BC-Banff Road Trip – January 2019

Every winter my friends and I talk about road trips, checking out new mountains, and just hanging out like old times, but usually it’s just talk. Things like work and family take a higher priority as we get older. But this year, everything fell into place and we made it happen.

With the purchases of Stevens Pass and Crystal Mountain over the last half year, things have changed quite a bit for skiers and snowboarders in the Pacific Northwest. And thanks to my company Sturtevants (a division of Christy Sports), I have access to dozens of resorts through the Ikon and Epic Passes. So 2 friends and I decided to take a week off and just start driving up north to British Columbia and Alberta, Canada.


Day 1 – We took off from Bellevue, Washington on a Tuesday morning, heading north towards British Columbia. Depending on drive time, conditions, border crossing times, we would head to either Cypress (a nearby resort in Vancouver on the Ikon Pass) or continue on to Revelstoke (also on the Ikon Pass).

There was virtually no traffic and no wait at the border, so we decided to keep driving and to take a big chunk out of our drive by just heading straight to Revelstoke. About 8 hours after leaving Bellevue, we arrived at our hotel in Revelstoke. We decided to stay 2 nights here and ride 2 days. There was some projected snow in the forecast but that didn’t materialize.


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Day 2 (Revelstoke on the Ikon Pass : Rode 26.5K vertical feet) – The funny part of this mountain was that every local brought up the crowds. They would ask us, “Why would you come at such a busy time?” And “The road from the hotel to the gondola might take 20-30 minutes depending on crowds.” Yet, everywhere we looked, there was nobody to be found. We would arrive at the parking lot in the morning right around the gondola opening time, only to be one of the first cars. We would walk right up to the gondola without any waits. Our Ikon Passes were kept in our pockets, the machines would scan us, and we’d get right on.

The most surprising thing about this mountain is also what it’s most famous for. The vertical. When looking down from the gondola / lifts, it just felt like we were gaining 5 feet a second, like we were taking off and flying.

We were tracking our progress using the Trace app, and after a day of somewhat taking it easy and trying to warm up our legs for the week, I found that we had done 26.5K vertical feet. That was the most I had done all season, by far.


Day 3 (Revelstoke on the Ikon Pass : Rode 29.8K vertical feet) – On day 2 we parked at the lot right above the gondola and when the gondolas started letting people on at 8:30, we were still only the 3rd car in that lot. There was quite a bit of fog in the morning and that fog slowly seemed to follow us up the mountain throughout the day. But we also had pockets of sun / partly cloudy skis. I guess when there’s so much vertical, you tend to get a lot of changes in the weather.

We thought we would blow past our previous days total for vertical feet, but by the time we did a couple laps from the top of The Stoke chair, to Revelation Lodge, we realized how exhausted we were getting. That run itself is over 4000 vertical feet, and when we got to the car after a little more than 4 hours on the mountain, we were just shy of 30K for the day.

One thing that’s obvious to me about Revelstoke is that there’s really only 3 chairs (a gondola and 2 quads) that service most of the mountain, and there really isn’t any room for beginners. I’d probably pass on bringing my kids up here until they’re much older. I also noticed that everyone rips and is an advanced skier / snowboarder. The groomed runs were amazing and allowed you to go as fast as you wanted, even for someone like me with previous knee and leg problems. Since the runs were so wide and long, we very rarely rode next to anyone else. It almost felt like a private resort.

We took off from Revelstoke after that second day of riding, and headed East on the Trans Canada Highway (Highway 1). About 2 hours later, we arrived in the town of Golden, where we found a cheap place right off the main highway about 15 minutes from the resort.


Day 4 (Kicking Horse on the Epic Pass : Rode 17.9K vertical feet) – Once we arrived in Golden, we could see Kicking Horse resort from the highway. Since it was our first time, we didn’t really know which peaks were which, but we could tell that a ski resort was in those hills.

