Canada's Top Winter Destinations
From Whistler to Banff to Montreal, this winter’s best places to ski, snowboard—and even surf—in Canada.
Whistler and Blackcomb
North of Vancouver
The new and panoramic PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola, a mind-blowing 2.7-mile-long, 11-minute ride, connects Whistler, where this year’s Winter Olympic Games were held, to Blackcomb. Whistler is the largest ski area in North America, with more than 8,100 acres of tree and glacier skiing, 200-plus marked trails, and 37 chair lifts. The runs off the Crystal chair are not to be missed. For snowboarders, any of the four terrain parks are a must. Blackcomb’s Whistler Sliding Centre (whistlerslidingcentre.com) offers bobsled and skeleton rides on the world’s fastest and most technical course. Outside town, Whistler Olympic Park (whistlerolympicpark.com) grooms 43 miles for classic and skate skiing as well as snowshoeing. The guides to get, who know the mountains inside out, are at Extremely Canadian (extremelycanadian.com). For personal instruction, world ski champion Lauralee Bowie has opened a ski school (lessons, from $240; 888-263-6666; skiadventures.net), and expert instructors Suzie Black and Matt Mohr can be booked through WhistlerBlackcomb.com.
Après-ski, the very well planned pedestrian village has fun shops, among them Canadian-based Roots, lululemon athletica, and local Rogers chocolates. CAN-SKI carries all the best gear and luxe brands like Prada. Top restaurants worth a visit are Araxi, Barefoot Bistro, Sushi Village, and the Rim Rock Café, which is in nearby Creekside. The Fairmont Château Whistler (rooms, from $215; 4599 Chateau Blvd.; 800-606-8244; fairmont.com), at the base of Blackcomb, is a favorite among families. Nearby lies the sophisticated yet low-key Four Seasons Whistler (pictured; rooms, from $255; 4591 Blackcomb Way; 604-935-3400; fourseasons.com), where ski concierges gather at the bottom of the runs to store your equipment. Concierge Hana Lynn can make anything happen, from reserving the best table to booking excursions like zip-line trekking and snowcat touring.
Located on the west coast of Vancouver Island and part of the Pacific Rim National Park (a UNESCO biosphere), Tofino redefines the traditional notion of Canada in winter with temperate old-growth rain forests, horizontal rain showers, and no snow. Windswept beaches stretching one and a half miles, with towering ocean waves, enable it to host the O’Neill Coldwater Classic professional surfing championship, which takes place right in front of the romantic Wickaninnish Inn (rooms, from $325; Osprey Ln. at Chesterman Beach; 800-333-4604; wickinn.com). The Wick, as it’s often called, offers rooms with fireplaces and double soaking tubs with a view. It’s also where the Ancient Cedars Spa and Pointe restaurant are located. Director Charles McDiarmid recommends “chocolate croissants with a large latte in front of a roaring fire in the Driftwood Lounge, which looks down Chesterman Beach.”
Echo Valley, Cariboo Region
Marble Mountain Range
Two and a half hours from Kamloops, near Clinton, British Columbia, Norm and Nan Dove have created a unique ranch experience on a 100-year-old homestead. Echo Valley Ranch and Spa (rooms, from $225; 10635 Jesmond Rd.; 800-253-8831; evranch.com) is near the Fraser River Canyon in the heart of the Cariboo Region, known for its giant fir and pine forests, grasslands, and the Marble Mountain range. Comprised of two log lodges and four private ranch cabins, the resort features a heated indoor pool and a fitness center. The spa’s signature treatment is a traditional Thai massage. Other indoor pursuits include cooking demonstrations for those wanting a break from snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, or ice fishing for rainbow trout.
