In mid-January, Dad and I flew out to British Columbia to visit my brother Tony. Alana and Hannah (his wife and daughter) were in Bonaire, where Alana’s parents have a winter home. Tony was going to be joining them in two weeks, but in the meantime, he needed some company. We were only too happy to oblige 🙂
When we left Ottawa, the temperature was a balmy -20°C. When we arrived in Rossland, the temperature was … -20°C. Apparently the region was experiencing a relatively unusual cold snap. Now, I’m used to skiing in these frigid conditions in Ottawa, but I was hoping that British Columbia would live up to its reputation of being Canada’s only warm-ish vacation destination in winter. For instance, -10°C would have been far more bearable, or better yet -5°C. Cold enough for proper snow, yet warm enough to avoid the I-can’t-feel-my-anything-anymore sensation. If it’s any consolation, you are much more likely to encounter reasonable temperatures if you decide to visit Rossland. I was just a wee bit unlucky!
My brother lives a ten-minute drive from the world-class Red Mountain Ski Resort. Tucked away in the Kootenay Mountain Range, it’s well known among skiers, but not nearly as crowded as the more famous resorts in Kelowna or Nelson. The entire week, there were no line-ups for the ski lift, and I had virtually every run to myself. I had never experienced that in Ottawa, France, Austria or anywhere else really. Certainly not in January! Saturday was a bit busier, but I still never waited more than five minutes for a chair. What luxury 🙂
The only disadvantage of the resort is that it takes quite awhile to reach the top of the mountain, since there are no high-speed quads or gondolas. However, Red Mountain is famous for two things: powder skiing and tree skiing. Both take an enormous amount of energy, so the long ride up the hill is actually a blessing in disguise. You need that time to recover for the next round!
Whenever I stopped to take pictures, my fingers would freeze almost instantly. I would have taken many more photos, but it really hurt! I started to fall into a pattern: stop, take a picture, put my mitts back on as quickly as possible, ski over to the lodge, race over to the stove fire, warm up my hands and mitts, put my gear back on, go outside, put on my skis, continue down the run. I did this cycle several times each day. Sometimes, I threw a hot chocolate into the mix, or grabbed a giant cookie or something else to eat. The food was delicious! They even had perogies one day. Yum yum.
Rossland had a huge snowstorm right before I arrived, so all the locals went out to enjoy the powder. I’m not much of a powder skier, so I wasn’t disappointed that I missed it. I much prefer racing down groomed runs, and Red Mountain has beautiful groomers for all levels.
The resort also has an excellent (and free!) mountain guide program. If you are new to the hill, you are matched up with a local who takes you all over the resort and gives you insider tips. Dad and I spent our first morning at Red with a friendly British snowboarder who had come to Rossland for a ski season about a decade ago (if I remember correctly), and loved it so much that he never left.
My brother worked all week, but we had the chance to ski together on my last day in Rossland. He has a season pass, so he skies almost every weekend from December to March. Unlike me, he loves powder, tree skiing and mogul runs, so he’s happy to take visitors virtually anywhere on the mountain.
My brother lives in a beautiful chalet-style house. When we arrived, his roof, balcony and porch were covered in snow. I ventured outside one afternoon to make snow angels, like a proper grown-up 😛
In the evenings, I ate huge meals to carbo-load for the next day of skiing. My brother introduced me to Summit Salad, from the cookbook for the Whitewater ski resort in Nelson. I made it for my Dad and brother, and it was a big success (if I do say so myself!) The salad is nutritious, filling, and perfect after a long day outside.
I may be getting old(er), but I’ve never been able to understand the “ski all day, party all night” thing. I don’t think I’ve ever had that level of energy, even in my teens and twenties. For me, a perfect evening after a day on the slopes involves lying on a comfy couch in front of a fire and reading books, watching cat videos on YouTube, or playing with an actual cat (pictured below).
Dad and I had an absolutely fantastic time in Rossland. I was blown away by the sheer beauty of the region and the friendliness of the locals. I’m thrilled that my niece will grow up in such a magnificent part of Canada.
Travel Advice for Rossland
Getting in and out of Rossland can be tricky, especially in the winter. The closest larger airport is a 30-minute drive way in Castlegar. Its nickname, unfortunately, is “Cancelgar Airport”. Since the airport is in a valley, planes often can’t land because of the cloud cover. The airport even has a joke twitter feed, with an apt bio: “I’m an airport…sometimes…if it’s nice out.”
Dad and I were originally scheduled to fly in to Castlegar, but our flight from Calgary was cancelled (surprise surprise!) We ended up flying to Kelowna instead. After landing, we burst out of the plane, made a mad dash through the airport and clambered into a taxi Amazing Race-style. We arrived at the Greyhound station barely in time to catch the only bus of the day to Trail, a town next to Rossland. For our trip home, the weather behaved itself, so we were able to fly out of Castlegar to Vancouver. It’s really luck of the draw.
The next time I travel to Rossland in winter, I will book a flight to and from Kelowna or Spokane, Washington, and take a bus or drive from either of those cities. The other option is to fly from Vancouver to the Trail Airport, with Pacific Coastal Airlines. However, I may also run into weather issues with this alternative, since the airline uses only small planes. As a side note, I was pleased to learn that the Trail Airport terminal comes complete with couches and a fireplace. How cozy!