Kicking Horse lift-accessed backcountry
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort’s inbounds terrain is the tip of the iceberg. Generally speaking this is trite of any ski hill; quite obviously what can be accessed from lifts will almost always be a bigger area than what is lift-serviced but the contrast for KHMR is stark. There are 85 named inbounds alpine chutes in KHMR, 6 alpine bowls, massive terrain inbounds and not that many people. It really does beg the question why one might even want to grab backcountry gear, skins and go for a tour.
image: Lee Lau. Matt Ruta in the Toilet Snake in the Ozone area
A general lay of the land of the Kicking Horse terrain follows. I ghetto-marked up the map below. No hand-holding gps tracks are provided. Even a cursory glance shows how much there is. North of Kicking Horse are a plethora of ridges running E- W and having a distinct N and S aspect. These ridges are steep! South of the Kicking Horse resort area the ridgelines continue along the same bend as the Terminator Peak’s ridgelines with possibilities to descend on slidepaths towards town. There are also possibilities to drop towards the backside of KHMR towards Canyon Creek where the micro-terrain is somewhat wind-protected.
image from Google Maps. Do not rely on this for directions especially if you are from Quebec
You’ll note the vagueness of the directions and beta. If you’re independent-minded and start googling you’ll find that there’s little out there other than some general route descriptions from Backcountry Skiing Canada (written by Matt Ruta). This is deliberate. The terrain is complex. However what you see with the Kicking Horse terrain is what you get. These spines and ridgelines are wide-open for the eye to see. Look at the maps, pore over Google Earth but most importantly, open your eyes. If you’ve got a brain and have some backcountry experience you’ll find what you’re looking for.
image: Lee Lau. Matt Ruta contemplating what line to pick for Ozone
If this sounds like too much work or more charitably, if you want the benefit of local experience there are resources. Tourism Golden links to the many guide operations in the area and indeed, there is so much terrain in the Golden area (and if you want to venture further, up the Donald, Blaeberry drainages or towards Rogers Pass) that you could spend a lot of time simply touring and/or bagging steep lines. As testimony to this just start reading about the history of Canadian ski-mountaineering. The sheer number of big peak and big line baggers who call Golden home may tell you something.
image: Lee Lau. Sharon just loving the Kicking Horse alpine
For our Golden/Kicking Horse backcountry touring experience we bummed a guided tour from a friend. Matt Ruta took a mental health day and came out to show a couple of dumb coasties around. Our first spin at the wheel was to take the gondola up to the alpine then make our way over to the Stairway to Heaven chair. From there we skied off the backside towards Canyon Creek. A word of warning. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE SKINS AND KNOW TO TOUR OUT OF CANYON CREEK BACK TOWARDS THE HILL.
Conceivably you could bootpack back out but you’d better be in great shape. Canyon Creek is such a notorious place for unknowledgable skiers to get lost that, at one point, Golden SAR had a special bulletin out on it. Refrain from adding to the rescue call-outs.
image: Lee Lau. Your Canyon Creek excursion likely starts by dropping off the resort boundaries towards the KHMR backside
The main issue with Canyon Creek is the ease of access. Duck a rope and you’re in some perfect pow on the KHMR backside. The temptation is to keep going. DON’T.
Some further notes. It’s not possible to walk out from Canyon Creek back towards town. It’s a canyon. You will die. Another note. If you ski out to Canyon Creek and need a rescue. Stay Put. Don’t keep moving so that Golden Search and Rescue can’t find you. Don’t abandon your partner. Finally, don’t sue Golden SAR for your mistakes.
If these introductory caveats are not clear enough let’s make it quite clear. The ski-touring off the Kicking Horse resort is serious business. Know your terrain. Have necessary equipment. Be prepared. Golden SAR thanks you for your attention!
image: Lee Lau. Well preserved powder into the Canyon Creek drainage
image: Lee Lau. Runs can be 400 – 600 long. If conditions permit you can drop all the way down the drainage and cross into the mountains on the other side of the Dogtooths. This of course means a long slog out.
After we skinned out of Canyon Creek Matt and I elected to continue our day by heading north along the ridge towards the Ozone zone. There are uncountable steeps, spines and couloirs off this zone many of which are protected by cornices and/or other objective hazards. Matt picked a medium sized steep shot called the “Toilet Snake” adjacent to the “Toilet Bowl”. It was protected by a small cornice feature which we chopped. Some smaller benches then gave us tight safe zones; perfect for a small party.
The couloir held very good snow; deep enough that we had to cut manage sluff. After we were done it was a traverse with skis on back to the ski area. A very civilized, relatively easy to access shot but one which required decent technical skills to manage. This seems to epitomize a lot of the Kicking Horse lift-accessed frontside backcountry.
image: Lee Lau. Matt dropping in
image: Lee Lau. Found a safe spot and joined Matt. He dropped in again
image: Lee Lau. I got to go first mid-couloir choke
image: Lee Lau. Then we leapfrogged down the rest
image: Lee Lau. Beautiful snow down the fan all the way to the bottom
Where to Stay
We were hosted by Tourism Golden at the Glacier Mountain Lodge. There’s ample opportunity to cook for yourself and with the massive pullout bed the rooms sleep 4 comfortably making this an economical option (approx $ 135 – $ 180 per evening midweek). Hard to find a deal like this slopeside
image: Lee Lau. Glacier Mountain Resort slopeside at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort
Where to Eat
As always consult the Passport to the Kootenays for coupon discount deals. You get to save money and you support local businesses and needy causes. Sometimes however, the new hot places to eat don’t come discounted and this was our quandary. Too many good choices and options for good food in Golden!
image: Lee Lau. Reposado is a Mexican-themed restaurant and is very new and very worthwhile.
image: Lee Lau. Mmmm. Tacos, beer and (not pictured) churros and chocolate
image: Lee Lau. Big portions at the 1122
We did score a pretty good deal at the highly rated 1122 Restaurant. Eat early bird between 5 to 7pm and you get a three course meal for $ 25! Any rumours to the contrary that the portion sizes aren’t huge are FAKENEWS. This was a massive meal and superb quality
image: Lee Lau. Thanks for Kicking Horse Mountain Resort and Tyson for having us.
image: Lee Lau. Thanks to Tourism Golden and Andy for plying us with food and beer!