You take in the dramatic backdrop of jagged peaks, adjust your goggles, and set off down a fresh powder run, cutting a trail down the mountain’s wildly steep couloir. It may feel like the Alps, but you’re actually skiing in gorgeous Western Canada.
This year, skip the continent-hopping. Why? Let’s start with the world-class skiing, which rivals that of the best peaks anywhere, with tons of fluffy powder as well as heart-pounding verticals. There’s also a great exchange rate, which makes skiing, staying, and dining here more affordable than lots of similar resorts. Of course, it’s an even better deal if you’re the holder of an Epic Pass or Ikon Pass, both of which include access to several mountains in Western Canada.
Up here, you won’t have to worry about sitting in long lines of highway traffic, only to wait in long lift lines to go up the mountain. Lightly trafficked winding roads make for a great road trip, and a decided lack of lift lines means you’ll get in more skiing. Plus, you’ll be surrounded by Canada’s famously friendly people (speaking English, no less), making you feel welcome so that you return home with a smile on your face—and no jet lag.
Here are the resorts to hit this winter—listed from west to east—when you want to trade up to Western Canada.
Massive Terrain and Sophisticated Dining: Whistler instead of Les 3 Vallées, France
Yes, there’s a lot of skiable terrain at Les 3 Vallées, but it’s much easier to travel to the almost 8,200 acres of Whistler Blackcomb, just 90 minutes outside of Vancouver. Of course, skiing even that much terrain would take some time—especially since you’ll be spending lots of magical moments taking in the spectacular views that come with the Whistler experience. And when the day’s over, you’ll have your pick of world-class dining options that can go toe-to-toe with any restaurant in Europe.
Charming Village: Sun Peaks Instead of Zermatt, Switzerland
Zermatt may have the Matterhorn, but when it comes to charm, Sun Peaks—in between Vancouver and Calgary—matches up well against the Swiss hamlet. The European-style village is surrounded by three mountains, and so intimate and cozy you could almost put it in your pocket. It has everything you could want, from a strong cup of morning joe at Vertical Café to a Swiss-style fondue enjoyed in the alpine, followed by a ski under the stars.
Family Activities: Big White instead of Furano, Japan
Furano may be a fun family resort, but it’s no match for Big White—Canada’s favorite family resort and the ultimate snowy playground north of the Washington State border. There’s everything from on-site daycare to games for the tiny ones, plus arts and crafts and fun snowy activities for the older kids. First-time skiers can take lessons, go tubing down the mountain on the specially groomed lanes at Big White Tube Park, or slip on some crampons and climb the 60-foot ice towers at Tinastin Adventures, located in Happy Valley Adventure.
Heli-Skiing: Revelstoke instead of Chamonix/Courmayeur
In the town of Revelstoke—home to Revelstoke Mountain Resort, which stands at an impressive 5,620 feet and has the biggest vertical drop in North America—the heliskiing is just as magnificent as in Europe, and there’s more consistent snowfall. There are over half a million acres of terrain to heliski into, with ancient glaciers, alpine meadows, and old-growth rainforests covered in deep, dry snow. One of the private guide companies can fly you up and guide you safely down the mountain. Or you could stay at one of the area’s two exclusive backcountry properties—reachable, of course, by helicopter.
Backcountry Skiing: Kicking Horse Mountain Resort instead of Aoraki/Mount Cook, New Zealand
Sure, Aoraki/Mount Cook is where Sir Edmund Hillary fine-tuned his climbing skills before he conquered Everest. But Golden’s Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, three hours west of Calgary—known for its steep terrain and high annual snowfall—is just as stunning, and the ridges surrounding the resort offer even more backcountry skiing options. The Purcell Mountains’ Dogtooth Range has laid-back bowls and great powder, and just west of Golden at Rogers Pass in Glacier National Park, there’s glaciers and alpine descents, plus ample tree skiing. Because the backcountry terrain here varies widely, it’s best to hire a guide before you go off-piste.
Old World Grandeur: SkiBig3 instead of Europe
Everyone knows the romance of a castle. And sure, Europe boasts some magnificent ones. But so does Western Canada—and it’s easy to stay at two of them with SkiBig3’s “Fairmont Castle Hop,” which lets you stay at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and the Fairmont Banff Springs. In between your romantic castle stays, you’ll find amazing skiing on the slopes of SkiBig3, which includes the three resorts of Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise, and Mt. Norquay. You can even book a package that includes hotel stays, lift tickets, car-free transportation, and luggage transfers.