The pandemic came in 2020 and ground all traveling to a halt. I had bought both IKON and EPIC passes that season, but by the beginning of March things started looking iffy. By mid-March the resorts all closed and travel, especially the international kind, had stopped. And for three years, all attempts at getting a trip together failed among successive waves of COVID-19.
Then, at the end of 2022, it looked good. There seemed to be a window of opportunity, with the world mostly immunized against the disease and quiet settling in for the moment. The war in Ukraine was going on, but that wouldn’t prevent us from traveling between the USA and Canada. Inflation was high, but that was no different up North. So I sat down with the trusted Tim and we hashed out a plan.
There was only IKON, no EPIC this season. That meant no Whistler. But there were tons of other resorts in Canada that just waited to be explored, and some of them were on a long string. We could either fly into an airport, rent a car, and return it, or I could drive to a convenient location, pick up Tim, and we could drive from there on in my familiar car. The advantage of this setup: we could pack whatever we wanted, unlike the restrictions on weight and size and materials of an airplane.
Since Tim only had this many days of PTO, and I can work remotely, we decided that I was going to leave on my own, drive to Big Sky first, stay there overnight, and then pick him up. Between the possible airports, we figured that Spokane was factors cheaper than any airport in Canada. Since the first resort we wanted to hit was RED Mountain and that was just a few hours from Spokane, that seemed a good fit.
I ended up not going to Big Sky, because the drive from there to Spokane seemed too long. Instead, I visited Schweitzer Resort in Idaho – and boy am I glad I did!
Here a list of the resorts, linked with their respective pages.
- The Great Canada Snowboarding Adventure
- GCSA Schweitzer
- GCSA RED Mountain
- GCSA Kicking Horse
- GCSA Lake Louise
- GCSA Revelstoke
- GCSA Sunshine Village
- GCSA The Long Drive Home
- GCSA Summary
The Drive North
It was Valentine’s Day. Swarms of husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends, and wives were roaming about, looking for chocolates and flowers. I was packing the car, concerned about a snow storm that was about to hit. I had planned on leaving the next day, but realized the drive was too long for a single trip in potential blizzard conditions. So I emergency booked a hotel room a few hours out, in Casper WY, and got in the car.
The first few hours, sadly, were mostly spent in rush hour traffic from Lakewood to Fort Collins. It’s quite amazing how much of a trap I-25 has become in Colorado, and there really is no alternative. At least, I told myself, the weather was fine and drivers were frustrated, but used to the conditions.
I got into Cheyenne after dark, and from there on the drive was relatively easy. It continued to be dry, but traffic calmed down almost immediately and I was pretty much alone with the overland truckers. I thought to myself that it was so odd that Cheyenne was by far the largest city in Wyoming, and yet it behaved and felt a lot like a suburb of Fort Collins, which in turn was a satellite of Denver, the Metropolis of the Rockies.
I was near Casper when the snow started. Google Maps, which was otherwise very disappointing on this trip, alerted me to bad conditions around Douglas, just after Glendo. I remembered the latter because it’s where I stopped to marvel at the total eclipse of 2017.
I made it into town, into the hotel, after a battle with whiteout conditions and trucks that didn’t know where to go. And lucky I was, as the concierge at the hotel told me the freeway was shut down completely just North of town. I was at the Comfort Inn in Evansville, a nice enough place with very friendly staff.
In the morning, I got the trusted Nespresso maker out and made myself a giant mug of brew. Then I sat down and checked the road conditions. Overnight, half the Northern Interstate system had been disabled. I-25 was closed, but so were I-80, I-90, and I-15. In short, there was no way to get out of town. Google Maps promised a route over the US Highway system, but while that might have not been closed for good, I knew conditions would be atrocious.
I stayed in until 10:00. Then they opened I-25 to Buffalo WY and I ran out.
The drive North of Casper was terrible. There is no other word for it. The freeway was an ice sheet, with the only exception being those parts of the ice sheet that had been covered by snow drift. It felt like nobody had really plowed the place, only a half-hearted attempt that left 2 inches of ice on the blacktop. The problem is that if the black is not visible, it cannot heat up and melt the ice on top.
I finally managed to get into Billings, where I-90 was open. Google Maps, again, had crowed that I had to get off the freeway, but it turns out it just thought of the connector from I-25 to I-90 as a highway. From there on, things got better. There were still stretches of the freeway that were completely covered in ice, but there also were long stretches where at least one lane was alright.
Drive, drive, drive. The car did well, although once in a while I felt it uncomfortably shift under me. The views got better, too, and the sunshine was really making the drive easier. I hit Billings, a surprisingly large city in Montana, then continued over mountain ranges into Bozeman. From there, I could have driven to Big Sky, and I was glad I hadn’t tried that the night before.
I had planned a drive through to Idaho, because realistically doing a snowboarding day in Big Sky and make it to Spokane by the evening was both too short and too risky. So I continued on, with a hotel room booked in Coeur d’Alene. The views, now that we officially crossing the Rockies, started being beautiful. Somewhere past Missoula it got dark, and here the nightmare started: people driving with high beams on or with the LED headlight that are completely blinding. Not all, of course, but enough that the drive was a chore.
I finally got into Coeur d’Alene, with the last stretch over the mountains into town being the absolute worst from a visibility perspective. There were no lights – natural, habitational, or artificial – so the only orientation came from headlights and blindness set in if someone came from the opposite direction. I wonder why the various Departments of Transportation don’t do anything about it.
The hotel was the Best Western Plus on US 95. It looked good enough on the site, and it was on the way to Schweitzer in the morning, or Spokane if I didn’t feel like snowboarding.
Shout-out to Super Travels, the site I had never heard of on which I booked both hotels. I was slightly apprehensive, since the site looked a bit sketchy, but they came through with no issues. I had read reviews that said the worst, but when I compared the ratings with those of other more established sites, it fared well.
For the rest of the trip, either go to the list of resorts above, or read the sequential list starting with Schweitzer.