On the Powder Highway, about halfway between Banff (Lake Louise, Sunshine and Norquay) and Revelstoke is Kicking Horse. When I was skiing out of Taos, New Mexico in the aughts we would get visitors from Canadians who would talk about Kicking Horse. The resort was racking up awards including Top Powder Destination, Warren Miller’s Best Ski Destination, and Number 1 Peak Experience. The awards keep coming and Kicking Horse is now Internationally recognized for some of the best powder and challenging terrain in the world.
Need more convincing? The best testimonial I can give is the following: I met a Canadian and ex Montana State University alpine racer on the Paradise Chair in Lake Louise. He lived in Calgary and was skiing with his son. It was an amazing day at Lake Louise, one of the most beautiful resorts in the world. On the way up we smiled like Cheshire Cats at the 18 inches of powder that had fallen the night before. I was scheduled to leave for Kicking Horse in a day but was wondering whether or not to hang out and enjoy the fresh powder at Lake Louise.
“I can hang here another day or head to Kicking Horse, what would you do,” I asked the ex-Alpine racer, and Canadian native. “Kicking Horse,” he said without hesitation. “T-1 and T-2, the Terminators. We almost made the drive, but my son needs to be at school tomorrow. “ I pushed a little bit, “The skiing here is great. Is Kicking Horse that much better?” “Yes. Much better.”
I skied a run with him and his son. We dropped into Swedes, far skier’s right in Paradise Bowl. There were face shots. Much of it untracked. At the bottom, I turned to the Canadian and said, “Kicking Horse?” “Yes,” he said again without hesitation.
He was right. The magazines were right. Kicking Horse is my new favorite resort.
KHMR, Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, is made up of a series of razor-sharp ridges that are part of the Dogtooth range. As you ski around the mountain (take KHMRs free guided tour) you see a series of giant cirques with steep ridges. It’s hair-raising, but in a way that I’ve never experienced at any other resort. Most steep terrain involves dangerous obstacles like boulders, trees, and cliff faces. Others have doglegs around rock formations or require a careful selection of chutes or gullies to avoid being cliffed out. Most resorts’ double diamonds terrain puts your life on the line. Rocks, cliff faces, trees, all add up to big risks. It’s a big adrenaline rush and its one of the reason why we ski this terrain. But its really dangerous and fear-provoking.
Imagine for a moment if you could eliminate the fear? What might you do? How fast might you ski? How big of a line might you take? Welcome to Kicking Horse. Kicking Horse is the Westworld of ski resorts. All the fun, none of the risk. It’s all relative of course, but compared to the extremes at Big Sky, Bridger Bowl, Solitude, Squaw, Revelstoke and Sunshine Village, KHMR will make you feel like Superman or Wonder Woman: or both for the pangender set.
Almost all the upper mountain steep terrain is an upside-down V. Narrowness quickly opens to wideness, chutes open into bowls and the trees seem to be perfectly spaced.
Before I discuss terrain, its important to point out that Kicking Horse has a terrible lift system. Too few lifts and they aren’t laid out well. You need to take the Gondola to get to the upper half of the mountain. There is no other way up. Once up, unless you ski the Stairway to Heaven Chair, which pretty much requires staying under the Chair itself, you need to take the Gondola back up. So now you know the resort’s Kryptonite. Stay away if that bothers you: more powder and shorter Gondola lines for the rest of us.
Expert Skiing at Kicking Horse
Kicking Horse reminds me of Fernie in terms of bowl or cirque type skiing. I don’t think the areas at Kicking Horse are technically giant bowls. However, they probably would qualify as large Cirques. Regardless, to better describe the areas, I’m defining them as “giant” bowls: think giant bowls where you can ski off almost all the surrounding ridgelines. The resort names several bowls, but I think the names are descriptive enough for the first time visitor. Bowls named are Super Bowl, Bowl Over, Crystal Bowl and Fues Bowl. I’ll tell where these are, below, in relation to my renamed bowls. My nomenclature is below:
Between Terminator Peak 1 and 2. The South and North Ridges. Below the ridge lines, Kicking Horse calls it Super Bowl. But its all about the ridge lines. T1 and 2 is what makes Kicking Horse famous. There are equally compelling areas at Kicking Horse, but none that require as much work. That means you get the best snow with the least crowds. Getting to Terminator is one long, steep, 20 to 40-minute hike. If you’re breaking track or close behind, you may literally be hiking up 65-degree ridge sections. Is it worth it? I’d be honored to die on this hike.
T1. The entire ridgeline is awesome. From Rip the World to End Zone it’s hard not to score. On my GNASA I climbed T1 an hour after rope drop on a bluebird day after a foot and a half of snow had fallen. It’s south facing, so it can get baked.
T2. T2 is North facing so your likely have better snow, that stays around longer. But there are also fewer runs to choose from. Think of it like a slightly smaller north facing T1. You can also access Truth and Dare chutes from T1 ridge. These are super fun steep chutes, that make you feel like a Superskier.
This area is the ridge that the Gondola rises over to the T1 hike. You can even argue that accessing this bowl from the T1 ridge is part of it because Truth and Dare Chutes are simply amazing. Steep but easily skiable. Gondola Ridge. If you stay under the Gondola you can ride the ridge line and simply drop into the well-thinned glades. If the snow’s right, you can pick hundreds of fun-filled lines.
Stairway to Heaven Bowl
My name. You have three main decisions to make in this area. (1) Stay on top of the mountain. There’s only one option and that’s Stairway to Heaven Chair. For this reason, the Chair and the ridge underneath can get crowded. But there are hundreds of lines to explore. (2) Ski CPR (Canadian Pacific Railroad), a series or steep chutes that open into wide bowl-like terrain. But you access this ridge from the Gondola and stay on the Gondola Bowl side of the ridge and pop over to one of 15 – 20 drop-ins and chutes. From most of these runs, you can stay skier’s left to access the Stairway to Heaven Chair. But you can’t get back the CPR. (3) Head to Fuez Bowl, via Stairway to Heaven or opening on the Stairway To Heaven ridgeline.
Stairway To Heaven Glades. Easy expert trails between and in the trees proliferate the area below the Stairway to Heaven Chair. From Epiphany to Eden the choices are literally heavenly. They include Valhalla, Nirvana, Pearly Gates, Hallelujah and Shangri-La.
Redemption Ridge. Pick a side: Stairway or Feuz. On Heavenly you’ll have all the glades
This area is accessible by taking the Stairway to Heaven, which are metal stairs placed in the side of the mountain that start you on this 10 – 20 minute hike up to Whitewall. Whitewall is a steep Headwall well worth the hike. The Redemption Ridge Travers offers a host of chutes and drop-ins I call the Horsey trails. They include Wild Horse, Side Saddle, Horse Fly, Horse Play and Mustang Sally. Truth and Dare Chutes are pretty spectacular as well.
KHMR calls the bowl portion on the Stairway to Heaven Chair, Crystal Bowl.
CPR (Canadian Pacific Railway) Ridge is the ridgeline below the Gondola. It allows access off both sides.
Stairway 2 Heaven Chair Bowl
Redemption Ridge. Straddles what I call Stairway 2 Heaven Chair Bowl and Fuez Bowl.
Redemption Ridge – Fuez Bowl Side
Snow Hunting at Kicking Horse
Fuez Bowl. It piles up in this north facing bowl. If it’s closed, the north side of CPR ridge.
Insider Tips for Kicking Horse
Double Black is a favorite with locals and visitors alike. Great coffee, food, and people.