On the Powder Highway of southeast British Columbia’s Kootenay Rockies, the ski towns—Fernie, Revelstoke, Nelson, Rossland—have as big a reputation as the peaks above them. But there’s only one community within an hour of two world-class Powder Highway resorts, serviced by its own international airport.
Welcome to Cranbrook, the best ski town you’ve never heard about.
Set within a broad valley in the rainshadow of the Kootenay Rockies, at the halfway point between Spokane and Calgary, the city of 20,000 has long served as a transportation hub for trains, planes, fur traders and fruit growers. Today, Cranbrook has transitioned from way station to destination. Taking advantage of its central location on the Powder Highway, and its status as the sunshine capitol of British Columbia, Cranbrook is an inviting home base for a long, multi-resort ski weekend. From a Cranbrook home base, skiers and snowboarders can choose from two nearby ski areas: Kimberley and Fernie Alpine Resorts.
Kimberley Alpine Resort, 30 minutes north of Cranbrook, will strike stateside skiers as the Powder Highway resort most like its south-of-the-border counterparts. Steep, fall-line blacks and long, cruiser blues make the most out of nearly 2,500 feet of vertical. But it’s the trees where Kimberley excels; expertly spaced and nicely graded glades comprise roughly a third of the resort’s 1,800 acres—the largest gladed terrain in North America. From the fixed-grip Easter Triple, drop into the Black Forest for top-to-bottom tree skiing.
But that’s not to say there aren’t big-mountain views. The Columbia Valley, above which Kimberley sits, boasts the most sunny days of anywhere in the province, and Fisher Peak and its Rocky Mountain siblings to the east frequently make an appearance.
It’s also a casual, family-friendly resort, where live music drifts out of the Stemwinder Bar & Grill and kids flit about the outdoor ice-skating rink.
Kimberley shines after the sun goes down too. The resort offers weekend night skiing on the longest lit run in North America. And in town, the pedestrian-only Platzl, its Bavarian-styled storefronts strung with lights, invites après-ski strolling (stop in at Pedal and Tap for hip pub fare and a large beer and wine menu).
An hour’s drive east of Cranbrook, Fernie Alpine Resort features the kind of big-mountain terrain for which the Powder Highway is famed: five steep bowls funneling into 3,500 feet of vertical, all subject to the famed “Fernie Factor”: the mountain’s unique tendency to get surprise dumps of deep snowfall.
Back in town, Cranbrook boasts all the ski-town essentials—cozy hotels, craft beer, and locally sourced cuisine. And at only 3.5 hours from Spokane, it’s perfectly suited to a long ski weekend where you get to check reports and choose between two resorts. Perhaps it’s time to add Cranbrook to the pantheon of powder towns. //
Originally published as “Make Cranbrook Your Next Ski Trip Basecamp” in the December 2019 issue’s BC Ski & Winter Travel Guide.