And Maple Syrup Too!
A Brit visits British Columbia
And so, in the search for mythical bottomless powder, I planned a trip to Red Mountain, BC, Canada. In fact, I didn't plan it at all - I decided to tag along with my mate Iain, who had planned such a trip. Very cheap flights from the UK to Seattle certainly helped convince me, along with the fact that Iain had been to Red Mountain before, and could even recommend accommodation.
So after some eleven hours of flights, several hours in airports, three hours driving and eight hours of time difference (oh, jet lag!), we arrived in Rossland, BC, on a Sunday morning, just in time for breakfast. The piles of snow heaped up everywhere put us in the mood, and the mountain was just about to open, so we quickly ripped our gear from our luggage, got changed and headed for the hill.
Red Mountain is a hard core mountain. It is in fact two mountains - Red and Granite. It only has four chair lifts, but these open up a huge amount of terrain; in fact, once you arrive at the top of Granite mountain, you can access 360 degrees of the hill. While quite a few runs are groomed, especially in the Paradise area, many are not, and many are also steep, with a capital S. Red Mountain is the smaller of the two, but it lets you know how serious it is at the bottom of the chair lift: a sign there states
There are no "beginner's easier runs" served by this lift. Novice skiers should avoid this lift.
The slopes on Red itself can be divided into two categories - steep and groomed, and steep and ungroomed. There are also a variety of tree runs off the sides, including some runs of 'the back' of the hill, where you really need to know where you are going, due to the nearby quarry drops and cliffs.
Granite is bigger than Red, but still only average by European standards - the top lift station is at around 2400m. However, it gives access to an amazing variety of terrain, and is never short of snow. On the south-side is the Paradise area. This bowl has a selection of groomed runs, rated as blues and blacks, as well as lots of routes through the trees. Paradise gets the best and worst of the weather: facing south, when the sun shines it can be beautiful; however, the wind most often comes from the south, so if it is blowing it is not too pleasant. We found that it only took a little fresh snow and some wind to fill the tracks in between the trees, and so we were regularly surprised to find fresh snow where we didnít expect it.
The east face of Granite runs back in the general direction of the Mother-lode lift, and gives access to some amazing terrain. To the south-east is the Powder Fields area, which is well named. This area consists of tree runs and open glades, with no grooming or even sign-posted routes, and gave us great powder runs day after day. The Powder Fields has some 2000' of vertical, which can really make your legs burn on the first run of the day. After each glade, you think its over, then you drop through a line of trees and find the next glade, until you're short of breath and your calves scream. Directly under the Mother-lode lift is the flashy Links Line, which starts with a six foot drop off onto a 55 degree slope. I rode it once just to say that I'd done it, but it was really good fun on tracked but soft snow. Apparently the route was named after a skier who was nicknamed 'The Missing Link'. Next to the Links Line is the Papoose Bowl, which also has a very steep first section, this time through trees, and then opens out onto some regularly beautiful powder. The north-east of Granite has some classic routes called Slides (guess whyÖ), which are like Powder Fields but steeper and more open. And the north side itself has only ungroomed runs, mostly through trees, which are steep, tight, and often have the best snow due to being in the lee of the prevailing wind. After spending nine days at Red I can claim to have ridden more trees than during my previous five years snowboarding.
Boarding at Red isnít just limited to the lift service hills. On my last afternoon we hired a local guide and hiked a ridge on neighbouring Mount Roberts. A 40 minute hike brought us out at the top of the Dog Leg, where we had the best turns of the week on completely untracked powder, whooping and shouting as we went. This run was worth every step of the hike.
The mountain area is some five minutes drive from Rossland, an old mining town which has maintained much of it's old charm. While only supporting half the of 7000 population from its heyday (and nowhere near the 42 saloons), it still has plenty of character and activity. There are some great bars, and a good choice of places to eat and drink. However, donít expect the clubs and apres-ski which you might get in a European resort. Anyone from Europe or the USA will find eating and drinking in Canada amazing value, - we were continually surprised at how little we spent on an evening out. This good-value extends to accommodation; Rossland has a selection of motels and B&Bs. We stayed at Angela's Place, owned and run by the unforgettable Angela Price. A winter resident in Rossland for 22 years, Angela has been a ski bum all her life, and still beats her guests to the front of the lift line on powder days. As well as providing great accommodation (including use of a hot tub) and huge breakfasts, she also passes on a few tips and secret lines to her guests. After a week at Angela's, you start to feel like a local.
And to conclude...
If you want snow, regular, reliable, deep fluff, then British Columbia is the place to go. And if you want to ride a mountain with trees, steeps, friendly people and no queues, then I can't recommend Red Mountain highly enough.