The Best Lesser-Known Ski Resorts Around Vancouver

B.C.'s ski hills are praised around the world, but even locals might be missing out on some of the province's most magnificent mountains

Credit: Megan Brown

Powder High

It’s high season for bowls, bumps, big air, bunnies and maybe an après-ski brew or two. B.C. skiers and snowboarders enjoy the best of all these things – with a heaping side of sweet scenery, terrain and powder, especially if you go off the beaten track. Yes, Whistler, Sun Peaks and Big White are go-tos for a reason, but with a wealth of legendary mountains to choose from, the following lesser-known ski destinations should be on your must-try powder list.   

Red Mountain, Rossland

Tucked into B.C.’s Kootenay region along the “Powder Highway” – a group of ski resorts in the southeast corner of the province – this long-beloved ski resort (Canada’s oldest) has gotten even better, boasting an additional 22 runs plus a new quad chair this winter. It’s been called the last great unspoiled resort, which is ski bum for “tons of skiable acreage with no peeps!” as one devotee puts it. Traditionally known for fall-line tree skiing and challenging terrain, Red Mountain now has plenty of wide-open groomed runs for bunnies and intermediates (stick to the Silverlode and Paradise areas).

And you won’t find a better après-ski scene than in Rossland, “Alpine City,” where the legendary Rafters (voted “North America’s Best Ski Area Bar” by Powder magazine) houses a shrine to the local Old Bastards Ski Club. And, with The New York Times rating Rossland as the eighth “Best Place in the World to Visit in 2013,” you need to get there before everyone else.

By the numbers: 2,682 skiable acres; 890 metres of vertical drop; 110 runs; 7 lifts; 7.5 metres of annual snowfall; $72 for adult day ticket

Extras: Rockstar Energy Terrain Park; Grey Mountain Cat Skiing ($10/ride); snowshoe loop

Stay: Ski in/out accommodations; Rossland is 10 minutes away

Whitewater, Nelson

Whitewater has the highest base elevation of any ski resort in Canada (1,626 metres), which means some 12 metres of powder on average. Powder magazine calls it “one of the best powder mountains on the continent.” That mountain, Ymir, radiates runs in every direction – fall-line cut runs, glades, chutes, open bowls and groomers. Think steeps and deeps, plus unnamed stashes and backcountry access for hardcore powder hounds.

Plus, there are no crowds, despite just three lifts.

Then there’s the rather upscale food scene. Refuel between runs at the resort’s Fresh Tracks Café (daily specials pictured right), where gourmet granola fare includes bison burgers and the local favourite Glory Bowl, a skillet dish with brown rice, beets, carrots, almonds, spinach leaves and tofu that’s dressed with a soy-garlic vinaigrette (there’s now even a food truck and cookbook that features this dish, Whitewater Cooks).

By the Numbers: 1,184 acres of skiable terrain; 623 metres of vertical drop; 78 runs; 3 lifts; 12 metres of average annual snowfall; $68 for adult day ticket

Must-ski: Local pros’ fave run, The Blast

Extras: 15 km of Nordic ski trails; 10 km of snowshoeing trails

Stay: No slope-side accommodations, but Nelson is 15 minutes away

Apex Mountain, Penticton

Just west of Penticton, Apex Mountain Resort is slightly smaller in skiable acreage and vertical drop than Red or Whitewater but makes up for it with fun terrain, from steep chutes to bump runs (including a World Cup mogul course). As one fan says, “It may be small, but it packs a wallop in terrain.” Ski Canada Magazine even named it the “Best Small Destination Resort” in Canada.

And for freestyle skiing – moguls, aerials, ski-cross – Apex is becoming a mecca. It boasts three terrain parks with a good mix of jumps, rails, boxes and the “Bus,” a rideable feature that’s, you guessed it, a school bus.

After a full day of runs, head to the Gunbarrel Saloon, where the classic warm-up is the Gunbarrel coffee into which flaming Grand Marnier is poured through a double-barrelled shotgun.

Must-ski: For those who like moguls, try the K, or go nice and easy on the 5-km Grandfather’s Trail, the longest scenic run

By the numbers: 1,112 skiable acres; 610 metres of vertical drop; 67 runs; 4 lifts; 6 metres of annual snowfall; $66 for adult day ticket

Extras: Orage Terrain Park, Claim Jumper Park and Crooked Park; Adventure Skating Loop; Tube Park

Stay: Ski in/out accommodations; Penticton is 30 minutes away

Mount Baker, Washington

Venture across the border to Mount Baker where the 3,286-metre namesake looms far above the ski area. Only two hours from downtown Vancouver, you’ll feel both remote and oh-so-small surrounded by the wilderness of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and North Cascades National Park.

This is the place for lovers of the sport who crave untracked, powder-filled terrain. This long-standing mountain (60 years) is backcountry friendly, and proudly puts the focus on skiing and snowboarding — you won’t find fancy après-ski or cell-phone service here. Tons of pro-riders compete in the annual Legendary Banked Slalom race, where the gnarliest of boarders gather in pursuit of a bronzed roll of duct tape (the original trophy when the race began in 1985). Dare to enter the race lottery or, even better, track the action from within the Raven Hut while sipping a Washington State microbrew.

By the numbers: 1,000 skiable acres; 484 metres of vertical drop; 38 runs; 8 lifts; US$55 for adult day ticket, average snowfall 16.5 metres

Extras: Located in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest with no facilities beyond the White Salmon Day Lodge and Raven Hut. The Legendary Banked Slalom race takes place February 7 to 9 this ski season.

Stay: No slope-side accommodations; Abbotsford is 70 minutes away, Bellingham is 75 minutes away

Mount Washington, Vancouver Island

The alpine coastal setting of Mount Washington in Vancouver Island’s Comox Valley means it’s sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and Strathcona Park in one sweet snow spot. Known for getting some of Canada’s deepest snow (in 2010/2011, the resort had a record-breaking 19-metre snowpack), it cloaks trees in layers of the fluffy stuff and makes for some surreal riding.

And while it has its share of challenging terrain, Mount Washington has made a point of drawing the beginner crowd with a massive investment in its Easy Acres area. So, while novices glide up bunny hills on moveable walkways, adrenaline seekers are knee-deep on the Powder Face black-diamond open bowl.

Must-ski: Empty powder stashes off the backside of the Sunrise chair

By the numbers: 1,700 skiable acres; 505 metres of vertical drop; 55 km of Nordic skiing/snowshoeing trails; 81 runs; 5 lifts; 14 metres of annual snowfall; $75 for adult day ticket

Stay: Ski in/out accommodations; Courtenay is 45 minutes away