Canadian Skiing Road Trip

We have both wanted to ski at the Whistler Blackcomb Resort in Whistler, British Columbia Canada. Since we’re living in Bozeman, Montana, within striking distance of B.C., this winter we decided to take a road trip and go skiing! I picture skiing in Whistler as an epic shot from a Warren Miller ski film… deep powder runs that go on forever. Basically skiing inside a snow globe!!!!

This trip is really multi-purpose; at some point in the near future our full-time travel adventure will end but we have no idea where we want to live. So we’re taking this opportunity to explore a few places! Our first stop on this road trip was Coeur d’Alene Idaho which we had heard was an interesting mountain town part of the greater Spokane Washington area. We stayed a super cute and really affordable property called the Blackwell Hotel. It’s really a BnB / wedding venue within walking distance of Coeur d’Alene Lake and all of the shops, restaurants, and bars downtown. My impression is that Coeur d’Alene would be a great place to retire or raise a family as it is small, quaint, beautiful, and peaceful. But it doesn’t fit our current desires.

Our next stop was Bellingham, Washington! However on the way there, I fell in love with was Snoqualmie Washington!!! Holy cute town and amazing farms just right outside of town. I’d like to explore this small town some more, but with places to go and slopes to ski we pressed on. We stayed at the Oxford Suites in Bellingham, also amazingly  inexpensive and great value – free parking, free wi-fi, free breakfast (which is our go to trifecta) AND free happy hour! Yes – free happy hour, that included two drinks each (which we didn’t use), and a soup and salad bar. So needless to say we didn’t see much of Bellingham because we never left the hotel. We did visit Birch Bay the next day which was very cute, but it felt like a tourist town, which also doesn’t fit our current desires.

Birch Bay – Washington!

After crossing into Canada through the Peace Arch, which commemorates the Treaty of Ghent and the end of the War of 1812, we drove to Vancouver for lunch. I have only visited Vancouver one other time, and I flew in so I didn’t really get a feel for the size of the city, just the cruise ship port. Vancouver felt very international and interesting, despite the fact that everyone was speaking English.  What I really enjoyed was West Vancouver! What an amazingly beautiful area with tons of small businesses in their historical downtown area. There were shops selling flowers out on the street.  Yes flowers–outside in the winter! But our destination was Whistler and skiing, despite my draw to the Pacific ocean, mild temperatures, and lovely seaside town of West Vancouver!

West Vancouver Shore View

On the way to Whistler we drove through Squamish, BC which is a climbing mecca at the end of one of the Pacific Coast’s deepest Fjords. We stopped in the adventure center for a rest stop and coffee and were just taken aback by how much rock was literally in-town. Amazeballs! We have to go back there and CLIMB! Just outside of Squamish the road begins to wind, steepen, and get snowy. After a short drive we were in Whistler…

Small section of the rock next to the road in Squamish

We got a fairly inexpensive stay and ski package at the Summit Lodge Hotel, not quite slopeside but close enough with a great shuttle to the lifts. We skied back-to-back days at Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort and racked up 35,000 feet of vertical descent – needless to say our legs felt that! Whistler is not however a secret by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a busy full-scale resort operation, recently purchased by Vail Resorts, that according to the locals we talked with can lead to lift lines measured by the hour….good thing we were there mid-week. It’s a big, big, big (8,171 acres) resort with three distinct village areas and the second longest run in North America. It’s literally a 5,000 foot descent in one run, and yes, we skied it, all 7 miles down the Peak to Creek run. The two mountains, Whistler and Blackcomb, are connected by a three-mile long gondola, which offers amazing views and scenery. The mountains offer different aspects of skiing so you can find stash spots and sunlight anytime of day if you know where to look. During our visit, it was bluebird but they had not had new snow in a week, so it was pretty hard packed and skied out, but still really fun. According to Skiing Magazine, “A few double-blacks at Vail would barely be single-blacks in Whistler.” That being said, our favorite spot was the Whistler Bowl. The entrance is steep and filled with deep, icy-hard, moguls that lead to an even steeper open bowl. Standing straight up I could almost touch the slope behind me with my uphill hand, so read steep.