We didn’t spend too much time in the town of Golden, but it definitely gave off a ski town vibe similar to Revelstoke. Especially once we got to the mountain itself. It also felt more touristy than Revelstoke, with fewer locals and a lot of foot traffic around the gondola.

Using the Epic Pass was easy, I asked the ticket window if I needed to do anything special, but I could just walk up to the line, get out my card and have them scan it.

The mountain itself is pretty intense. A single gondola takes you to the top, where you get off on what feels like the spine of a mountain. And from there, you have to ride along this ridgeline with enough speed to get to the “Easiest Way Down” signs. So again, much like Revelstoke, I probably wouldn’t bring my kids here for several years.

But at the top of that gondola is where you could choose to hike to various peaks, bowls, and runs that aren’t accessible by lifts. It’s the definition of “earning your turns.”

The vertical isn’t as easy to pile up as it was at Revelstoke, but the runs were unique, and would be even better on a powder day. We did a little exploring and hiking out towards Terminator Peak (looker’s left) and the Ozone (looker’s right).

Once we finished our day here, we drove about an hour and a half towards Banff, where we would spend the next 2 nights.


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Day 5 (Sunshine Village in Banff on the Ikon Pass : Rode 19.3K vertical feet) – Banff locals will tell you they’re a ski town, but it took me some convincing before I believed it. The previous 2 times I’ve been to Banff (once as a kid, and once with my wife), we were just there to sightsee. Kind of like when we visit Leavenworth, a Bavarian town in Washington.

But there are several snowboard shops and outdoor related stores mixed in with all the touristy things, along with 1 mountain just outside of town (Norquay), 1 mountain about 20 minutes away (Sunshine Village), and another mountain about 40 minutes away (Lake Louise). The town of Banff is beautiful with a mix of mountains, snow and water. But when you drive in from the West, the mountains of Revelstoke, Kicking Horse, Lake Louise and Sunshine Village are all just as impressive which I think might take away from the allure just a little bit. Still, I love visiting Banff and the food options here are always great.

Snowboarding at Sunshine Village on Day 4 felt a lot like being at home (Stevens Pass / Crystal Mountain). It was a Saturday so the lots packed up quickly and there were a lot of families. There were mountain hosts everywhere who were extremely helpful. We ended up getting off the gondola too early, but did enjoy a bunch of runs to ourselves on Goat’s Eye Mountain without lines.

Once we got to the main village, we realized we were riding on the Continental Divide, along the border of British Columbia and Alberta. The runs were moderate, not too slow or fast, and the locals were friendly and would tell us about the facts of the mountain, how it’s a good mix of everything and that we should come back when there’s powder so we could ride down Delirium Dive. The runs were busier than we experienced on the trip, but we expected that from the crowds we saw in the parking lot and the fact that it was a weekend.

When we left a little bit after 1 pm, we realized just how crowded the parking got. There were at least 6 shuttle pickup spots along the road with cars parked almost all the way to the highway.


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Day 6 (Lake Louise on the Ikon Pass : Rode 14.6K vertical feet) – We thought about chasing powder and heading towards Fernie or Kimberley Alpine, but since the weather kept changing and they did not receive any new snow, we decided to check out Lake Louise nearby.

After a second night in Banff, we checked out of our hotel and headed west back towards home. About 40 minutes west of Banff, we would arrive at Lake Louise ski area.

To be honest, fatigue started setting in so we knew we wouldn’t get anywhere near 20K vertical feet on this day. I feel like we kind of snuck in, rode for a few hours, and left so we could make our way to Vancouver that night.

We expected big crowds similar to Sunshine, especially since it was a Sunday AND because it was the first time all week they were expecting more than a trace of snow, but it was a pretty mellow day overall. There would be a wait for chairlifts on one run (10 minutes or so), but then no wait when you came back.

I really enjoyed the terrain and since there were so many ways down, we rarely saw other people. Again, a nice surprise considering it was a weekend. We lapped the Larch chair several times, then headed back to the main side. As with all the other mountains, we did a couple top to bottom runs around lunch time and then called it a day.

