The following article was written by Julie Nieuwenhuijs of @DutchiesDoSki. Photos courtesy of Caroline van 't Hoff & Dave Heath.
Skiing with Heart and Soul in Beautiful British Columbia
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 blasts 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 in BC skiing is a lifestyle and not just a sport.
To satisfy our need for limitless powder, Caroline and I, two Dutch ski journalists, fly to Calgary to explore the Kootenays, a mountain range at the heart of the Powder Highway, where you will find over fifty ski operations, eight ski resorts and dozens of
Our adventure begins in Castle Mountain, an authentic and quiet ski hill where mostly Calgarians ski, as it is just a 3-hour drive from Calgary. The trees are covered with thirty centimeters of fresh snow and the excitement in the lift line during a powder day like today is positively palpable. You would think temperatures of -20 and an icy wind would bother us on the old sluggish chairlifts, but on the contrary, we are grinning from ear to ear. We simply can't wait to drop into the wide, steep open faces we have been laying our eyes on. When we finally drop in, the snow is so light that our spray remains visible like a cloud of smoke in the air; 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!
Our journey across the Powder Highway takes us to Fernie, a small ski town that has adopted the "20 cm rule". Like many other areas in BC, if it has snowed more than 20 centimeters, the shops don’t open until noon and we quickly discover most locals try to plan their schedule around skiing! Take the 17-year-old Keegan, the son of our friend who we are staying with. He started a coffee roasting business from the roof of his house, hence the name Rooftop Coffee Roasters. He tells us all about it over a cup of Costa Rican home roasted coffee: "I've decided to start University a year later so I could start my own coffee roasting business. Every day I roast coffee that I sell to local coffee shops. It is really the perfect job as I enjoy the science around roasting and the tasting of different coffees. But most importantly, I get to ski powder all day and roast at night!”
Our next stop is the Coldsmoke Powderfest, a three-day mountain festival in Whitewater, a small resort located close to Nelson. This town was voted "Best Ski Town in North America" by the readers of Powder Magazine and we totally understand why. Where else in the world can you find an annual festival where backcountry skiers and boarders celebrate the mountains, the Kootenay mountain culture, and their love of snow? This grass-roots festival combines social events, with competitions, free demos, ski touring and instructional clinics, geared for snow enthusiasts of all disciplines and ability level. During the festival, we made many new friends, like Phil who points Jack 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 Rudy the parrot is Jack’s ski buddy; he even has his own season pass!
Having spent several winters in Whitewater over the last years, it has become one of our favorite places to ski in the world. It is just so refreshing to be in a place where people love to share their passion for the outdoors and everyone is accepted as they are.
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: the owners, Paul and Annelies, 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!
Keefer Lake Lodge
A very exclusive, brand new cat-ski lodge is nestled in the complete wilderness in the Monashee Range, just outside Vernon, just a 1.5-half drive from Kelowna and only accessible with a 4WD. Keefer Lake Lodge is a majestic timber lodge that offers pure indulgence and supreme comfort, including all the usual luxuries. The ultimate bonus is the custom build cat. 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! 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 that 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!