Pass Powderkeg an unexpected gem of ski hill
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Tucked into the Crowsnest Pass and backing onto backyards in the town of Blairmore, Pass Powderkeg (PPK) quietly goes about its business. The micro-resort has been the same since 1938; untouched, unspoiled and underestimated by so many skiers. This is the time to slow down, pull off the highway and find out why it should be on your #BucketlistAB.
So, I have to confess. Just like so many others, I’ve passed Pass Powderkeg many times. In the summer I’d look at the trails cut into the forest and say, “I really need to check this place out.” In the winter, somehow excuses kept the car on Highway 3. This time I stopped. And, I was overwhelmed by the community, the resort, the snow and yes, the black runs!
The meeting of the T’s
Interestingly, the historic lodge is located at mid-mountain. Two T-bars meet there; one to unload the skiers from the lower runs that really do end curbside in Blairmore. The other takes skiers and riders to the ridge to explore at least a dozen more runs. There are a few green runs, but the majority are blue with some new black runs recently etched into the slope. I thought for sure the runs would be casually pitched but even the blue like Xpresso and Chinook are surprisingly steep. Short, yes, but sweet.
Families will love this place; the parking lot is a ball toss from the lodge. Speaking of the lodge, they brought in a chef to up the game on the menu. Chef Alejandro Verdi will whip up a killer grilled cheese or exotic fair like pork belly sliders, roasted Brussel sprouts with cheese, or chickpea curry and rice.
The core value for PPK is the family learning to ski or ride. “But that doesn’t mean we have to ski together all the time,” says Peter Bubik, of Blairmore. “After my kids are done their lessons, I buy them hot chocolate at the lodge and while they chill with their friends I do a few hot laps on Edge, then ski to the bottom. When they are ready, they ski home. I’m fully confident that they will be just fine.”
“Winter is real here,” says Joey O’Brien, manager of community services for the MD of Crowsnest Pass. “The community embraces the season, so we have created a calendar of events at Pass Powderkeg to get everyone involved. This season is packed with ski and snowboard lessons for every age, fat tire biking, teen nights, ladies’ nights, snowshoeing, GT racing on PPK Youth Nights. It doesn’t stop.”
O’Brien isn’t kidding about the activities. Here’s a fast rundown of activities worth watching for:
Ladies Guided Snowshoeing. Drop in Saturday mornings for one or the entire season to get some exercise, meet some new people and to learn about the winter landscape. Watch the calendar for the evening snowshoe events. Bring your headlamps and your camera and learn how to photograph the stars. Refreshments in the lodge with your new pals always follow the treks.
Masters Program. This program for skiers and riders (over the age of 16) is all about pushing your intermediate level into advanced. The Level 4 instructors at PPK will see where you are and move you forward through the gates, bumps and through the terrain park.
Group or private lessons. There are lessons for every ability and excellent rentals to make it easy. Ladies only events are full of laughter and support. Private lessons are great for fine tuning that turn, overcoming some trepidation without an audience.
“Pass Powderkeg isn’t just winter. We have events through the summer that people should watch for,” says O’Brien. “New this spring will be E-bike treks.”
The calendar isn’t set yet but watch for the E-Bike program. It will be a lot like a cat ski expedition where groups of 12 on PPK Fat-tire E-Bikes will head into the backcountry with a guide who explains the history of the valley, the ecology and the terrain. Along the way, stop to enjoy the provided 5-star lunch. If taking off on a bike isn’t your style, there will be trail running clinics and guided nature walks too.
You won’t go hungry in the Pass
There is no reason to pack a breakfast, lunch or supper. Stop at one of the excellent cafes and restaurants in the Crowsnest for healthy better-than-mom-makes food.
For breakfast or coffee break – head to Cinnamon Bear in Coleman and have a cinnamon bun. (Trust me, – they are show stoppers!)
For lunch, across the street from Cinnamon Bear is Crowsnest Café and Fly Shop where you can pick up the best organic sandwich while picking out a tasty fly for the trout.
For lunch, it has to be at Stone’s Throw Café in Blairmore where the theme is eclectic vintage. And the food is excellent – just ask the salt and pepper shakers! Each table is adorned with the most unusual pair.
Dinner has to be at Bamboo Bistro, or next door at Black Rock Pizza in Blairmore. Asian dishes made on site or handmade hand-shaped pizza. You decide.
Then there’s the latest craft brewery. Pull in at Lundbreck to the Oldman Brewing Company for a growler or two. I have a Blue Bridge Lager and a Blind Canyon Blonde ale chilling in the fridge. But not for long.