuzzled in his neck. We go over for a chat and learn that Bill the parrot is Rudy's ski buddy; he even has his own season pass! Like its residents, nightlife in Nelson is unconventional and surprising. Be sure not to drink too much during bingo night at Mike's Pub, however: if you mistakenly call out "bingo," you will be asked to get on stage and recite an excerpt from an erotic novel!
Living the Canadian cabin dream
Situated in a dense old growth forest, just outside the small town of Ymir (pronounced as Waimer) with only 250 inhabitants, we are staying in one of the four secluded cabins of the Logden Lodge. These private, boutique logged cabins are the perfect wilderness retreat where you can unwind in front of the fireplace with a glass of red wine, after a hard day of skiing. Ymir was home to a full-on gold rush during the end of the 19th century, and the accompanying pioneering spirit is very much alive today: Paul and Annelies the owners of the Logden Lodge are two former Dutch diplomats who decided to immigrate to Canada to live in the outdoors. In only seven months time they designed and built the four logged cabins from scratch! These cute, private cabins are perfectly located to ski at Whitewater (only a 15-minute drive), Red Mountain (a 1 hour drive) or to go ski touring from Koontenay pass. If you want to have fun around the cabins, there are cross-country and snowshoe trails right from your doorstep and Paul and Annelies are more than willing to help you with arranging your trip, from arranging a cat- or heliski trip in the region or even with filling up your fridge before your arrival!
Sitting in the deep bath in a cosy wooded bathroom, with a glass of red whine, I reflect on this trip: I have discovered that in the Kootenays, quality of life is the main thing: the combination of breath-taking nature and mountains of powder – an average of 12 metres a year – in such a cool resort makes the Kootenays an amazing place to ski and I know I will be back for more. Out of all of the places I have skied around the world, I have never felt so proud to be a skier as I do here!
Who knew it was possible to climb into your customized cat with your favorite song playing over the speakers, just meters away from the breakfast table? After we climb out of the cat after a 30-minute ride, we see endless untouched powder fields and breath-taking mountains everywhere. One by one we drop into our 700 vertical meter tree run and with aching legs and a massive grin I ski towards our "taxi"! The snow is some of the deepest I have ever skied and each turn I get an over the shoulder face shot. Because of the cold temperatures of the last days and the continuous huge flakes that keep coming down, our timing could not have been any better. Each run is more spectacular than the last; I’m completely high on life and can’t get enough of this heavenly playground!
Dream BIG, dream DEEP at Keefer Lake Lodge!
A very exclusive, high-end catski lodge is nestled in the complete wilderness in the Monashee range, just outside Vernon, just a 1,5 half drive from Kelowna and accessible by 4WD car. Keefer Lake Lodge is a brand-new, majestic timber lodge that offers pure indulgence and supreme comfort, including all the usual luxuries. The ultimate bonus is the custom build cat, including 14 leather seats, a flat screen, sound system and even glove warmers. In the winter of 2018 this premium cat-ski operation will open its doors for private groups up to 10 guests and with an average snowfall of 14 meters per year and 118 different runs you will be skiing fresh lines every run. Jeff Gostlin, the Canadian owner, who has been guiding in BC for over 20 years, ensures us that Keefer has some of the best cat-skiing terrain in the world. Knowing he has guided at several operations we can't wait to experience this ourselves!
If you prefer to stay in Nelson, we highly recommend the Alpine Inn, a very comfortable motel. The rooms are equipped with a small kitchen and a night in a twin room starts at $99. Make sure to check out the two day special for $202, which includes 2 Whitewater day passes and two nights in a twin room. www.alpine-motel.com