Skiing the Lakeside Bowl at Whistler Blackcomb

We were picking our way down a rock band, and happily found a good exit which looked pretty tame. However, the entrance was plagued with a branch poking through the snow so we were forced to enter a little further away from the edge than I would have liked. Sean skied out and was quickly out of sight, so I entered with as little hesitation as I could muster. The first three seconds went great, then before I could blink I was flying superman style – my bodyweight was way too far forward! Happily this cliff band opened up to a big apron and I was able to quickly get my skies facing downhill again. I caught up to Sean near the chairlift but not before coming off a small (unplanned) jump which I landed in the seated position. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stand backup, so I skidded onto the groomer run next to the lift sitting on the back of my skis. Sadly only one of my skis came with me, so read crash number two.

In my mind – I look just like this! PC: Michael Maturi @mutle_99

But not to be deterred by crashes we went right back up the lift and right back down the bowl but without any crashing! We ended up running a few laps in this bowl before moving onto new terrain. With 8,171 acres to explore in just two-days we didn’t ski very many runs more than once.

Having chatted with a number of people we decided that after skiing Whistler, we would head East through Canada and ski at Revelstoke Mountain Resort. Revelstoke is best known for its legendary cat and heli skiing operations, but it also has the most vertical in North America at 5,620 feet of lift-accessed terrain in 3,121 acres. Here’s an interesting list of ski resort statistics for some reference.

Up to this point we had driven in warm sunny weather, but we left Whistler in a snow storm that continued until we got back to Bozeman. ) The highway between Whistler and Revelstoke cuts across a high mountain valley in an area that sees more logging traffic than anything else before it joins the Trans Canadian highway. Needless to say we drove in icy, snow packed, whiteout conditions for a few days, which is totally exhausting. (In total we used four wheel drive on ice and snow packed roads for 800 miles of our journey.) But we arrived at Revelstoke to ski a perfect powder day. Revelstoke feels small, despite being larger than all the ski resorts in Colorado except Vail (it’s only a few acres shy of being equal in size to Snowmass). What’s really different about Revelstoke is it only has two gondolas and two chair lifts, but those take you up over a vertical mile. Their longest run is a quad bursting 9.5 miles!!!!! So we skied all day and only got in 10 runs, but that was 25,000 feet of vertical descent. The only thing we didn’t ski at Revelstoke was the hike to double black diamond North Bowl.

Sean all smiles with the piles of POW at his feet in Revelstoke!

After skiing all day we stayed at the Valley Retreat BnB which is just two minutes from the resort. This place seriously caters to ski and riders with this custom-built boot and glove dryer.

Valley Resort BnB – Garage Tuning Shop!

We’re so happy that we stopped and skied in Revelstoke despite the fatigue that built up in our legs from the previous days of skiing.

Traveling without a schedule is really such a gift! You can chase powder and follow recommendations from new friends, without the burden of running short on time.

So we packed up our ski gear for the last time and pointed the truck East towards Banff. What stood between us and Banff was Roger’s Pass, a vast ski touring area in the Canadian Glacier National Park. It quickly becomes obvious that you are in the heart of avalanche country which is heavily advertised and very different from what you come across in the US. It was dumping snow so we really couldn’t see much of the landscape over Roger’s Pass or in Banff. So, we stopped for lunch in Banff, but ultimately pushed onto Calgary where we stopped for the night. By comparison, Calgary only has half the population of Vancouver; downtown Calgary is smaller and the suburbs seemed closer but it’s just as modern and lovely. We were thrilled to be off the road and enjoyed a quiet evening at Hotel Le Germain where we watched the Superbowl.

The next day we drove the remaining 500 miles back to Bozeman, where we were greeted with a snow storm that left 5 inches of new snow. Driving through Montana I was struck by the fact that there are no large cities, no NFL, NHL, NBA, or MLB teams here. This is the fourth largest state in the US, but it rank 48th in population density as only a million people live in the entire state. As far as searching for a new home goes, Montana and Idaho don’t seem to be the right fit, maybe Snoqualmie Washington but West Vancouver or Squamish, BC have definitely made the list of possibilities. Our search for the perfect Ocean and Mountain town continues. Here are few pictures from this trip – enjoy!

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