“You like to go fast, eh?”
It’s an innocent enough question, but coming from Revelstoke local and former cat skiing guide Rob Elliott, it gives me pause. His legs are as big as some of the tree trunks below us, his beefy skis plow through the new powder more easily than mine, and I suspect he and I have a different definition of the word “fast.” We’re perched at the edge of a steep forested area called “Glades of Glory,” and my legs are already wobbly from chasing him down a fast and narrow trail dubbed “Vertigo.” Then again, this might be the one and only time I ski British Columbia’s mythic Revelstoke Mountain Resort, and I don’t want to miss anything.
“I’m not opposed to speed,” I say, and off he goes.
What follows are top-to-bottom laps through forests with thick balsam fir and spruce, red cedar and hemlock, me skiing at the edge of my ability to keep Rob’s fire-engine red jacket in sight. The trees give off a rich, earthy scent, and the snow is buoyant and plentiful. When we’re not slaloming through glades, we’re traversing — first over an exposed cliff and into Greely Bowl, which skirts the resort boundary and then swings under towering precipices. Rob ducks into traverses I’d surely miss on my own, and we speed along until we pop out on empty, steep slopes where we annihilate our quads as we tuck like ski racers from top to bottom. As an avid, dream-about-the-sport-starting-in-September skier, this is the type of day I live for: exploratory, adventurous and, yes, fast.
For years, Revelstoke had been on my bucket list. The resort is in interior British Columbia and boasts the longest vertical drop in North America — 5,620 feet — leading to comparisons with other dream destinations like Jackson Hole or Whistler. Revelstoke, the town, is about 50 minutes from Rogers Pass, a premier ski touring destination featured in countless films. Two mountain ranges — Selkirk and Monashee — converge here. Before there was a ski resort, winter lured hearty types looking for once-in-a-lifetime cat skiing, helicopter skiing or snowmobile adventures. These days, Revelstoke Mountain Resort is unique in offering cat-, heli- and lift-served skiing from the resort base.
Despite all that, I couldn’t justify a trip to Revelstoke, in part because I live in Colorado and can drive to a handful of world-class ski resorts from my home in Boulder. But what really kept me away was money. Revelstoke Mountain Resort fired up the bullwheels in 2007, right around the same time the Great Recession took hold. As a freelance writer scurrying about for work when publications were freezing budgets or laying off staff, my income plummeted. Even if I’d been able to carve out the time and gumption to head north, I couldn’t have afforded it.
That was then. Today’s plummeting oil prices have contributed to the downward spiral of the Canadian dollar. As of this writing, the exchange rate is 69 cents (Canadian) to $1 (U.S.). Which is to say, skiing in Canada suddenly got a lot more affordable. As one Revelstokian put it, “For Americans, everything here is about 40 percent off.” Another told me that visitors can expect to “pay for three days and get the fourth day free.”
However you parse it, the fact remains that with an exchange rate slanted so favorably toward the American dollar, Revelstoke’s $85 (Canadian) ticket price is roughly $60 (U.S.), depending on the rate at the time of transaction. Not that you’d actually purchase a ticket at the counter. Nearly every hotel in Revelstoke, from the barest budget hostel to the tony, slopeside Sutton Place Hotel, where suites come with full kitchens and granite countertops, offers ski-and-stay packages. Those additional discounts drop the cost of riding Revelstoke’s lifts to roughly the same price you’d pay to do a drop-in spin and yoga class on the same day.
Back in the early 2000s, Don Simpson, a Denver-based millionaire developer, planned to transform Revelstoke Mountain Resort into an elite destination that would draw affluent travelers arriving on private jets and seeking a posh culture of fine dining, shopping and extreme skiing with some intermediate and beginner terrain mixed in. The original resort master plan plotted expensive condos and mountain homes at the base, installation of ski lifts, a summer golf course, and more. In 2006, building lots sold out within hours and a fevered pitch of anticipation surrounded Revelstoke, which officially opened in 2007.
But then the world economic downturn brought construction to a halt and threatened to push the entire operation into bankruptcy. In 2010, the Vancouver-based Gaglardi family, a minority investor better known for owning Canada’s Denny’s restaurants and Sandman Inn hotels, bought out the other investors of Revelstoke Mountain Resort and began the slow, deliberate work of bringing the resort back to life.
