The Purcells in Golden, B.C. have been luring adventurers since long before resorts were a thing. Enter Kicking Horse Resort, whose rowdy reputation isn’t just well-deserved, it’s a genuine birthright.
By Andrew Findlay
I’m peering over the lip of another Kicking Horse Mountain Resort (KHMR) couloir, this one plunging into Feuz Bowl. It’s a bluebird, 5 degree, windless day, the sort of glorious mid-winter high pressure in British Columbia that spells unlimited visibility—and unlimited possibility. The snowpack is well-settled and bomber, following a 14 inches delivery three days ago. Now it’s go-time. My friend Jean-Francois Plouffe, a Squamish-based Helly Hansen athlete and mountain guide, has joined me to help mine the high angled riches of this resort, situated in the Dogtooth Range high above the railroading and logging town of Golden, B.C., three hours west of Calgary. The place needs no introduction as a real skier’s mountain. It’s why I keep coming back.
“Let’s do this,” Plouffe says, with unrestrained enthusiasm.
He drops into Feuz, and I follow two turns later, setting an edge on firm but grippy snow. Jumping into the next turn, I begin to summon some inner moxy for terrain that feels like 50 degrees but is likely no more than 40. A few turns later, and I’m settling into the exposure, mining deposits of still-untracked powder sheltered on the leeside of the Dogtooth. I pause to rest and soak in the epic view. Far below, the braided channels of the Columbia River snake northward, and across the Columbia Valley, the Canadian Rockies roll away into the distance like an ocean of infinite whitecaps.
Lower down the angle eases into the bowl, and the two of us open up into wider turns. With such an abundance of double-black terrain—four linked alpine bowls ringed with a freerider’s banquet of chutes, gullies, and glades—getting the goods opened after a storm is like a military operation for patrol. Over the past few years, KHMR has added another 600 acres, including the ridge between Feuz and Reudi’s bowl and The Ozone, a buffet of serious lines previously used as a test site for last year’s Freeride World Tour. The expansion increased the resort’s vertical to over 4,300 feet, giving Kicking Horse new bragging right as having the fifth biggest vertical drop in North America.
Golden comes by its adventure credentials honestly. From the late 1800s into the early 20th century, Swiss alpine guides settled here to ride the boom in mountain tourism that followed the completion of the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway. Then came a later wave of European guides—folks like Reudi Gertsch, who first guided for Hans Gmoser’s pioneering Canadian Mountain Holidays before opening his own outfit, Purcell Mountain Heliskiing out of Golden, now one of the longest running heliskiing operations in British Columbia. Adventure is simply part of the collective local DNA, and this mountain’s rowdy terrain reflects this heritage.
A morning of hunting couloirs and alpine bowls builds up a hunger. After a scenic lift ride on the Golden Eagle Express Gondola, we stop for a lunch at the Eagle’s Eye Restaurant. Perched at 700 feet, it is Canada’s highest eatery, with a panoramic view of mountains that would make any skier salivate.
With our appetites sufficiently sated, it’s time again to feast on more of KHMR’s alpine offerings. A straight-line cat track heads to a skinny saddle below Terminator 1. We click out of our bindings and follow a well-trodden bootpack to the summit of T 1—a mere 196 vertical feet higher than the Eagle’s Eye Restaurant. Earlier this morning, the avy-control team had green-lighted this peak’s south ridge.
“Let’s go for this one,” I say to Plouffe, pointing a ski pole to the obvious line, Rip The World, a spicy run that threads steeply through thin glades. He nods in agreement. By the time we reach the flats of Super Bowl, my thighs are what’s ripped. But it’s not over. The endurance-testing mogul mash of Crazy Legs feeds into Terminator, Big O’Bear, and ultimately to the Minute Maid Kid’s Trail zone. I arrive here, admittedly, with a certain amount of relief. My quads have been rendered unresponsive, so I am more than ready for a cool-down on some lower blue-square and green-circle groomers.
Après ski in Golden rules. There is no pretense here. The town retains enough of its gritty resource- and railway-industry character to keep it real, but with the right amount of modern-adventure-town vibe to give it a little cachet. Naturally, Plouffe and I pencil in a session at Whitetooth Brewing Co.’s tasting room to sample a flight of craft beers. Later, as darkness descends on the Columbia Valley, we grab a table for two at Whitetooth Mountain Bistro, on Golden’s three-block main drag, and order up a mountain of braised pork shank. (The name Whitetooth means something around here—it was what the mom-and-pop local ski hill was called before the transformation into Kicking Horse resort began more than 20 years ago.)
Later that night, back at my Palliser Lodge suite at the foot of the resort, I soak in the outdoor Jacuzzi—a prerequisite before hitting the mattress. Time to summon reserves for tomorrow’s bottomless helpings of KHMR’s chutes, faces, and bowls—all of it dusted with what looks like might be another 4 inches of delicious fresh snow.
Nighttime groomers twinkle like fireflies high on the Dogtooth Range. The crisp, clear night is ablaze with stars. Bed calls—a sound sleep awaits.
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, in Golden, B.C., is a 3-hour drive from Calgary. You don’t have to hike to enjoy it, but if you are willing to bootpack a few steps, you’ll enjoy access to much, much more of it.