Story by Vicki Hoefling Andersen, origially published in High on Adventure, September 2016
I’m arching tight turns down Sluiceway, an intermediate run in the trough where CPR Ridge and T1 Ridge meet and flow towards the base of Kicking Horse Mountain Resort (KHMR). I realize if I return in a few months, I could play in the same substance currently beneath my skis, transformed into its summer persona. The massive snowpack will disappear, draining into tributaries which feed the rivers on which rafters and paddlers will make their own form of descent. It’s an invigorating thought.I’m arching tight turns down Sluiceway, an intermediate run in the trough where CPR Ridge and T1 Ridge meet and flow towards the base of Kicking Horse Mountain Resort (KHMR). I realize if I return in a few months, I could play in the same substance currently beneath my skis, transformed into its summer persona. The massive snowpack will disappear, draining into tributaries which feed the rivers on which rafters and paddlers will make their own form of descent. It’s an invigorating thought.
Pivotal to these pursuits is the small town of Golden in southeastern British Columbia, population about 4,000. Nestled at the confluence of the Columbia and Kicking Horse Rivers at 2,600 feet in what is known as the Rocky Mountain Trench, a pass between the Selkirk and Purcell ranges of the Columbia Mountains and the massive Rocky Mountains, the town of Golden averages about six feet of snow while the white stuff piles up 25-40 feet deep in the surrounding peaks.
The area was first explored by David Thompson in 1807 during his search for a passage to the Pacific Ocean. Seventy-five years later the area served as base camp for a survey crew mapping a transcontinental route for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). With a settlement nearby called “Silver City,” they named their hamlet “Golden City,” later dropping the “City” as a bit too ostentatious. When the Trans-Canada Highway was built, the little colony became a proper town and people began to discover what the area has to offer.
The Kicking Horse River got its odd name in 1858 when a member of the Palliser Expedition, Canada’s version of the U.S. Corps of Discovery kicked up a notch or two, was booted by his horse and thought at first to be dead. Fortunately he wasn’t, and the moniker stuck. Around the turn of the last century, the CPR realized the mountaineering and alpine exploration potential of the region and was savvy enough to invite some Swiss mountain guides. This successful endeavor drew international attention, and in 1911 the CPR developed Edelweiss Village about a mile from Golden, with homes for the guides and their families.
Fourteen miles downriver on the Columbia, 216 species make their home or stop-over at North America’s longest protected marshland, the Columbia Wetlands. In the summer many visitors arrive by canoe or stand-up paddle board, switching to cross-country skis or snowshoes in the winter. Depending on the season you may spot elk, deer, moose, grizzlies, wolf, cougar or coyote. Beaver and river otter dwell along the shoreline, the latter playing with and feasting on trout, ling cod and kokanee salmon. Watch for herons. osprey, eagles, song birds and shore birds taking flight.
Self-propelled two-wheel travelers face as many choices as those who love to prowl the wilderness on two legs. Three major trail systems – Moonraker, Canyon Creek and Mountain Shadows – tempt mountain bikers with over 60 miles of uphill and down, single-track and old roads, technical segments and easy sections. From Golden, a comfortable 1,000-foot elevation rise along the 4.7-mile CBT Trail leads to the Moonraker network. Don’t miss the forested single track wandering a mile downhill before the stunning Canyon Creek more than 600 feet below, at which point the trail slowly looses elevation as it meanders along the creek for another two miles. If you love the “down” but not the “up” of biking, more than 30 lift-served trails at KHMR await, as well as a downhill park and numerous challenges.
Motorized off-road explorers find a nice array of forestry service roads providing routes to interesting trails, topography and views. The Mountain Shadows Trail system at the base of Mount 7 is open to multi-use including motorized vehicles. Following in the footsteps of Golden’s earliest recreationists, mountaineers still converge to test their mettle on three nearby North American “Classic 50 Climbs:” the East Ridge of the Bugaboo Spire in the Purcells, the West Buttress of South Howser Tower in the Bugaboos, and the Northwest Ridge of Mount Sir Donald in Rogers Pass. More than 60 sport climbing routes, ranging from grade 5.6 to 5.12, can be found at Spillmacheen Crags about 40 miles south of town, and the surrounding national parks offer nearly endless summits. In Golden, the Dogtooth Climbing Gym will help you get in shape and polish your skills.
Whether from the air, land or water, bird and wildlife watching is a popular endeavor. In addition to the avians and mammals found at the Columbia Wetlands, the region is home to black bear, big horned sheep, mountain lions and mountain goats. At the Northern Lights Wolf Centre you can learn about Canis lupis and walk among them in their natural habitat. A one-of-a-kind experience can be found at Grizzly Bear Refuge at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort.
A 22-acre home created in 2003 for Boo, a grizzly cub orphaned at 5 months, the Refuge is the largest enclosed and protected grizzly habitat in the world. Situated a short walk from the Catamount chairlift, encircled by Stellar Jay and Wiley Coyote ski runs (a couple of Boo’s favorite snacks?), you can often watch him forage and play, while a motion-activated camera in his den keeps an eye on naptime and hibernation season.
In the Kootenay Rockies region of southeastern British Columbia is a “Highway” revered worldwide among skiers and snowboarders: The Powder Highway. A collection of resorts famed for their deep and true powder conditions, circling clockwise from the route’s northernmost point are Kicking Horse, Panorama, Kimberley, Fernie, Whitewater, Red Mountain and Revelstoke. The lengthy list of heli- and cat-ski operations in the area is astonishing. Just the names of these places gives powderhounds spine tingles.
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort includes 4,133 feet of vertical off the 8,033-foot summit of Blue Heaven, highest of KHMR’s four developed mountains. An 8-person gondola, two quads and one double chair provide admission to 128 runs, four bowls and 85 inbound chutes across 2,825 acres of snowy playground. Perched at 7,705 feet at the top of the gondola, the Eagle’s Eye is Canada’s highest restaurant with a view encompassing three mountain ranges and five national parks. The Resort also has a tubing park, skating rink, and the Via Ferrata – a secured climbing route on the north face of Terminator Peak that includes two courses and a suspension bridge.
Cross-country skiers and snowshoers enjoy over 20 miles of groomed skate and classic trails at Dawn Mountain Nordic Centre at KHMR (above). The Dawn Mountain Chalet day lodge has a rental shop, an equipment work area, storage, kitchenette and lounge facilities. In town, a series of trails are maintained at the Golden Golf Club. Just 40 minutes away, Yoho National Park contains groomed trails around Emerald Lake.
Downhill snow sliders who want to venture further afield head to Lake Louise, 53 miles and just over an hour’s drive from Golden, or Revelstoke, Panorama or Sunshine Village – all just 86 miles and under a two-hour drive away. If you’d rather take to the air for your turns, check out three outfitters that are based out of Golden: Chatter Creek Cat and Heli Ski, Great Canadian Heli-Skiing, and Purcell Heli-Skiing.
Winter or summer, along snow- or dirt-covered trail, in frozen or raging river, whether self-propelled or motorized, you will not run out of options or be bored using Golden as home base for your adventures. On land or water or in the air, this town will not disappoint aficionados of outdoor quests.