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Banff Big 3 vs. Powder Highway

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 

I've never skied Western Canada but hope to change that next year.  The feedback I have received is that BC is better than Banff but when I look at the Lake Louise trail map it seems quite impressive.  I'm considering a trip in early January and am heavily biased towards the Powder Highway but want to do more research before ruling out Lake Louise.  I have no interest in Whistler (I want dry snow).  I am an expert and my 12 year old son (who will ski with me) is advanced bordering on expert.  I have some (but not extensive) powder experience while my son has limited powder experience.  The three resorts that appeal to me most are Revelstoke, Whitewater and Fernie.  Any thoughts would be appreciated.

post #2 of 19

Where are you travelling from and how long of a trip are you planning? Flying, driving or both?

 

While Lake Louise had a record snowfall last winter they are not known as a real powdery mountain. Great terrain though.

 

Fernie and Revy are about 8 hours apart with the often closed Rogers Pass section of highway between the two, so not ideal for both in the same trip.

 

Whitewater and Revy about 4 hours apart.

 

Answer my questions and i will give you a better itinerary.

post #3 of 19

Where are you from?

Where do you normally ski?

How much driving do you want to do?

Where have you been before?

What time of the year?

Define Expert?

post #4 of 19
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by surfacehoar View Post

Where are you from?

Where do you normally ski?

How much driving do you want to do?

Where have you been before?

What time of the year?

Define Expert?

-I am from the US but live in the Middle East.

-Grew up in the mid-West but went to college in Colorado.  Skied most major resorts in Colorado, Jackson Hole, Tahoe and the major East Coast resorts. Also, Portillo.  Last 6 years I've skied only the Alps (Val D'Isere, Tignes, Verbier and Zermatt).  I've done 2 days of heliskiing (Portillo and Zermatt).  Did a weak of guided off piste in Zermatt. 

- Would be coming either first week in January or mid-March.

- Define Expert:  Can ski pretty much anything in bounds (except the stuff that requires you to jump 25 feet to enter the trail).  I like steeps but in heavy powder prefer a more mild incline.  I am at the point where in-bounds skiing starts to get boring but am not accomplished out of bounds. 

- I ski 2 or 3 weeks per year.

 

I would fly into Seattle or Calgary and plan the trip from there.  I normally like to get to a resort without a car but for this trip would consider renting and driving from Seattle or Calgary (as far as I can tell it is difficult to get too close to the resorts by air).

post #5 of 19

Compared to January, March might present longer daylight hours, deeper overall snow pack, and slightly less of a chance of deeply frigid temperatures?

Calgary to Sunshine, Lake Louise, and Kicking Horse might be a nice itinerary and in reasonable proximity to each other.

post #6 of 19

The OP mentioned interest in Whitewater and Revy so here is what I recommend: fly to Chicago or Seattle with a connection flight to Spokane (should be cheaper than flying into Canada). Rent a car and drive 2.5 hours to Red Mountain (2800' vertical and great tree skiing), then less than 1.5 hours to Whitewater (most snow of any major resort in Canada, btw I define major Canadian ski resort as at least 3 chairs and 2000' vert. and Whitewater just makes it). From Whitewater it is about 4 hours north to Revelstoke (biggest vertical in North America but low elevation) via highway 6 and 23 and includes a free 20 minute free ferry ride across Upper Arrow Lake, and runs 7am to midnight. This is the most reliable way to access to Revelstoke.

 

Then on the way back to Spokane, do another day at Whitewater, then it is about 2.5 hours via Creston B.C. to Schwitzer Basin at Sandpoint, Idaho, and then about an hour or less to Spokane.

 

Something to keep in mind: the B.C. Interior which includes The Powder Highway and The Thompson/Okanagan region contains 11 major resorts and numerous Cat and Heli operations and is a large enough area to swallow up the entire European Alps, so things are spread out and several ski trips are needed to ski it all.

 

Hope this helps.

post #7 of 19
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the replies.  Very helpful.  I must admit that I had never heard of the Okanagan region resorts.  How do they compare to the Powder Highway resorts?  Do they get the same snow?  The trail maps for Apex, Silver Star and Sun Peaks look interesting.

 

 

post #8 of 19

This to me is a seasonal question.  January strongly favors the Powder Highway resorts that get more snow, but many of them (notably Red and Fernie) are low altitude and potentially sloppy in spring.  Lake Louise and Sunshine are at their best in March/April with gradual snow accumulation and colder weather to preserve the snow better.  Use Spokane as the gateway airport for the January trip if you can.

post #9 of 19

Regarding Okanagan resorts- Apex is challenging but small, Big White is a family resort which means nice amenities, not steep except for the Cliff plus it is often foggy hence the nickname 'Big Whiteout'. Silver Star can be great on the Putnam side but is elevation challenged. I live near Fernie but really like the suggestion of Spokane ->Red->Whitewater->Revy and return especially in January. 

post #10 of 19
Thread Starter 

Thanks again.  Another option is the first week of April but this seems to be risky re: snow quality, although snow was great last year in April.

post #11 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by chraya View Post

I've never skied Western Canada but hope to change that next year.  The feedback I have received is that BC is better than Banff but when I look at the Lake Louise trail map it seems quite impressive.  I'm considering a trip in early January and am heavily biased towards the Powder Highway but want to do more research before ruling out Lake Louise.  I have no interest in Whistler (I want dry snow).  I am an expert and my 12 year old son (who will ski with me) is advanced bordering on expert.  I have some (but not extensive) powder experience while my son has limited powder experience.  The three resorts that appeal to me most are Revelstoke, Whitewater and Fernie.  Any thoughts would be appreciated.

