Riding high in Kicking Horse

Huw J. Williams puts Canada’s newest resort to the test

Hard-packed snow, coffee-coloured slush, rocks that hide millimetres below the surface – just some of the reasons helicopters are becoming the preferred means of transport for those whose winter holiday budgets are big enough.

But carving through fresh snow on a two-hour descent needn’t involve having your bank account vacuumed. A new resort in Canada has taken over terrain previously accessed only by a local heli-ski company.

Kicking Horse in British Columbia has opened up the pistes of the privileged to the rest of us. A fast, eight-person gondola is now the transport up to two High Alpine Bowls. Pick a line – any line: the bowls are officially on piste. The gondola station and Eagle’s Eye restaurant stand at 2,450m, from where there is a 360-degree view of the Purcell mountain range.

In front, a single marked run drops down into the larger bowl. It’s more a suggestion than a route, and from the top, the run back to the bottom is 10km, the second longest in Canada.

The other appeal of helicopters is that they take you places where there’s no one else around. But choose any day midweek, apart from the main holidays, and you won’t have to share Kicking Horse with the hordes. Last season, there were only 90,000 visitors, spread over five months and 23,000 acres.

Kicking Horse is the first resort to be built in the Canadian Rockies for 25 years. It will probably be the last – environmental concerns and regulations make it unlikely another development will be allowed on either side of the Canadian/US border.

When it is complete, the owners intend Kicking Horse to be competition for the big international players on the Canadian snow scene, Banff and Whistler. It’s got a long way to go, but it’s getting there.

Three hundred acres of glades, gullies and tree runs have been added this season, and a new lift, Stairway to Heaven, will be running for the first time. It won’t open up any new terrain, but it will save a lung-bursting hike to the top of Blue Heaven. The eventual spread of the resort will see it encompassing lift access to all five chutes and an in-bounds area of 4,000 acres.

Kicking Horse is only 1 hours from Banff, a favoured resort for British winter holiday-makers. There are daily shuttle buses for C$70, including a day lift pass, making it a viable third option to the usual choice of Lake Louise or Sunshine.

The Kicking Horse base area is 14km outside Golden, an old logging town that has grown along the railway sidings, highway and river. Until it relaunched two years ago, Kicking Horse was known as Whitetooth, a local’s hill. Residents voted nine to one to redevelop Whitetooth into Kicking Horse, as tourism is seen as the only sustainable economic source of income.

Whether Kicking Horse will ever be one of Canada’s biggest resorts is debatable. It is further from an international airport than Banff and at present most of the resort exists only as models in display cases. Even though new restaurants are opening, Golden has a long way to go to transform itself from a hard-working but hard-up town to a cosmopolitan consumer destination. But if you’re within any reasonable driving range, Kicking Horse is definitely worth a road trip.

Frontier Ski (  020-8776 8709 , Frontier Ski) offers one week at the Prestige Inn, Golden, including Air Canada flights, car and accommodation from £713 per person. Crystal Holidays (0870 8880252, Crystal Holidays) offers seven nights with return flights to Calgary and free airport transfer from £559-£709 based on two sharing.

The Guardian, Saturday 2 November 2002 [read it here]

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