Hit the highway from Vancouver to Calgary this winter
There’s a corner of this planet where deep powder skiing is the norm, goliath rocky peaks far outnumber the people exploring them and vast wilderness reigns supreme. It’s a place that should be on the bucket list of any skier that’s ever strapped a pair of wooden planks to their feet and slid downhill on slippery, frozen flakes. We’re talking about the expansive area west of Calgary, Alberta—western Canada.
Though its status as the epicenter of North American powder skiing is a tale as old as time, what’s not common knowledge is how incredibly easy it is to link the snow-loaded ski destinations that dot western Canada’s landscape. Thankfully, FREESKIER’s editors and contributors have spent countless days and weeks exploring the region in order to report back our findings to you.
Relying on our own past visits and the knowledge of lifelong locals, we’ve constructed the western Canadian skiing road trip of your dreams. The journey will take you from Vancouver to Calgary, stopping at six resorts along the way.
Grab your gear, get your friends together and start planning, there’s no better time than now to book that one-way flight to YVR.
WORDS • PADDY O’CONNELL
Get your red n’ black flannel and denim ready, friends. A four-and-a-half-hour drive from Whistler will find you at the extraordinary oddity that is Sun Peaks Resort. The peculiarity of this three-mountain “yippee” factory lies merely in the fact that more skiers don’t know about it. The snow is light, high-quality and, generally, untracked. The playful terrain is a skier’s dream. Crowds are harder to find than an unflattering picture of Trudeau. Sidenote: that guy is truly the most handsome Prime Minister in history. Oh, and—careful not to spit your poutine across the room—Sun Peaks boasts over 100 runs with 3,000 vertical on 4,270 acres. Holy Tim Hortons, that’s big.
Sun Peaks is Canada’s second largest ski resort. Typically, the droves of skiers that migrate north to B.C. head toward Whistler, Revelstoke, Fernie or the like, and overlook this snowy giant like a Canuck disregards an empty bottle of maple syrup. But that’s not such a bad thing on a powder day. Lift lines are a rarity, and the folks who are in the know are approachable locals and smiling return visitors. The resort has a family-friendly atmosphere but don’t let that fool you. This is a skier’s paradise. On paper, annual snowfall is no jaw dropper; around 237 inches annually. But storms can hover on the resort for days, sometimes a week straight. If you love to wriggle and swivel through deep, untracked blower snow, Sun Peaks is your spot.
Hip draggers need not shy away. There’s fun for you, too. The highlight groomer is 5 Mile, which is in fact a five-mile long, top to bottom ribbon of corduroy. Make sure to stretch your quads and hammies prior to descent. She’s a burner. You can access some fun n’ flowy rolling blues off of the Morrisey Express. Be sure to dip into the trees to skier’s left for some spicy glades. Everything in Crystal Bowl is tasty and satisfying with a good bit of challenge.
But the real gem of Sun Peaks is Gil’s; three rolling benches of undisturbed frosty depth that sit on 500 acres of slaphappy terrain. Formerly a backcountry locals’ secret pow stash, Gil’s was brought into the resort boundary in 2015. Thank you, sweet lord. It’s a hike-to, but it’s not Everest. A five to ten-minute uphill walkabout is all that’s standing in the way of you and the line you’ve been waiting for. If you don’t laugh hysterically in Gil’s while undulating through feathery B.C. pow, your joy meter might be broken.
After a day enjoying the deepness, head to the village core. It’s quaint and unassuming, but all the restaurants are tasty. Bottoms Bar and Grill has a come-as-you-are-get-ready-to-chat-with-locals feeling, and delicious pub vittles. The best coffee, pastries and breakfast sammies can be found at Bolacco Café (chat up the owners—they’re awesome). The Voyageur Bistro has all the Canadian classics for supper. It’s a wee-bit pricier than other spots but it’s still an affordable, dressed down, swanky dinner.
A few days at Sun Peaks will have you wondering, “How in the hell aren’t there more people here?!” But that really doesn’t matter. The only thing to worry about is how quickly you can get to this sleeping giant before the secret gets out.
Sun Peaks by the numbers
Average Annual Snowfall: 237 inches
Total Skiable Acreage: 4,270 acres
Number of lifts: 13
Vertical Drop: 2,894 feet