By Jennifer Rebbetoy Explorebigsky.com Contributor

Shredding the deep
powder and snowy
peaks of the Monashee
and Selkirk mountains
is winter bliss. These two
ranges complete half of the subranges
that make up the Columbia
Mountains, a ski and snowboard
destination beautiful enough to
make any shredder’s cheeks hurt
and eyes glaze over. Locals say the
mountains in Western Canada
resemble the Alps.

The first to find solace here were
the Sinixt and Ktunaxa First Nations
peoples. These indigenous
tribes lived between the valleys,
mountainsides and rivers. Moving
from one location to another with
changing seasons, they connected
to the energetic flow that operates
in these mountains.
By the mid-1800s, mining for
silver, gold and iron ore enticed European
settlers deep into British
Columbia. The late 1880s was a
dark time of scheming, double
crossing and murder; these
crooks stampeded in the direction
of new stakes, hoping to get
rich quick.
Today, adventurous residents
of Rossland, Nelson and Revelstoke,
British Columbia feel a
similar urgency to reach the tops
of the mountains, but now in a
more amicable manner.
However, it’s still a race: Making
the first turns in fresh Kootenay
powder is white gold.
Each town has its own character.
Rossland has a vibrancy of youth.
In Nelson, healthy competition
is guaranteed. Revelstoke is
known for its experimental edge.
The West Kootenays have been
Canada’s best-kept secret for
over 30 years. Now is the time
to share and shred the western
Canadian gnar.

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Rossland

Skiing in this corner of Canada
originated in Rossland, a town
of 3,500 in the heart of the
Monashee Mountains.
During the 1890s, Rossland
was a booming mining town.
Along with a thirst for wealth,
Norwegian immigrants brought
their knowledge of skiing to this area.
In 1897, Olaus Jeldness organized
the first ski race on Red Mountain.
Rudimentary ski technology meant
the winner relied on a combination of
skill, strength and luck. The races had
two rules:
1. Go straight down
no matter what.
2. The first person
to ski through the
finish line was the
winner.
The races subverted
tension between
neighbors in the
small community
during a competitive gold rush.
Greedy, pick-swinging mining up
the mountain in one season was balanced
by wide-eyed schusses down
the mountain in another season, both
ambitious and desperate.
Over the decades, Rossland’s interest
in skiing waxed and waned, declining
especially during the World Wars. In
the new millennium however, skiing
and snowboarding have surged in
popularity.
Perhaps the ultimate ski town,
modern-day Rossland was built by
skiers, for skiers. Red Mountain
Resort, the local ski hill, is a fourminute
drive from downtown and a
short ski back downtown, and possibly
to your doorstep.
In winter, the snowplows help build
jumps downtown. The winter carnival
hosts a rail park competition
in the middle of main street. (Police
rarely bother the youth for sending it
in town.) Snowboard shop parties rage
harder than the bars.
Volunteers built a chairlift with old
mining tram equipment and on-site
timber in 1947. It was the first in Western
Canada.
Today, the resort is known for its high
altitude and steep tree runs. Home
to pro skiers Dane Tudor and Mike
Hopkins, Red has been a longtime tour
stop for big mountain ski competitions
held on nearby Mt. Roberts. Secret
runs and backcountry touring keep the
kids thrashing hard and everyone on
their toes.

Nelson

Nelson, a town of 10,000, sits at the edge of
Kootenay Lake, nestled in the Selkirk Mountains.
Mineral extraction in Nelson began in 1882,
when Robert Sproule made the first stake in
the area. His infamous quarrels with Thomas
Hammill set the tone for disputes over future
mining claims.
Toad Mountain, north from downtown, was
a battlefield during those early mining days.
Placer mining was common and drew many
to claim their own “poor man’s mine.” Placer
mines required no startup capital—just the
pick in your hand, light on your head, and
clothes on your back. The gold, silver and iron
ore extracted were as good as cash, and a placer
miner was his own boss.
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The essentials of placer mining resonate with
the ski scene in Nelson today. Access to backcountry
touring near town is easy, making it
a popular past time. Riders there experience a
freedom that resorts cannot offer. They invest
only in what they wear and ride; their run is
only as good as the distance they hike. It’s a
different kind of riding, because it’s totally
self-directed.
The first recorded ski meet in Nelson was in
1921. By 1934, a ski lodge in the north end
of town offered a rope tow driven by the rear
axel of a Model T Ford. During the winter of
1956-1957, Silver King Ski Hill opened near
the old Silver King Mine and soon acquired
two homemade t-bars.
An eager anticipation to get up the hill and
strong sense of community has never left Nelson.
This town is dedicated to ski culture.
A short walk from downtown, skiers hitchhike
to nearby Whitewater Resort, the local
ski hill known for deep powder, epic tree
runs, expansive terrain and backcountry
access.
As a community, Nelson has an inspiring
atmosphere, with a bubbling creativity that
directly transfers to winter sports. With the
advent of GoPro and affordable video technology,
many are documenting their backcountry experiences. Similarly inspired, the
snowboard film production company
Absinthe Films included striking
footage from the Kootenays in
“Twel2ve,” its newest release. The
forthcoming independent film “Rest
in Powder” shows local skiers and
snowboarders shredding their favorite
zones.
Skiers and snowboarders in Nelson
tend to ride well into their 60s, 70s
and 80s. They often get first chair on
powder days, because they weren’t
out doing shooters and dancing on
the bar the night before.
In the mid 20th century, the town
grew as a hub for businesses, government
offices and culture. The 80s saw
a boom in the forestry industry. Now
orchards, organic farms and tourism
keep it afloat. In winter, tourists
come from across the world to visit
the remote lodges and huts unique to
Canada.
Jeff and Paula Pensiero chose Nelson
as the base for their cat-skiing operation,
Baldface Lodge, because of its
consistent snowfall and killer terrain.
With a 32,000-acre tenure, Baldface
is one of the world’s largest cat operations.
In its 12 years, the lodge has been
a place for guests to discover what
Jeff calls “the infinite wisdom of the
backcountry.”

