Kicking Horse: the resort that packs a punch

by Felice.Hardy

Challenging skiing, rugged, unspoilt scenery, and a short transfer from the airport are all helping to make Kicking Horse one of Canada's wintersports hotspots

 

Even expert skiers suffer from it. The sensation starts with a hatch of butterflies in the pit of the stomach. Your mouth goes dry, and you wish with every beat of your heart that you were somewhere, anywhere on earth, but where you happen to be right now.
 
At this particular moment of truth, I am standing in a snowstorm on a ledge high above the railway town of Golden in British Columbia and peering down a near-vertical slope on quaintly-named Kicking Horse Pass. The ledge falls away so steeply that all I can see is a gaping void to the valley below.
 
Kicking Horse is one of the global points of pilgrimage for powderhounds of the 21st century – an alternative to Jackson Hole, Whistler or Snowbird. And right now I find myself in a position to enthusiastically endorse this view, but question whether I will live to tell others about it.
 
Admittedly, the butterflies are cushioned by an unexpectedly good lunch in the Eagle’s Eye restaurant at the summit. But this gourmet watering hole (which I should never have left) is now 100 metres above me. I know I have no alternative but to push my ski tips over the edge, plant my pole, and turn. But unfortunately the angle is so acute that I can’t see what lies even two metres below me.
 
Our guide whoops encouragement from below. Somehow I summon up the courage – and plunge into what turns out to be a glorious deep powder bowl. Indeed, I survive with a broad grin and in considerably better shape than the first pioneer who made his way down Kicking Horse Pass.
 
In the late 19th century Sir James Hector, a Victorian geologist, was on an expedition to search for a possible railway route through this mountainous area, when he was kicked so badly by his horse that he was given up for dead. His Indian guides had even dug his grave when Sir James came to… just in the nick of time.
 
The resulting railway town is Golden, and eight years ago an impressive eight-seater gondola opened to take skiers and snowboarders up to the 8,037ft summit. And what you get at the top of the fourth highest vertical drop on North America is a two-fold feast.
 
The first part is taken at lunch in the Eagle’s Eye restaurant, which is a gastronomic experience not normally associated with North American skiing. A roaring log fire, wooden rafters, and floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the striking mountains all add to the atmosphere, while in the kitchen Canadian mountain cuisine is taken to new heights.
 
But as I discovered, the second part of the feast produces a less stable stomach sensation in the form of 4,000 acres of sensationally steep skiing in tree-lined bowls.
 
The location of Kicking Horse – it’s a two-and-half hour drive from Calgary and 90 minutes from Banff – was chosen for the quality and quantity of its snow, which at the summit averages 276 inches per winter. The small mountain village is made up of a boutique hotel called Copper Horse Lodge, Vagabond Lodge with its sushi bar and health club, and some charming log-style cabins. Added to this is a base lodge, rental shop and a couple of bars – but most of the evening entertainment is found in the nearby town of Golden. Here the reasonably-priced accommodation includes the Ramada Inn.
 
Wherever you decide to stay, you’ll find that Kicking Horse certainly packs a punch that lives up to its reputation as one of the world’s most challenging resorts.
 

 

Felice.Hardy

Travel writing is my business but skiing was where it all began when I first put on a pair skis in Switzerland at the age of four and gradually became so hooked that I later found I had to make my living out of it. I also write about adventure travel and my recent experiences include abseiling off the top of Table Mountain, white-water rafting along the Ganges, jumping off waterfalls in Hawaii, paragliding in Zermatt, and kayaking in Australia's Northern Territory. I have been a freelance travel writer for more years than I care to remember and write on hot and cold travel for publications including the Evening Standard, The Observer, Condé Nast Traveller, Country Life, Harpers Bazaar, Tatler, Vanity Fair, easyJet magazine and BA's Highlife magazine. I have written and edited more than 20 travel guidebooks including The Good Skiing & Snowboarding Guide for Which? and several books for Cadogan Guides. I am now co-editor of the ski information website www.welove2ski.com . My favourite places in the world are the Indian Ocean, the Alps and the Rockies. I am also an artist  - creating paintings in oils and acrylics that have been inspired by my travels around the world. You can see some of my work at www.felicehardy.com