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A week at Kicking Horse

post #1 of 2
Thread Starter 
The subject title should probably read "A week in Golden, BC". In early December a friend called me wanting to arrange a week trip for this winter. Having read several posts here about Kicking Horse and seen the mountain and the White Tooth area (corrections from Calgarians appreciated) that Kicking Horse grew out of while passing through Golden on the TCan1 we focused immediately on spending 2/9-16 in Golden.

Our immediate first impression was "what a fantastic mountain". The variety of terrain, steep chutes, groomers, glades, trees, vertical footage, etc. is stunning. Our almost immediate second impression as we drove closer to the mountain and rode the gondola was "there's no snow". While the Kicking Horse web site shows 74 of 78 runs as open, many runs have signs reading "not recommended for skiing - the management". Numbers below key to the on line trail map.

Snow on the lower mountain is very spotty. Much of the skiing on the lower mountain is picking your way through rocks, stumps, scrub trees, etc. on bumps trying to link together a few turns. Best coverage on the lower mountain is on groomers- Kicking Horse (21), Wily Coyote (17), Buffalo Jump (15) and Big Ben (12). We also picked our way down Bubbly (31), Euphoria (32), Porcupine (19), Show Off (30) and Double Header (25).

In our judgement the best skiing was on the upper mountain. Chutes off of Redemption Ridge, CPR Ridge, Think Twice (35), Flying Dutchman (34), Sluiceway (33) and over toward Glory (75) held packed snow that was very skiable although it had been a couple of weeks since they had received any snow at all and then it had only been a few inches. Although we skied the mogul field on My Blue Heaven (38) several times it was definately not our favorite (I've got 47 years of skiing in this pair of knees and want to get at least another 25 years out of them). Although we did not venture across the area boundarys both the western side of Feuz Bowl (eastern side of Feuz that can be accessed from Redemption Ridge seems to be a point of contention between KHR and Purcell Heliski) and Super Bowl were being skied by locals and looked fairly good.

A third party view of the conditons comes from a group of French Canadians who were also staying at the Ramada Inn. They thought the snow condtions were excellent. The few times we happened to see any of this group on the mountain they were zoomin' on the groomin'. My friend is also French Canadian although his standard for conditions is biased by many years of skiing in BC and western US. The zoomin' was very good but a bit boring when you're looking for the steep and deep. We ended up using only three days of our five-out-of-seven day lift tickets.

A couple comments on logistics. We booked a week package through Kicking Horse Resort and accomodations were very reasonable. I happened to have some personal business in Calgary so I drove up and we had my car for the week. A "snow shuttle" stops at the hotels in town hourly (I believe - check the web site) and shuttles to the mountain. We originally considered stay in condos at the mountain but were glad we did not. Prices were considerably higher and we would have been driving to town for dinner every night (no real facilities at the mountain - give it a few years to develop). Many good restaurants in Golden - Kicking Horse Grill, Mad Trapper, Turning Point and Cedar House to name a few.

So what did we do for the other days that we forfeited on our package lift ticket? Skied two days with Purcell Heliski. Although I've done many week long heliski trips with CMH over the last thirty years this was my first experience with day trips and with Purcell. It's definately a very different experience than CMH. Much slower moving, low key, etc. Purcell accomodates both multi-day packages (3, 5 and 7 day I believe - see the web site) and day skiers with the same heli. Although they attempt to keep the day skier operation from impacting the package skiersand vis versa that is not always possible. With the required safety training (tranceiver and heli) for the day skiers we showed up at 9 am and were not on the heli until after 11:30. The package skiers showed up at 10am and had their first lift at about 11am. Day skiers managed one lift before lunch. The package skiers managed two. Our first day there were two groups of day skiers and one group of package skiers. We (there were three of us together) switched into the package skiers group after lunch and managed a total of four runs for the day (about 3000 meters). On our second day we were with the package skiers all day and managed seven runs (a little over 5000 meters). Over the years we have found that the time and energy required for a 1000+ meter run is usually about the same as for shorter runs (in this case most runs we skied were 700 to 800 meters).

So how was the skiing? Excellent considering the conditons. Lots of boot top or deeper powder through mostly glades (our preference anyway) with some alpine bowls. Some wind slab in the alpine areas. The guides worked hard to find us snow. We were flying to the far reaches of their terrain. Although their license area includes many longer and steeper runs it was obvious that the slide hazard was rather nasty. We saw many recent slides that had climaxed through two layers to bare ground on slopes of the same exposure and only slightly steeper than the runs we skied. Due to the lack of snow we could see the surface hoar was creating yet another unstable layer that will be buried by the next snow. Picking up a handful of facets was like picking up a handful of one inch long pieces of broken glass. We did have several sections of steep through glades that linked together for 100 turns. I also tore some pretty good holes in my babies (Volkl G40s) and have some work to do on them.

Conclussion? Kicking Horse is a phenomenal mountain suffering from the same lack of snow that is common across western North America this year. KHR seems to be focused on growing slowly to avoid financial hazards and I hope they will survive for the long term. In an average snow year it would be a mind blower. Same for Purcell. A little more laid back than what I'm use to but a good snow year would open up a lot fo their terrain than had either been skied already or was unavailable due to the conditions.
post #2 of 2
How can I thank you enough, PowderJunkie, for posting your opinions of current conditions of KH? Unfortunately (altho' probably understandably) the KH website isn't providing a true picture of the conditions. Given that there have been 2 recent and deadly avalanche accidents in the Kootenays, I don't think that I'm brave enough to try the heliskiing option, so regrettably our visit there will have to wait until a better snow year.
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