GCSA Kicking Horse
Let me shorten the experience for you: What A Let Down.
We woke up in the morning. Tim, who isn’t a hardcore snowboard aficionado, decided he wasn’t going up the mountain, but I thought it dumb to be in Golden, BC and not at least try out the local and pretty well-known ski resort. I had low expectations, based on layout and map, and I knew it was going to be mobbed.
Tim drove me up. You get to the Bluebird Cafe, continue along the river until you cross it on a very unconventional, one-lane bridge that looks almost made to block you for hours if you time things wrong (that is, if you try to cross during resort rush hours). If you look at Google Maps, you’ll notice that at times, the water under the bridge has two different colors for the two rivers it’s composed of (the Columbia and the Kicking Horse from which the resorts gets its name).
A swooping switchback road takes you to base lodge. Parking – as at all resorts on this trip – is free. Tim dropped me off at the ticket counter and waited for me to buy my day pass, which ended up costing an absurd $169. It was, of course, the ticket for the most crowded day of the year, so not exactly the resort’s fault.
Next, the line for the gondola. KH is not a big resort, from an infrastructure perspective, and offers only four lifts. One of them, essentially mandatory, is the gondola that gets you from bottom to the mountain top at Eagle’s Eye. The gondola is nice, wouldn’t want to sit on a chair for that duration. It comes with a downside, though, which is that you are crammed with a bunch of people into an enclosed space. Cue the sneezing and coughing. Someone was having a bad day, and it sounded like the rest of us would, too, in a few days.
I got off the gondola at the top, realizing it was highly unlikely I would get back on in a crowd like that. I also realized that that left me with only two options: stay at the mountaintop, where a second lift (Stairway to Heaven) promised hard territory, or keep doing loops at the bottom.
The drop from the gondola is simply spectacular. A wide, flat area houses a lodge and enough room for even the holiday weekend crowd. People were lining up to take pictures, strapping up and buckling in. Everywhere there was excitement.
The layout is slightly weird, in that the dropoff leads to a ridge from which you can dive into two bowls. The Northern bowl narrows to the second lift and is steep on both sides, but mysteriously flat in the middle – so much so that the run in there is classed green. The Southern ridge leads to a very wide bowl, into which you can drop anywhere you like.
The downside, of course, is that if you drop down this way, you have to cruise all the way to the bottom and make your way back to the top. That’s a heck of a long ride for a short bowl.
Not being much in the mood for hiking after spending $169 for lift access, I went North. Here, the snow was gorgeous, but the flatness of the ride annoying. I got up on Stairway and the drop off there was as narrow and clumsy as the gondola’s had been wide and open. I managed to get around and followed the ridge, consulting the map in the process. The beautiful bowl to the North looked very promising, but hitting it would do the same thing as going South: you’d do a few turns, then land on a cat track that would lead all the way to the bottom. So I stayed on the South side of the stairway.
Sadly, that was not fun. It seems that the entire resort is built on the premise of short fun – long drudge. You’d do a few turns, then land on the green run and slog back to the lift. I did that a few times, trying variations, hitting the straight face, the trees, the drops. The snow was beautiful, people mostly nice, but it was annoying that 80% of the time was spent on green flatness.
Eventually, I gave up and went on down as I saw the lift line growing. I knew I wasn’t likely to take the gondola back up, between the lines and the wheezing, and confined myself to the lower lifts.
Of the two, Catamount served mostly green runs and was pretty flat. The other one, Pioneer, shares the lower half of the mountain with the top bowls. The runs down there were pretty nice: trees with great glading and features, wide groomers, and moguled runs. I ended up having a good time on that section.
The only problem was that I was confined to a tiny section of mountain for the day. Even if you hadn’t shared my distaste for viruses, the mountain still wouldn’t have had a whole lot to give. There are, at the end of the day, only four lifts in the entire resort. You don’t even have to know that most of the top lift is a green run, Or that to hit the steeps means having to go all the way to the bottom to trek back up.
I thought for sure this was going to be my least favorite resort of the trip, after such an unexpectedly great experience at Schweitzer and RED, and with the best still ahead. But there was worse in store, for another article.
For now, Tim picked me up and we drove on. From Golden, we marched East on the last major stretch of vacationland. We were on the Trans-Canada Highway to our next destination, Field.
The drive was mostly uneventful, although another storm was about to hit. There were already some showers happening, although they didn’t affect the drive much. Eventually, the narrow canyon of the Kicking Horse River widened a little. We drove off the highway where the map told us and found ourselves by the Visitor Centre of Yoho National Park.
By this point, the views had become absolutely spectacular. We were tired and looked for the AirBnB, but were in town too early. We messaged the hosts, but they didn’t get back to us immediately, so we looked for food.
Field, which seemed like a town of sorts on the maps, is actually mostly a collection of houses with virtually no infrastructure. There is a lodge with a restaurant, a hotel, and lots of guest houses. But there is no supermarket, pharmacy, anything really. We got some emergency supplies at the gas station (Yoho Trading Post). The folks there were awesome, but the selection lacking. So we decided to kill time by driving to Lake Louise, hoping that would be better.
We did. It was a short drive, but the village was nothing to write home about. The Wikipedia page uses the term hamlet, which might be a technical, legal term, but also describes the place well. It has stores, they are stocked, but everything is exorbitantly expensive.
We got food for the night and morning and headed back home, just as the storm started dumping. We looked forward to the next day, since it was finally not a long drive, and we could enjoy a famous resort.