Stoked on Revelstoke: Head North Now for Early-Season Powder

In some corners of the modern snow sports world, the hype, unfortunately, seems to outweigh the powder on the ground. This thought crossed my mind as we drove in darkness on slick winter roads from Kelowna, B.C., north towards the widely acclaimed Mecca of North American resort powder skiing. Once a community ski hill tucked away in a remote and astoundingly beautiful corner of British Columbia 8-hours north of Spokane, Revelstoke Mountain Resort has captured the imaginations of skiers and snowboarders around the world in recent years with its 5,000 plus feet of lift-accessed vertical (the most in North America); 30-45 feet of annual snowfall; and epic terrain that includes expert level bowls, chutes and adjacent backcountry wilderness. As my buddy Phil and I slurped down a complimentary glass of wine in the lobby of the Sutton Place Hotel as we checked in for the night, I wondered, cynically, if the built-up legend of Revelstoke would stack up next to the actual experience come morning.

We woke, not surprisingly, to fresh, shin-deep powder. Certainly not the depth of many of the regular dumps that frequent this northern reach of the Selkirk Mountains, but it was mid-week in early December and everyone was plenty stoked. Breakfast was brief and utilitarian. Within minutes of waking from a solid night’s sleep in a room so comfortable that I could live there, we stepped out the backside of the hotel and walked a few yards in our boots to the Revelation Gondola for the 5,600 foot ride to the summit. The lift line was virtually non-existent, but there was a quiet quickness and anxious energy behind the movements of the riders climbing on board. It was, after all, a powder day.

The gondola climbed nearly 4,000 feet up to the Stoke Chair which we then rode until it topped out in a sea of white at 7,300 feet. Fog clung to the peaks and seemed to emanate from the thick bands of firs below us. We were left filling in the blank spots with images from our imaginations. Our first runs on the Frontside, chosen because they seemed to be more straightforward black runs with fewer cliffs, rocks and other obstacles, were steep, powder-filled gallops down the mountain with only an occasional skier or snowboarder in sight. It was the closest thing to a backcountry experience I’ve ever had at a resort. Occasional whoops of joy from locals able to reap the pristine powder in the foggy woods at the edge of the runs – thanks to memorized lines – was the only sound to be heard over the subtle whoosh of our skis floating through cold, light snow.

As the visibility improved and the runs we’d been frequenting began to look more and more like frantic Etch A Sketch sessions from increasing skier traffic, we moved on to the North Bowl. After cutting left at the top of the Stoke Chair and traversing our way over for our first run on the other side, we hopped the Ripper Chair and watched riders dropping into bowls and chutes above us into what looked like familiar backcountry terrain but was, in fact, part of the resort that’s accessible via a short bootpack from the top of the Stoke Chair.

The Rockford has views to drink to. // Photo: Grant Gunderson. Photo courtesy of Revelstoke Mountain Resort.
The Rockford has views to drink to. // Photo: Grant Gunderson. Photo courtesy of Revelstoke Mountain Resort.

Honoring our relatively conservative, intermediate abilities, we refrained from wandering too far off the beaten path (and by that I mean lightly-carved-up late morning powder fields) to avoid taking an unintended plunge into potentially sketchy terrain we could barely see. Yet we still managed to stray into a fast, fun dash below a cliff band and down a steep creek bottom that skied like a well-used backcountry ski out, requiring quick turns to navigate the maze of trees, rocks and creek-carved holes in the snow to get back to more well-traveled runs. Skiing or riding at Revelstoke, we learned, is always an adventure.

Our final run of the day (we had to do it), was a 5,600 foot leg burner all the way to the bottom where, after losing so much elevation, the early season powder had turned to slush and the sticks poking through the snow outnumbered other skiers 100 to one. By that point we were beat and ready to kick back and chill with a beverage at the Rockford, a bright and energetic bar and grill in the Village Base, but the rowdy crowd of Albertans next to us were still so visibly stoked from slaying powder in the resort and adjacent sidecountry that it was impossible not to join them. Raising our voices, we laughed along with their tales of waste-deep powder and hucking cliffs into a white abyss, reveling all the while in the fact that unlike so many snow-inspired things that are marketed to us in over-hyped language and imagery these days, Revelstoke is the real deal. //

Derrick Knowles is the co-publisher of Out There Monthly. His first story for OTM, an article about the Imnaha Store and Tavern’s once-upon-a-time bear and rattlesnake feed, was published in the first issue back in 2004.

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