If you’re thinking of traveling this winter for a ski or snowboard vacation, love big mountain riding, and are up for a bit of adventure, think beyond the usual.
Revelstoke Mountain Resort (RMR) in British Columbia has had the ski industry buzzing since its opening in December 2007. Prior to that, the powder-rich terrain of Mt. Mackenzie near the hip little mining town of Revelstoke had been devoted to heli and cat skiing only. Selkirk Tangiers Heli Ski and Revelstoke Cat Skiing, both fully owned by RMR, had been doing helicopter and cat tours of the area for 35 years, offering customers access to over 500,000 acres of world class terrain that received an average of 50 feet of snow a year. When they decided to open the area up to lift accessed skiing and riding, they went big. Revelstoke boasts 5,620 feet of lift-accessed vertical, the most of any resort in North America. They also became the only resort in the world to offer lifts, heli skiing, and cat skiing all from one base lodge.
While Whistler Blackcomb, B.C. still has it beat in terms of total lift accessed acreage, Revelstoke is hardly “small” at 3,031 skiable acres (about the size of Snowmass, and 700 acres bigger than Breckenridge). All this acreage is serviced by an 8-seat high speed gondola and two high speed quads, one of which bears the awesome name of “The Stoke”. The mountain’s conical shape, optimal fall line orientation, and two bowls on the back side enable these three high speed lifts to service the whole area with minimal traversing and lift hopping. Take a look at the trail maps to see what I mean.
The mountain’s longest run is 9.5 miles. Contemplate descending the equivalent of going from Denver to sea level when you go top to bottom at this mountain. Now throw in annual snowfall of 500-600” per year and not just any snow, but the same light fluffy stuff we know and love in our neck of the Rockies. RMR is located in the Selkirk mountain range of B.C., which enjoys lower moisture content in its snow than coastal counterparts. The northern Rockies are also meant to be one of the areas affected by La Nina this year, while the impact on Colorado is still unclear.
A whopping 93% of the mountain is intermediate (45.5%) or advanced (47.5%). While RMR did add a small beginner area with a magic carpet and tube park at the base area for the 2011-2012 season, the beginner terrain mainly consists of the trails that shuttle you to the chairlifts from the gondola at mid-mountain. And don’t be fooled by the “intermediate” designation here – nearly all of Revelstoke’s trails are located on direct fall lines and thus many of their blues would be designated as blacks at other resorts. (The difficulty designations for a ski resort are relative to each resort’s terrain, rather than a universal standard).
If you’re starting to catch the drift that Revelstoke caters less to the family vacation folks and more to the adrenaline junkies, you’d be right. Big mountain skiers and riders will love the fact that the majority of the resort consists of off-piste terrain that is avalanche controlled, as well as 13 perfectly spaced gladed areas that consist of some of the best tree riding and skiing in the world. Avalanche gear and touring equipment are available for rental, and RMR has an open boundaries policy, meaning guests are allowed to duck boundary lines when wearing appropriate safety gear to get fresh tracks. (Note that open boundary still prohibits you from entering a “Closed” area). RMR takes its backcountry heritage quite seriously, offering an extensive backcountry safety education program. These classes are conducted in-bounds and at RMR’s own beacon park, including courses such as Avalanche Skills Training (AST) 1 and 2, Search & Transceiver Orientation, Dig, and Intro to Snowpack. Similarly, you can take lessons within RMR’s Ski School such as Cat/Heli Preparation and Telemark.
Of course, a big part of RMR’s selling point is access to the legacy helicopter and cat skiing playground that first put Revelstoke on the ski industry map. Between their heli, cat, and lift skiing services, RMR offers 515,000 acres of skiable terrain. A full day of cat skiing is $400 CAD, heli skiing starts at $747 CAD for three runs ($58 per additional run), and RMR offers various multiday packages involving combinations of cat skiing, heli skiing and guided touring.
Admittedly, lying nearly 400 miles east of Vancouver and 260 miles west of Calgary, Revelstoke is not the easiest place to get to. But those who enjoy traveling a bit off the beaten path for something different will agree that the remote location is part of what makes Revelstoke really special. As Outside magazine stated when they named RMR the Outside magazine editors’ 2009 choice for best sidecountry, “It’s five hours from Calgary, so it’s still wild.” In addition, the drive goes through two stunningly scenic national parks, making the journey just another part of the adventure. Another option is to fly into the Kelowna airport approximately two hours away, which has flights daily from Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, or Calgary.
RMR is still in the process of building itself up, and when all is said and done the resort plans to operate year round and offer over 100 trails accessed by 20 lifts, 5,000 housing units, and 500,000 square feet of retail and commercial space. Oh, and a golf course too. Revelstoke no doubt lies in the same class as world renowned North American ski destinations like Whistler Blackcomb, Aspen/Snowmass, Vail, and Banff in terms of terrain and snow, but it is also clearly planning at some point to have all the bells and whistles of these classic winter destinations as well. My opinion? Get there soon before it does. If you’re looking for adventure travel in the snow this year more so than the average ski or snowboard vacation, start looking up a trip to Revelstoke, there’s plenty of adventure to be had.