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Six days is the longest Baldface went
without a fresh snowfall last winter,
says Mark Marhuis, who’s been guiding
there for almost 10 years. The area
receives over 500 inches of snowfall
annually.
Marhuis isn’t the only employee who’s
been at Baldface since the beginning.
The staff there are tight-knit. They’re
simultaneously welcoming and professional,
and known for winding it up
with guests in the evening.
Guests, too, return year after year,
addicted to the soft Kootenay snow
and warm hospitality. This summer,
the Pensieros remodeled the beautiful
timber-framed main lodge,
improving guest accommodations
for the 2011/12 season.
Nearby, Ice Creek Lodge offers
guests another way of experiencing
Kootenay bliss, through backcountry
touring. Set up against the
spectacular Valhalla Provincial Park
at 6,100 feet, Ice Creek is 60 km
from Nelson.
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While best access to Ice Creek is via
helicopter, guests are on their own
two feet once they arrive. The area’s
diverse terrain starts right outside
the front door. Most unique,
perhaps, is the opportunity to shred
through the towering granite walls
of the Devils Range.

Revelstoke

A 19th century Canadian Pacific Railway
feeder line built in the late 1800s
was the first link between Nelson and
Revelstoke. Thousands of Chinese
immigrant workers labored on the line,
and the last spike was driven in 1885,
in Revelstoke. The town sits between
the Monashee and Selkirk mountain
ranges, and now has a population of
about 7,200.
During the 1920s, Swiss climbers
found a piece of home on nearby
Roger’s Pass. For jumping competitions
in 1939, local ski clubs built what
would now be considered Olympic size
jumps that lasted for decades.
A quiet town, with the main access involving
a 49 km ferry ride, Revelstoke’s
geographic isolation earned it the
nickname Revelstuck. More recently,
it’s also been called Revelbloke, for the
number of men who live there.
This recreational mecca tempts men—
and women—from all over the world to
uproot and move here, a pull comparable
to the gold rush. The difference
is that now people take away unforgettable
memories, rather than physical
chunks of the mountain. Many are
drawn to the expansive backcountry
terrain nearby, and now to the growing
Revelstoke Mountain Resort, which
opened in 2007 and has grown to
500,000 acres.
Set against massive relief and in an
often harsh climate, Revelstoke has had
a progressive ski culture since being
host to those early jumping competitions.
Thanks to knowledge cultivated
by Swiss mountaineers in mid-20th
century, the area is now a center for
avalanche training and safety.
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In 2010, Revelstoke local Greg Hill
toured two million human powered
vertical feet in one calendar year, setting
a record that will be hard to beat. Today,
the most progressive of snow travel
like split boards, noboards and snowmobile
expeditions aren’t uncommon.
Kids growing up in Revy often have
to go backcountry skiing with their
parents. It’s one of those things families
do together, like camping on summer
vacation.
Nearby, at Eagle Pass Heli Resort,
longtime local Scott Newsome recently
turned an existing gem into a newfound
treasure. Newsome, together with
Matt Pinto, Michael Wood and Craig
Borgland bought the heli-ski resort a
makeover in 2010, creating an exciting
skiing and snowboarding experience.
Fifty percent of the ownership are now
snowboarders, something new in the
industry.
“I learned snowboarders like to be
guided by snowboarders,” said Newsome,
who was the first ACMG (Association
of Canadian Mountain Guides)
assistant guide to execute his exam all
on a split board.
Eagle Pass guides, all of whom are
certified through either the ACMG or
the Canadian Ski Guide Association,
represent a new generation of ski and
snowboard guides with big mountain
backgrounds, Newsome says.
“We understand the type of terrain and
specific natural features that the new
generation [of skiers and snowboarders]
would expect of their heli experience.”
Eagle Pass is a great example of the positive
growth happening in B.C. mountain
towns like Rossland, Nelson and
Revelstoke. Their transformation over
the last century has been nearly supernatural—
from mining towns based on
greed and extraction, to international
ski and snowboard destinations with
rich mountain cultures. And with
Kootenay white gold every bit as valuable
as gold and silver, locals now wend
through the mountains in search of the
world’s finest powder snow.

This story was first published in the winter 11/12 issue of Mountain Outlaw magazine.