Guide to Mastering B.C.'s Powdery Ski Runs

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Lisa Monforton and Doug Firby

If you've never been to Alberta or British Columbia, your first ski trip to western Canada will be a wondrous voyage of discovery. At the top of the list of delights is a sweeter and softer kind of snow.

But the first time you cavort down billowy clouds of sugar fine powder, you may think: 'Whoa, this is different; how do I ski this stuff?'

Those were our thoughts when we arrived in western Canada and literally stumbled into powder more than 15 years ago.

Kicking Horse Mountain Resort
Photo: Jeff Bartlett

Our other thought was, how are we ever going to make it down these long runs in one go? But we quickly discovered you don't have to. The incredible mountain views all around invite you to take a breather while try to take in the massive, grand beauty.

Still, it was skiing powder that we needed to adapt to.

We quickly discovered that if you try to ski powder the way you do hard-pack, you get exhausted quickly.

But once you learn a few tips and tricks, you'll be floating like a butterfly, whooping and giggling like a kid through powder stashes you've only ever dreamed of.

Grant Black and Lee Ann Wiseman, who moved out West years ago, also discovered the joys of playing in the powder. They have this advice for new powder skiers.

  • Adjust your stance so your skis are a bit closer together.

  • Think of your skis as one.

  • Ski gently. 

  • When you fall, and you will, the snow is soft so enjoy the yard sale.

Photo: Dylan Siggers

Here are a few more hacks for becoming a powder hound. Before you know it, you'll want to tick off all the resorts along the Powder Highway:

Get the right gear: You'll need longer, fatter skis, so you can float on the powder. Rental shops can hook you up. Typical all-mountain skis will just sink into the snow. Look for “rockers,” which means they have a reverse camber on the toe and the tip, which will keep your tips from digging into the soft stuff.

Technique: Two things are vital to staying upright on powder. You need enough speed to skim across the top. And, if you have rocker skis you can maintain an aggressive crouch. If you dont, you'll have to lean back a bit to keep your tips up.

Kicking Horse Mountain Resort
Photo: Abby Cooper

Turning: Making turns is a totally different experience. Don't dig your edges in to make a sharp turn. Try to make broad, sweeping arcs in the shape of a “C.” Let the snow guide you.

Take a lesson: Feeling out of your depth? It's a good idea to take a lesson, and let the pros teach you how to navigate powder.

Here are some of our fave powder stashes along the Powder Highway.

Fernie: You'll have no trouble sussing out powder here. Take your pick of five bowls. These are two fun ones: Lizard and Curry. Feeling like a challenge? Head for the trees on King Fir, or take it easier on Cruiser. You'll be more than ready for a pint at the Lizard Lodge – or maybe a yoga sesh, offered in the same building.

Kimberley – Loads of choice on four mountain faces with some of the most expansive glades anywhere in Western Canada. Head up North Star or Tamarack chairlifts to access tree-mendous skiing. This is likely where you'll stumble onto powder.

Kicking Horse – You might just ‘get kicked by the horse’ here. That refers to the steep and deeps Kicking Horse is famed for (more than half of the terrain is labelled expert). But intermediates will find plenty to play in. Head into Crystal Bowl and taste some sugar on Northern Lights and Cloud Nine.

Grant and Lee Ann have skied RED and Whitewater. Here are their recommendations.

RED: We'd never skied in the trees before, but headed into the glades, to find soft, untracked snow, gliding past the snow-covered trees. We ran the same area over and over again in pure powder bliss. RED Mountain Resort was spectacular. We were in so much deep snow, getting stuck, falling over we just laughed and laughed.

Whitewater: Whitewater at Nelson is powder heaven. There is a large glade off the Silver King chair. You can ski all day there and never take the same track. It isn't a long run, but the variety of terrain keeps it interesting. 

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