I have been intending to get to Red Mountain for several years. The first time, I broke my leg the first day of the year and missed the rest of the season (2010-2011). The following year, I went to my first Gathering (Tahoe). The year after that I started teaching, plus we did a trip to Utah. The year after that I’m trying to remember what excuses I had. Last year I went to Whistler over New Years, and the Jackson Gathering, then Sunshine Village in May, all with my Mountain Collective Pass.
So I was thinking about Whistler again this year for New Years, until I remembered how f*&#ing expensive and crowded it would be this year. So I pitched the idea of Red Mt to my significant other, who is recovering from her own fractured wrist injury (from last New Years at Whistler). She wasn’t too keen on the idea, until she realized Nelson is about an hour away from Rossland (she has apparently always wanted to visit Nelson, probably after seeing the Steve Martin and Darrryl Hannah movie “Roxanne”). As it turns out, two nights in Rossland and three nights in Nelson is way less expensive that staying in Whistler. Instead of a 4 hour drive to Whistler, it’s a 7 ½ hour drive to Rossland. OK, this works. So we planned the week between Xmas and New Year’s.
If you are flying, Rossland is a 2 ½ hour drive from Spokane. Given that ease of access I would think that Red (and Schweitzer and Silver for that matter) would be more popular destinations than they are; however there aren’t many direct flights to Spokane from most of the continent. Anyone flying from the east would have to connect through Denver or Salt Lake, and I imagine many people would just as soon ski the resorts accessible from those airports.
So Red is uncrowded. And there is a lot of terrain. Red Mt had a huge expansion in 2013, so there are now three lift-serviced peaks, Red, Granite, and Grey, with a vertical drop of 2900’. Red Resort now has 2900 acres of lift-serviced terrain, and up to 4200 acres if you include the cat ski and hike-to terrain. The cat skiing I’m talking about is not Big Red Cats, this is instead $10 per cat rides to Mt Kirkup from the top of the Grey Mt chair. Big Red Cats, now the largest Cat Skiing operation in BC, meets at the base of Red Resort.
The base is pretty easy navigate. There’s a village with condos, and Red Resort’s accommodations, and a few inns. There is a day lodge, with fairly basic facilities, but also Rafters, an excellent apre-ski bar. Apparently locals from Rossland drive the half-dozen kilometers to the resort for nightlife at Rafters, as there isn’t a whole lot of nightlife in Rossland. Parking is easy and a short walk to the base. All day lockers were $3 CDN. Food in the both the base lodge and the Paradise lodge were better-than-typical for ski resorts. Didn’t try the Wiener Take All shack at the bottom of Grey.
Red is known for steeps and tree skiing. The Canadian Freeskiing Championships are held annually at Red. But there is more than gnar; the expansion at Grey opened up 1,000 acres and the majority of that is intermediate terrain, along with some more double-black chutes on the far side of Grey Mt. Per the resort website, .the terrain breaks down as 18% beginner, 31% intermediate, 23% advanced and 28% expert. So using the power of simple mathematics, we see that more than half the terrain is advanced and expert (51%), and Red is also one of the few areas that has more “expert” (double black) than “advanced” single black diamond. And these are not “easy” blacks, the terrain here compares to places like Jackson.
Regardless of the marked trails, you don’t just stay on a clearly marked trail. The boundaries are blurry and the trail names are just kind of there for reference. You go anywhere you want, anywhere you think you can handle. Point your skis “thataway” and keep making on-the-go “thataway” decisions. On both Granite you can ski 360 degrees from the top, Grey about 270 degrees and there are trees and glades and chutes, along with groomed runs.
Speaking of “groomed runs” - there aren’t many. Most of the grooming is the lower part of the mountain from the Silverlode chair. There were maybe two groomed intermediate runs on the Paradise chair and none at the Grey Mt chair. And what they call a blue would in many places be a black.