 

The powder highway is much better then the Big 3 (obviously my opinion). Powder highway receives quite a bit more snow. The 3 resorts you want to check out are all great option, Fernie is personally my favorite, but Revy and Whitewater are awesome places too. You couldn't go wrong with taking a trip to either three of those resorts.

post #12 of 19

Coming all the way from the middle east, I'd pick March.

 

Last January 6th I flew into Spokane with the intention of skiing your same basic itinerary.  I did my homework and watched the weather carefully.

The night before we arrived it rained to the top at Schweitzer and Fernie.  So we headed in the direction of Whitewater/Revelstoke.  We got really good skiing, but it was still early season conditions at both and could have easily been bad. Our cat trip at Big Red Cat's got canceled, but we were able to get some last minute seats at Baldface Lodge, which I would highly recommend!

 

We had so much fun, that we're doing it again January 4, 2013.  But we book via Southwest Airlines and if it's not good, we just rebook?

post #13 of 19

It is true we can get some freak warm weather systems in January in the PNW and BC, we call it a Pineapple Express.  But I would not say that's the norm for early January.

 

Still, gotta agree with Shredhead, March is often ideal.  The last three years the heaviest month of snowfall has been in March and most of it was nice snow.  Spring-like tempreatures don't seem to happen until April, and sometimes not even then.  Fewer skiers, too.

 

I like Dano's proposed itinerary for the resorts you're interested, The addition of Red Mt and Schweitzer to the list will add some more fun and break up the driving time a bit.   Dano's hit the road quite a bit.  This is a guy who drove his camper from Sun Peaks to the Gathering, then Mammoth, then headed back north to do the kind of itinerary you're looking at.

post #14 of 19
Quote:
Another option is the first week of April

Which would be just fine for Banff/Lake Louise.   

 

I've been skiing in western Canada nearly every year since 1997, usually a mix of resorts and snowcat.  My usual time frame is late January/early February.  For the Powder Highway areas the risk of sloppy low elevation snow after mid-March is substantial.  The last 2 seasons it's dumped through March/April, but that's just luck.  Early January there's some risk of steep terrain not yet being covered, I would say Red Mt. being very steep would be the riskiest.  But Whitewater, Revy and Fernie get quite a bit more snow and Schweitzer/Whitefish are not as steep as Red and are usually in good shape by New Year's.  If you're considering some cat skiing that's another reason to choose January for better powder preservation.  From Baldface and north through the Selkirks and Monashees all of those places get 400+ inches and coverage by early January is very rarely an issue but sun in March can be.

post #15 of 19
My advice, save the trip until your son turns 15. Then focus your trip on the cat/heli experience.

In the meantime,
Go back to the alps or Japan. If you are set on n.america try Utah.
post #16 of 19
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tony Crocker View Post

Which would be just fine for Banff/Lake Louise.   

 

I've been skiing in western Canada nearly every year since 1997, usually a mix of resorts and snowcat.  My usual time frame is late January/early February.  For the Powder Highway areas the risk of sloppy low elevation snow after mid-March is substantial.  The last 2 seasons it's dumped through March/April, but that's just luck.  Early January there's some risk of steep terrain not yet being covered, I would say Red Mt. being very steep would be the riskiest.  But Whitewater, Revy and Fernie get quite a bit more snow and Schweitzer/Whitefish are not as steep as Red and are usually in good shape by New Year's.  If you're considering some cat skiing that's another reason to choose January for better powder preservation.  From Baldface and north through the Selkirks and Monashees all of those places get 400+ inches and coverage by early January is very rarely an issue but sun in March can be.

Thanks again, Tony.  By the way, I love your website.  

post #17 of 19
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by surfacehoar View Post

My advice, save the trip until your son turns 15. Then focus your trip on the cat/heli experience.
In the meantime,
Go back to the alps or Japan. If you are set on n.america try Utah.

You read my mind.  I may save BC for another year and do Utah this year.  I will definitely do at least one trip to the Alps regardless of whether or not I make to North America.  Japan is a future destination but not this year.

post #18 of 19

If you check the "High Season Rates" for snow cat operators in the B.C. Interior you will discover that it goes from mid January to mid March. This usually corresponds to the best ski conditions for the entire region.

post #19 of 19
Quote:
If you check the "High Season Rates" for snow cat operators in the B.C. Interior you will discover that it goes from mid January to mid March. This usually corresponds to the best ski conditions for the entire region.

+1  Furthermore the rates tend to vary by historical conditions for the specific operator.  For heli operations with a lot of high altitude alpine terrain the high season rates may go through late March.

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