Snowboarding Road Trip Canada; BC to Alberta - Part 1
By Dave Scoppa
Published April 2007
After a long season of working in a ski resort and putting up with the tourists, there is only one thing to do - become a tourist yourself. And there is no better way to do this than with a few mates and no plans, except to ride some new terrain, see some new towns and most importantly, have some fun.
With the snow melting and spring in full effect, we left our Whistler base and headed east for a 10 day trip of boards, beers and baselines. Our drive would take our through the Okanagan Valley, Revelstoke and then on to our final destination, Banff, home to Lake Louise and many other excellent resorts.
Whistler to Okanagan Valley
As three skint Aussies, we had no car, so all transport was going to be via the reliable Greyhound Bus Service! After a stopover in Vancouver to double-check supplies and essentials, we were off.
Kelowna, or K-Town as it is better known, is a good six hour drive east of Vancouver, and averages approximately 2000 hours of sunlight a year, so it was definitely a nice change from the grey Whistler winter months. The sun-filled skies gave our pasty white bodies the opportunity to gain some much needed attention and the opportunity to search for the Ogopogo - the mysterious lake monster and relative of Scotland's Nessie, that apparently lives in the Okanagan Lake. Unfortunately, our attempts to spot the elusive creature were unsuccessful. Kelowna is also one of the retirement centres of Canada so be warned, it's not the liveliest place. Luckily, my late Grandma lived in Kelowna so after a quick G'Day and a good home cooked meal we were off to the winter wonderland of our final destination.
Kelowna to Revelstoke
A short 4-hour bus ride from Kelowna lies Revelstoke. This is a quiet, quaint town with picturesque scenery. Located in between the Monashee and Columbia Mountain ranges, this beautiful town is also the home of some of sickest backcountry skiing ever. No wonder the late Craig Kelly decided on Revelstoke as his base after one of the most successful snowboarding careers ever. Unfortunately, due to a lack of funds, gear and new snow, we decided to put off the cat-skiing until next time and continue towards Banff where cheaper skiing awaited us.
Our departure was delayed by a whole day when I incorrectly read the bus timetable, but who was complaining? With the long awaited sunshine and one of the most beautiful towns in interior B.C. as our backdrop, no-one seem to mind spending another day beside the local river, playing hacky-sack and doing absolutely nothing. Ah… the serenity.
With an extra day up our sleeves we also decided to go on a bit of an adventure and hitchhike to the nearby hot springs. This natural phenomenon, located 35kms away, are nicely placed with a beautiful mountainous view…a perfect retreat for weary travellers.
Revelstoke to Banff
Revelstoke to Banff is a 4.5-hour journey that took us through the infamous Glacier National Park, Field, and Golden (home to Kicking Horse).
Located half way between Revelstoke and Golden lies Glacier National Park that contains more than 340 Glaciers. Rain and snow are very common here and it snows almost every day in winter and rains almost every day in summer. This area is also home to the Rogers Pass, a popular destination for backcountry bandits. Snowfall for this area averages 23m and guess what? - It was snowing as we came through. Funny that!
Located 138km west of Calgary, this town is the centre of the Canadian Rockies. It's a small place which consists of one main street and not a lot else, but the town's size does not reflect the large amount of activities that are available from its centre.
Once settled, it was time to get back to the snow. This was going to be our last few days of the season so we had to enjoy it. We caught up with some other mates and headed to Lake Louise. Be warned, this place is cold. With temperatures dropping to a nice -40C on average in January be sure to expect the frost bite on exposed skin! We certainly did not come prepared and it was snowing as we arrived, dumping 20cm overnight.
Lake Louise is awesome. The mountain offers 4000 acres of terrain and a vertical drop of 3100 feet. The super cold weather ensures that the powder stays light and dry all season long and our end-of-season dump was exactly that. Riding in 20cm of light dry powder when you're expecting spring slush was a welcome bonus. The view from Lake Louise is beautiful too. High mountain ranges in the distance and nothing for miles at either end. There is no real town either as everyone basically commutes from Banff that is approximately 45min away by bus. The mountain has plenty on offer for all riders of all standards. The backcountry is easily accessible and this is where we headed when it had snowed and within a short hike we had some pretty sweet turns.
The next day we decided to ride Sunshine Village. This place receives over 400 inches of snow each year and boosts 100% natural snow - no snow guns here. Spring skiing at most places is pretty average and unfortunately our day at Sunshine was just that, so I will not be too harsh, as we did not experience it in mid-winter. To give it credit though, they have an area called 'Delirium Dive' which is super steep and for extreme experts only, (it's only accessible through gates and you must have avalanche gear). I don't think it was even open when we there so it didn't matter.
We didn't return to Sunshine, instead opting to ride at the lake for the rest of our trip. There was better terrain and a better park. I think the 20cm of fresh a few days earlier meant we had a soft spot for the place. With the resort closing in three days we decided to hit it up each day - plus the lifties were super cool, letting the three of us ride for just a 6-pack of beer for three days! I love the smell of corruption in the mornings.
Banff is also home to another resort called Norquay. The smallest of the three resorts in the area, but also the closest. Unfortunately this time we did not venture to this hill -deciding instead to leave something for next time.
Lake Louise - the actual lake the resort is named after lies directly opposite the ski area. Unfortunately it is not easily accessible and there is not much out there so we settled for the view instead. Not a bad option!
Banff to Vancouver
A 15 hours straight overnight trip on the Greyhound is not recommended, but with time running out it was the only option. We left Banff and headed back to Vancouver. Our Road trip was over.
The trip from Vancouver to Banff is absolutely beautiful. The mountains are incredible and the scenery is simply world-class. Interior B.C. is home to some of the most incredible mountain ranges in the world and our trip didn't disappoint.
So the verdict: a must for any snow-fan. With beautiful scenery, rustic yet vibrant towns and good skiing and snowboarding, this is a trip everyone should do at least once. Hitting the road lets you absorb the land that you miss from the air, so next time, forget airports and runways, leave your passport at home, and head for the highways.
Dave Scoppa is a well seasoned snowboard instructor and columnist for SnowSphere Magazine.
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