Speaking of “chair lifts” - all are fixed grip. From the base you take Silverload, a newish fixed grip quad, from there you take an old triple, Motherlode, to get to the top. It takes 30 minutes, dress warmly. Once on top of Granite you can hit double black and black runs, trees and chutes in every direction lapping Motherlode. Or you can head to the east-facing Paradise (another old triple), with some nice intermediate runs, some nice glades and a couple of black diamonds. From the top of Granite/Paradise, head south along the ridge, at the end of the ridge to the left are a few green runs that lead back to the Paradise lift. as well as the Paradise lodge. If you take the ridge to the end and head right, you will be on a long green (though sometimes blue-ish) called Rino’s Run that goes in between Granite and Grey. You can take Rino’s to Grey, or all the way (and it is a long way) back to the Motherlode and Silverlode chairs. If you look on your left you will see the many runs and gladed areas on Grey Mt. On your right you would see the many bowls and chutes you could have dropped in on while cat-tracking the ridge from the top of Granite.
The possible lines are endless, it’s all trees as well, which is good because visibility can be an issue. While we were there we experienced the “Kootenay Sea”, the cloud cover that shrouds the town of Rossland and everywhere else, but when you reach about ½ to ⅔ up the Motherlode and Grey Mt chairs, you are in glorious sunshine and you can see islands of mountaintops in every direction. It’s truly breathtaking. It can be snowing at the base but sunny on top.
The original ski mountain, Red, had the oldest chairlift I have ever seen, an old double. I rode it once. It was my last run on the first day, and thick in the Kootenay Sea. I was told to go when it’s a clear day, the views are apparently spectacular, but I didn’t have that option. instead, I skied through some of the worst fog I’ve ever skied, and very tentatively made my way down to the base.
Both days we had Kootenay Sea days. The snow was nice and dry, though most of the recent storm had been tracked out. Carving skis are probably not the best tool, since there isn’t that much grooming. A good All-Mountain that can take you off -piste is a better choice. I used my Rev 105’s both days and didn’t feel I needed anything else.
Red is kind of strange, parts of it feel like a world-class destination, certainly the terrain is, and there were people coming from East Coast (US and Canada), several Kiwi’s and Aussie’s, and a couple we met from Norway. Yet the facilities seems like an old-school local hill, and most of the skiers and boarder are locals from Rossland and Trail (25 minutes downhill from Rossland).
Top of Granite, snow ghosts everywhere.
Notice the crowds.
They really should do something about the crowd problem.
Rossland. the town is pretty much like this.
Best christmas tree ever. This is not a public display, someone did this on the tree in their front yard.
Top of Grey Mt, Granite in the background, this is right off the top of the Grey chair.
Turned 180 degrees, Mt Kirkup in the background ($10 cat ski rides).
The Kootenay Sea, looking down from Grey.
Another view from the top of Grey.
Rime on the trail map on the top of Granite.
More Kootenay Sea.
A cool little French Canadian Bakery, hidden in an alley in Nelson. We got a tip from a local to go there. Totally worth it.
Greetings from Whitewater!
See? I told you it was Whitewater….
After Rossland, we spend a few nights in Nelson. Nelson is an awesome town, great restaurants, cool downtown area, beautiful setting. Ainsworth Hot Springs is a must. 25 minute drive to Whitewater, easy parking, nice small lodge. No frills but the food at Whitewater is the best of any resort anywhere on this continent. From the base you can take the Silver King (old fixed grip double) lift to one side, with mostly blues and greens. To the other side, the Summit chair (also fixed grip double) has black and blues, and also gets you to Glory Ridge. The terrain at Glory Ridge (fixed grip triple) has a long 2000’ vertical drop, rolling blues and bump runs, along with lots of double black trees everywhere. For a resort known more for powder, Whitewater grooms a lot more than Red. Whitewater is definitely a locals’ kind of place, except that people travel from all over the world in search of powder. We ran into locals as well as a few people from Calgary, some Kiwi’s and a woman from Germany bumming her way around BC.
Both of these resorts feel like anti-resort destination resorts, or locals mountains that attract destination skiers. If you’re looking for Vail, you won’t find it here. What you will find are uncrowded slopes, challenging terrain, great snow (when they have it) spectacular scenery, friendly people, and great food. And given the exchange rate, it’s a bargain.