Once we got back on the road, we made our way back towards Vancouver which we expected would take about 9 or 10 hours. We stopped in Revelstoke (for gas) and Kamloops (for dinner) to sort of break up the drive, and arrived at our Vancouver hotel right around 9:30 pm. It did help that we got an hour of time back (from Mountain time to Pacific) during our drive.


Day 7 (Cypress Mountain on the Ikon Pass : Rode 5.9K vertical feet) – Our hotel ended up being less than 30 minutes away from Cypress Mountain Ski Area. After a week full of rocky mountain views, snow capped peaks, and new, challenging terrain, it felt like we were back at the Summit at Snoqualmie, with better views. The terrain looked fun in parts, although we didn’t ride some of it because of coverage and conditions (the snow felt chunky and our legs were just burning by this point).

We rode the Raven Ridge Quad Chair (down below, past the parking lot) and there appeared to be some fun terrain under that chair. But again, we didn’t want to push ourselves down a run that was blocked off and had some coverage issues. It was also warming up and we were ready to just call it by this point.

The best part of this mountain was it’s convenience, and the views of the water and downtown Vancouver. It’s also good to know how accessible it is, so if they ever get a big dump, we could be there in a relatively short amount of time.

From North Vancouver, it was just a short 4 hour drive back home and we were back in our driveway before 5 pm.


The inconsistencies of using the Ikon and Epic Passes (from my experience during the 2018-2019 season);

Ikon: While at Crystal Mountain and Cypress Mountain, we had to go to a ticket window to get a day pass for that specific resort. While at Revelstoke, I just walked up to the gondola with the pass in my jacket pocket, and the RFID would open up the gate and I could just walk through. While at the Banff resorts, I had to take my pass out each time and have it manually scanned.

Epic: While at Stevens Pass, they have handheld scanners that would scan your arm or leg (wherever your pass is) and they’d let you through. You never have to take your pass out. Yet at Kicking Horse, you need to take it out and allow them to scan it. I’ll update this after visiting Whistler in February.


Summary

We’re already talking about doing this again. Possibly in the Tahoe area, or near Big Sky-Jackson Hole, or Colorado. And it sounds like more friends would like to jump on board for the next trip. We’d consider flying out to those areas though, or possibly renting an RV. I’ve done the drive to Montana before, and not sure how my SUV would handle sustained 85 MPH roads. Obviously we’d try to figure out the best / cheapest combination of airfare, hotels, gas, oversized baggage fees, and so on to see what makes the most sense. We’ll likely just keep an eye on upcoming powder and go from there!

 

Info

Length of road trip; 7 days from Bellevue, up towards Banff, towards Vancouver, then back home. 6 days of snowboarding at 5 different resorts.

Total miles driven; Just around 1450 miles

Total spent; Right around $360 per person (3 of us were in the car) including food and hotels. Gas was another couple hundred split 3 ways.

Resorts visited; Revelstoke (Ikon Pass), Kicking Horse (Epic Pass), Sunshine Village (Ikon), Lake Louise (Ikon), Cypress (Ikon)

Total vertical feet snowboarded; 114,000 feet

Best spot for families; Sunshine Village in Banff

Best spot for a powder weekend; Revelstoke in British Columbia

Tips for when we do this again;

  1. We stayed in hotels that were slightly away from the main town centers / villages, and they were often 1/2 the price.
  2. We tried to stay in hotels that offered free breakfast, so we could eat in the morning while getting ready and not have to make another stop and spend extra money.
  3. I need to find a full size SUV that gets at least 20 MPGs. Maybe even something like a TDI Touareg that gets around 30 MPGs on the freeway. But otherwise, happy with the Land Cruiser.
  4. On almost every day, we rode from 9 am to 1 pm while carrying snacks, instead of taking a break for lunch. If we rode fewer mountains and fewer days, I’d extend those days out longer to maximize my time on the slopes.

 

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