It’s a work-in-progress. Revelstoke’s base offers limited culture or nightlife — there’s one restaurant, one bar and one cafe. On the mountain, skiers and snowboarders have three lifts, which isn’t as problematic as it might seem. Thanks to Mount Mackenzie’s conical shape, exceedingly long runs and strategically located traverses, skiers and snowboarders can access the full 3,121 acres of the resort’s terrain. And the Gaglardi family plans to continue investing in the resort and bring the original (or at least a significant chunk of it) vision — 20 lifts, more than 100 runs, an 18-hole golf course, new housing units, and more commercial and retail space — to fruition. There’s also a movement studying the feasibility of bringing commercial air service (the closest airport is in Kelowna, about 125 miles or a two-hour drive from Revelstoke).
Make no mistake — even minus the ubiquitous ski town sushi joint, nightclubs with strobe lights and dance parties that last until dawn, hipsters with complicated hair and dark-rimmed eyeglasses — Revelstoke is well worth the visit. In fact, it’s the lack of status symbols and pretense combined with the superlative skiing that makes a trip to Revelstoke so appealing.
On my last evening, I tucked into a delicious, juicy, no-frills burger at Chubby Funsters before wandering up the road for a nightcap at the Village Idiot, the locals’ watering hole. Shaggy, bearded men held court at a few tables inside the intimate bar, where stools were made out of old skis and nacho plates came oversize, sizzling with melted cheese. Hockey played on the wall-mounted televisions. One patron struck up a conversation and, upon learning I was American, asked if this place was any different than the ski town bars I was used to. I looked slowly around, noticing the authentic patina of the wooden walls, the youthful faces of the ski bums nursing their beers and the distinct lack of women. What I saw was a cast of locals living by the snow cycle and a handful of visitors who looked like they might just want to sell their worldly possessions and give the old ski-bum life a go. Perhaps this is what Telluride was like in the 1970s, before ramshackle cabins sold for a million dollars and movie stars roamed the streets.
“It’s a little different,” I said, gesturing for my tab. The total damage was $6 Canadian ($4.30 U.S.!). I counted out my loonies (the Canadian $1 coin) and had an epiphany: On sale or not, a ski trip to Revelstoke at this moment, with these snow conditions, the town and mountain’s authenticity and slow, welcoming pace, is priceless.
Walker writes about travel, the environment and family from her home in Boulder, Colo. Find her on Twitter at @racheljowalker.
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The regional Kelowna (YLW) is the closest airport (125 miles southwest) to Revelstoke, and the Greyhound bus goes to Revelstoke (the bus station is accessible via taxi from the airport); travelers can also fly to Calgary International Airport (YYC), rent a car, and drive 292 miles west to Revelstoke.
Sutton Place Hotel
2950 Camozzi Rd.
The only ski in/ski out property at Revelstoke, Sutton Place offers condo-style rooms and 1- to 2-bedroom suites with upscale kitchens and bathrooms. Studio suites start around $280 per night.
1101 West Victoria Rd.
The extensive continental breakfast (included) will fuel a long day on the slopes, and this clean, simple budget hotel has ski and stay packages starting around $90 per person per night.
114 MacKenzie Ave.
Classic comfort food (juicy burgers, short ribs) meet intricately prepared entrees (wild boar gnocchi, beet lasagna) at this popular eatery, open for lunch and dinner. Entrees start at $13.
306 MacKenzie Ave.
Come for the pizza, stay for the beer. A local’s favorite, this watering hole has longsated the appetite and thirst of many a ski bum. With a casual, friendly atmosphere and frequent live music, this is the place to relax after a long day on the slopes. Pizzas start at $16.
Revelstoke Mountain Resort
Opened in 2007, Revelstoke Mountain Resort features the longest vertical drop in North America, 5,620 feet. It’s also the only resort to offer lift-, guided backcountry, cat- and heli-skiing from the base. Lift tickets start at $59.
Great Canadian Snowmobile Tours
1870 Glacier Lane
Don’t ski? Don’t worry. Revelstoke is also a popular snowmobile destination, and Great Canadian Snowmobile Tours takes guests on guided backcountry trips. Tours range from one-hour ($70) to all-day ($285).