Canada is a nation that’s big on skiing.
It is home to North America’s biggest ski area at Whistler Blackcomb; it has several of the top five places for ‘biggest lift-served-vertical’ in North America, including the biggest at Revelstoke; it hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics; it has one of the world’s most generous prices for children’s lift tickets; some argue that the views from Lake Louise of the Canadian Rockies are among the most spectacular in the world; the world’s biggest skiable vertical (along with some of the best snowfall records in North America) is on Mount Saint Elias, which is partially located in Canada on the Alaska/Yukon border.
But… beyond those records, those stats and those famous resorts, there are hundreds and hundreds of smaller, lesser-known Canadian ski resorts, all worthy of mention.
Here are five of my favorites.
These are probably not ‘off the track’ enough for tiny-unspoilt-ski-area purists. They are, instead, mid-sized areas that are known beyond international borders, but perhaps are not quite up there in fame with the Whistlers, and the Tremblants and the Banffs.
Located on the famous Powder Highway, Kimberley does not get quite the high profile in international media that Fernie, Kicking Horse and Lake Louise attract. However, when I visited, I really loved it.
The town of Kimberley, situated about a mile or so below the ski area, has Bavarian roots. The slightly surreal sights there (the former world’s largest cuckoo clock for one), along side some stylish new shops and restaurants, create a great quirky mix.
The ski area offers a huge variety of terrain for all tastes and ability levels. It is so well designed that, within moments of rolling up, you’re straight on the fast lift to access most of the mountain. View lift tickets to Kimberley.
Silver Star, BC
Another in British Columbia’s list of ‘quirky’ destinations is Silver Star Mountain Resort, located near Vernon in the Okanagan Valley. Silver Star is a place that values genuine friendliness and its Victorian-inspired style can be seen in the brightly painted wooden houses in the older part of the resort.
You can ski down to the main street to reach the village, which is inspired by nineteenth century British Columbian mining towns with Victorian architecture. These brightly coloured storefronts provide a unique ambience to the resort. View lift tickets to Silver Star Mountain Resort.
Mont Sutton, Quebec
Not a lot of people realize that Quebec once had more than 100 little ski areas. Although the total has dropped to double digits, the count still remains at the higher end, putting it up there with other famous ski regions around the world (like the Austrian Tirol) in terms of the number of places to go skiing.
Mont Sutton is part of an area called the Eastern Townships, just north of the US border. It’s a village that oozes both ski history and American history, whilst having a great little selection of shops and eateries for the modern-day visitor too.
Mont Sutton’s history has seen people in the US fleeing north to the border to escape civil and independence wars, as well as seen people fleeing south to escape the English/French wars over who owned Quebec. Because of this history, Mont Sutton is a place with a lot of tolerance for racial and religious differences.
On the slopes, Mont Sutton is special too. The slopes are divided by ‘sous bois’, thin woodland or ‘glades’ (before glades were thought cool), and you can basically ski pretty much wherever you like. View lift tickets to Mont Sutton.
For many people, Nakiska is not off-the-beaten-track. It’s the closest proper resort to Calgary and was built to host the 1988 Winter Olympics.
It’s another great Canadian ski hill with an excellent hotel complex near its base (thanks in part to the Olympics), and very easy access from Calgary.
The latter stages of Christopher Nolan’s film Inception were filmed a few miles further along the road at a now abandoned ski area called Fortress. Well I say abandoned, but the area’s current owner invested income from the movie in trying to rebuild access to the slopes. View lift tickets to Nakiska.
Newfoundland and Labrador is so far east that it’s closer to Europe than it is to Vancouver. The province has half a dozen small-medium-sized ski areas. The biggest, Marble Mountain, has 39 runs, a 519m / 1700ft vertical and three quad chairlifts with a new high speed quad opening this season. Typically the best snow is from January to March/April.
On the other side of Canada, Mt Washington on Vancouver Island is the largest ski area on the island and one of the most visited in the Province. Apart from the novelty of skiing on an island, Mt Washington has a formidable snowfall record – an asset that competitors for the 2010 Winter Olympics took advantage of by training there in peace before the Games.
Grouse Mountain, above Vancouver on Canada’s west coast, is also worthy of a special mention for numerous reasons. It’s the closest hill to a major city; it has spectacular views of the Pacific Coast; the remarkable giant Eye of the Wind turbine supplies renewable energy—Oh, and the skiing and snowboarding is great too!