Selkirk and Monashee Mountain Range
Opened in December 2007, Revelstoke Mountain Resort (rooms, from $95; 866-373-4754; revelstokemountainresort.com) is Canada’s newest It place to stay and ski. Nestled among the Selkirk and Monashee mountain ranges, Revelstoke Mountain offers the highest vertical drop in North America and the chance to experience heli-, snowcat-, lift-, and backcountry skiing all from the same base. A helicopter can land outside your room and take you to deep but fluffy virgin powder on steep terrain. The Stoke chairlift accesses a run called Snow Rodeo for intermediate fall-line cruising. Stihl Life Glades are the best for heart-pounding, beautifully spaced pine tree skiing. The new Revelstoke Outdoors Centre (ROC) books day heli- or cat skiing, mountain awareness courses, tandem paragliding, plus hard-to-come-by gear rentals. ROC can also hook you up with Dan Skolnick, the best guide on the mountain. For the deepest powder, Erik Suchovs at Selkirk Tangiers Helicopter Skiing (rooms, from $690; 800-663-7080; selkirk-tangiers.com) is the guide to get. The Nelsen Lodge (rooms, from $115; 2950 Camozzi Rd.; 250-814-5000; sandmansignature.com), just steps from the Revelation gondola, offers a range of accommodations, from studios to luxury four-bedroom homes.
Purcell Mountain Range
Located in the heart of the Purcell Mountains near Golden, British Columbia, Kicking Horse Mountain Resort validly boasts “Champagne powder” as well as Canada’s highest elevation restaurant at the Eagle’s Eye Lodge (rooms, from $1,150; 1500 Kicking Horse Trail; 866-754-5425; kickinghorseresort.com). Situated atop the mountain, its two luxury suites come with a butler and guaranteed morning-fresh trails. This mountain is best suited for expert skiers and boarders, and top guide Andy Walton offers unique programs in avalanche awareness, route finding in big mountain terrain, and how to challenge ski lines aggressively yet safely.
Nipika, Radium Hot Springs
Kootenay National Park
Close to Radium Hot Springs lies a hidden jewel, proving that off the grid can still be luxurious. Nipika Mountain Resort (rooms, from $225; 9200 Settlers Rd.; 877-647-4525; nipika.com) borders the Kootenay National Park and features eight log-crafted lodges and cabins spread across a meadow. Each one is solar- and micro-hydropowered. Private chefs will pack a lunch for those making a day of snowshoeing along wooded glades and rushing streams, or skiing the more than 35 miles of groomed Nordic trails. The woodburning sauna and hot tub offer respite for tired limbs. Director Lyle Wilson, a former Canadian Olympic and world championships coach, offers instructional cross-country ski weeks for novice to advanced skiers.
There are many excellent winter options for savvy families in the interior of British Columbia, including Big White, near Kelowna, and Sun Peaks Resort, near Kamloops. But my family’s favorite is Fernie Alpine Resort (rooms, from $85; 877-333-2339; skifernie.com), near Calgary, for its small, low-key ski village and wide, varied terrain. All runs here lead to the same base, which is handy for keeping track of little ones. The slopeside Lizard Creek Lodge (rooms, from $140; 5346 Highline Dr.; 877-228-1948; lizardcreek.com) has breathtaking mountain views and a lively outdoor pool. Nearby is Island Lake Cat Skiing (rooms, from $159; 602A Second Ave.; 888-422-8754; islandlakecatskiing.com), which has been in operation for more than 20 years and features 7,000 acres of backcountry skiing in and around the Lizard Range. The property features 800-year-old cedar trees and high alpine bowls with deep, dry snowpacks. In addition to a spa and outdoor hot tubs, the resort features a 3,000-bottle wine selection.
Monashee and Bugaboo
Part of the Purcell Mountain Range
Hans Gmoser invented heli-skiing back in 1965, flying a small group by helicopter to an uncharted virginal slope of bottomless powder snow, then picking them up thousands of vertical feet later. With that he started Canadian Mountain Holidays Heli-Skiing (rooms, from $2,000; 217 Bear St.; 800-661-0252; canadianmountainholidays.com), now the most experienced heli-ski company in the business, with 11 lodges and access to the Bugaboo Range, the Selkirk Range, and the Monashee Mountains—the greatest amount of ski terrain available anywhere in the world. Although heli-skiing remains a dream for most recreational skiers, top guide and instructor Roko Koell makes powder skiing easy for beginners. CMH’s Valemount Lodge hosts only ten skiers per week and has a private helicopter available for unlimited skiing. The CMH Nomads tour flies four skiers to six heli-skiing areas that span the Monashee and Selkirk ranges.