How’s your ski season going? Where’s your favorite ski area? Are you one of those 55 and over skiers who fly fearlessly between tree wells, leap off cornices, or bounce with liquid knees over moguls the size of boulders. No? You still working work on carving turns and get itchy at high speeds? Does someone like us have any business on the famed powder-snow slopes of Revelstoke, B.C.? YES! If you’ve been there are you going back? If you haven’t read on.
Until recently, most alpine skiing at Revelstoke was via Sno-Cat and helicopter. In the early 2000’s, the town decided to plump up the local economy by developing the ski area on local Mt. MacKenzie. The result is a stunning resort, with 5,620 lift-served (1,710 m.) vertical feet, the largest in North America.
The town shifted almost overnight, according to one local guy who rode up the gondola with us, from a population of retired Italian railroad workers, to 20-something ski jocks. The place has the feel of ski areas back in the days I learned to ski, full of youngsters who’d do anything — sleep on couches, live in poverty, sling burgers and shovel driveways — to ski. When the snow is good, everybody who can heads to the slopes; and the snow is good on a lot of days. Thirty to forty five feet of snow falls per year.
Every chair has a blue run or green connector, so anybody can get down from anywhere — but, people don’t go all the way to the wilds of British Columbia for runs like you’d find at home. You go for the powder. It is impressive.
The keys to a great visit:
1. If you travel by air to get there, carry on ski essentials. Our skis didn’t arrive until 36 hours after we did. A woman in line with those of us whose stuff didn’t make it, was pretty upset that she’d checked her bag with her brand-new ski pants. The airlines will refund purchases and rentals, but it’s a hassle.
2. Build flexibility into your travel schedule. The highways in the area are vulnerable to avalanches and, in the case of sudden thaws, high water. To get to Revelstoke, we flew from Eugene, Oregon, to Seattle, then to Kelowna, B.C., then drove three hours. That went fine, but the return was trickier. The highway from Revelstoke to Kelowna shut down for the 36 hours before our departure. In order to make our flight, we re-routed the drive to the airport, to a 5 hour drive that involved two ferry rides.
3. Speaking of avalanches, ski in bounds. Avalanches on the slopes are a problem whenever there is heavy snow, which is often. The Chairs: Ripper chair is good for (1) beginners, (2) for access to tree runs, which looked too narrow for me, and (3) finishing runs off the North Bowl. It has a long run out at the bottom. We had more fun on Stoke chair. Plenty of access to wide bowls and routes between widely spaced trees, all with deep, snow and light traffic.
4. Accommodations and Food: Sutton Place Lodge at the base of the ski area offers luxury accommodations and ski-in, ski-out convenience. There is, so far, one restaurant, and one bar, so make a reservation. The food is good, and so is the service, but both places can be full of young men, rowdy after a day of double diamond downhill. Alternatively – the town of Revelstoke is a ten minute drive away, charming, offers several hotels for pretty much any budget, restaurants and two well-stocked grocery stores. Favorite place: The Village Idiot, a local pub with good food, and vintage skis decorating the walls and furniture.
5. Get your quads in shape. Chairs are few, and runs are long. Plans are in the works to increase the number of chairs, but for now, one gondola and 2 chairs serve all the runs. Don’t worry, there is more than enough mountain (3,121 acres). If you don’t want to wear yourself out too quickly, pay attention to the directional signs. Missing the bottom of the chair or the mid-mountain gondola means you ski for a long, long way, on terrain that can be relentlessly uneven. Bottom-to-top-to-bottom can take an hour. Don’t be proud. A ride down the gondola at the end of the day is a godsend if you’re tired, and the view can’t be beat.
6. The terrain lives up to its reputation as “varied,” so polish up skills. One run can be steep, bumpy, groomed, wide, and narrow — all of the above. Don’t want to take lessons? The internet is full of useful mini lessons and reviews on how to ski better, like this one (no affiliation with this company):
7. Equipment: Take advantage of the powder by experimenting with rentals. If you haven’t already, try a “rocker” ski, or an all mountain ski that is longer and fatter than what you are used to. The resort rentals are kind of beat up, but fine for experimenting with. Know your waist size, as in the skinny mid-section of the ski. A narrower waist is easier to turn, fatter is better in powder. Look for a 85 to 100 cm waist for intermediate skiing, 100-110 for advanced skiers.
8. Layer up, dress warmly: with so much vertical, there can be a big difference in temperature at the bottom and the top of the runs, and there can be a lot of time to cool off between runs.
9. Black diamond runs are manageable for most intermediate to advanced skiers — Steep, but not too steep, gentler slopes toward the bottom. The double black diamonds looked intimidating, and I did not attempt any. Maybe for my 60th.
10. Enjoy the show. Serious skiers are everywhere, demonstrating how it’s done.
How’s your ski season going? Where’s your favorite ski area?