Even in a town as ski-crazy as Revy, fresh tracks can be found two to three days after a storm.
By Scott Yorko
We were somewhere between cloud layers, skiing through a thick forest with patches of grey peeking through the towering hemlock and cedar trees overhead, when everyone in the group stopped in our tracks. “Did we come this way last time?” I asked the local skier who was showing us around on our fifth lap. “I’m not really sure,” he said.
He didn’t sound worried or even lost, but rather accustomed to not knowing exactly where in his own backyard he was. With a constantly advertised 5,620 feet of vertical relief—the largest in North America—and 3,000 acres of skiable terrain on Mount Mackenzie serviced by only three chairlifts and one gondola (compared to Blackcomb’s 17 for the same area), wondering where the heck you are is part of the Revelstoke Mountain Resort experience.
So is wondering where the heck everyone else is: crowd size is relative, but the busiest of powder days can feel nearly empty here with so much room for skier dispersal. Even in a town as ski-crazy as Revy, where your average ripper goes bigger than any other resort’s hometown heroes, fresh tracks can be found two to three days after a storm thanks to ski patrol’s patient, staggered openings of higher elevation runs like Lemming Line and the chutes off of Sub Peak.
Even for skiers who know the mountain’s 13-year-old resort well, Revelstoke can still seem like its own Bermuda Triangle of pow stashes and glade lines. The run names embody a detached orientation as you traverse out the appropriately coined Vertigo Ridge, drop into Separate Reality Bowl, bomb the rolling groomer Critical Path, and spill into the Conifers of Gnarnia glades. Wondering where that magical pocket of snow was? The one you stumbled upon last week while popping from one perfect bump to the next, hooting through the woods? You might spend the rest of the week, or even the rest of the season, trying to find it again.
By the time our crew resurfaced from the school bus–sized pillow lines in the Seussian forest snarled with snow-plastered, enchanting trees that looked ready to speak words of wisdom to us, I was wondering who dubbed the Stoke and Ripper chairs. What inside jokes does ski patrol have behind the runs with heavy-metal music references like Stay Hungry, Pyromania, Hysteria, and Metal Health? No one on the lift seemed to know or care that much, and I quickly forgot the question as we pushed past the summit’s warming hut just in time for the sky to take a breath from dumping down its 10.5 metres of average annual snowfall.
As it came into the clear, the panoramic view of the valley hit us like a blast of warm air. With the old forestry and railroad town plopped far below on the valley floor at the confluence of the snaking Columbia and Illecillewaet Rivers, the scene matched local artists’ whimsical paintings in the coffee shops. After catching the weight of our dropping jaws, we straightened our gazes out to the southwest, admiring the jagged Monashee mountain range with the stout peaks of Mt. Begbie and Mt. MacPherson standing proud like bodyguards in the foreground. The Trans-Canada Highway crept north up Rogers Pass to the looming Selkirks, while Mt. Cartier’s sharp peak to the south flashed its over 6,500 feet of vertical relief with the sun ready to set behind it over the distant Kootenays. The jagged peaks gnaw at the sky, stretching well beyond the horizon line, and I don’t know how long I stood there staring at them, wondering how far they go and how many heli drops it would take to ski them all. It’s not even close to possible, but knowing that doesn’t stop your mind from looping the fantasy.
This foggy reality of wonder between consciousness and dreaming is what Revelstoke feels like more often than not. Beyond the incomprehensible size and vastness of the ski resort, you’ll find yourself left with many questions, wondering why everyone has a whistle on their jacket (tree well safety); why there’s a gnome named Gnorm on the snow stake video feed and where he went on his “vacation”; if it ever stops snowing; whose knickers were made into a statue at the Nels Nelsen Ski Jump overlooking town; where all of the brightly coloured artwork illuminating the town’s alleyways came from (mostly the Luna Art and Wonder Festival held in September, postponed this year); how many laps you just made on the Community & Aquatic Centre’s water slide; what it’s like to grow up there; how long this raw mountain town culture will last; and where will I end up if I ski this new line?
There’s no cell service on the mountain, so don’t bother Googling the answers to any of these questions while you’re there. In fact, it’s probably best not to think too hard about any of these mysteries, lest you find yourself overwhelmed by the steady drip of uncertainty that permeates life in Revelstoke. Best to surrender to it, follow the flow, and revel in the wonder.
Sleep: Only five minutes from the ski resort, Valley Retreat is a modern bed and breakfast with funky vibes. Ryan, the owner, is a fantastic cook and many professional athletes stay here while shooting for various projects.
Eat: Call in your breakfast wrap to La Baguette ahead of time and skip the line to pick it up on your way to the slopes. At night, The Village Idiot, with decades of old ski paraphernalia and photos strewn about the walls and ceiling, serves hot pizza, gooey burgers, pulled pork poutine, and huge salads.
Après: The town of Revelstoke is so close to the resort that you might as well head over to Rumpus Beer Co. in your ski pants for a handful of rotating microbrews concocted on-site by owner Fred Orndorff with some homemade brewing equipment.
Don’t miss: The Revelstoke Museum and Archives: Land of Thundering Snow exhibit about the history of avalanche work in Revelstoke and Canada is a trove of local history. In September, LUNA Art Fest (Revelstoke’s nocturnal festival of art and wonder) transforms the night streets into a living gallery of mixed media art installations that are “immersive, interactive, or thought-provoking,” while genre-spanning bands provide a Kaleidoscopic soundtrack.
Revelstoke is a must on every serious skier’s list. It’s a two-hour drive from Kelowna and worth every mile.