Nestled in the heart of the Selkirk and Monashee mountains of British Columbia lies a once anonymous little town called Revelstoke. Cat skiing and heli skiing were nothing new to the town but until recently, the quality of the terrain was something of a local secret. In 2008 everything began to change for this sleepy town though as the first phase of a multi billion-dollar, 15 year long plan was put into motion…….
In February 2009, British skier Luke Potts flew out to Vancouver to meet up with Scottish skier Claire Hughes and myself. Like many people that come to ski in British Columbia, all three of us have spent the majority of our time in Whistler. Half hour long lift lineups on a powder day are something of the norm there but we had heard rumors that the new under-construction “mega resort” of Revelstoke would offer slightly better odds on getting a fresh line, even if the storm was long gone.
Right on cue it began to snow heavily about 8 hours into our drive from Whistler. As the roads twisted and turned into the BC interior, the towns spread further apart and the black silhouettes of an approaching mountain range appeared on the horizon. Our small-scale gas station acquired map gave us no clues. What appeared at first to be an insignificant stretch of road now seemed like in unsurpassable mountain pass as the few cars on the road slowed to a crawl in the storm. It may be slow going but trust me, there is no more exciting way to arrive at an unexplored mountain.
When you arrive at the mountain in the morning there is a unique decision to be made. RMR offers 4 different ways to access their 600,000 acres of terrain. Aside from the regular lift access you can also opt to take either a Cat or a Helicopter or simply expand your lift-serviced fun with the addition of a certified guide to take you touring out into the backcountry.
The terrain on Mt Mackenzie is simply a dream come true for intermediate or advanced skiers and when you start looking at the statistics you can see this place means business. With 5600ft of vertical on offer it tops the previous king of BC, Whistler Blackcomb, by nearly 1000ft and claims the title of longest lift-serviced vertical in North America. The well-groomed steep-pitched blue and black runs will challenge the stamina of even the most avid skier with their incredible length as they twist and turn, uninterrupted from the peak to the valley floor for up to 9.5 miles! A quick traverse from the top of the Stoke chair gives you access to the North or South bowl where the terrain opens up into pristine alpine bowls that lead to spacious tree skiing. It only snowed on the first day of our trip but we were still able so ski deep fresh lines just minutes from the lift five days after our arrival. With an average annual snow fall of more then 50ft, that’s some good odds on getting to ski fresh snow whatever day you decided to visit.
Only 2 years into the 15-year master plan, the mountain has only 3 lifts. The 8-man gondola takes you up from the valley to connect you with 2 high-speed quad chairs that provide access to the north and south of the mountain. When it’s finished, the mountain will have more than 20 lifts but for now this seems just right. We never encountered more than a handful of people at any of the lifts, even on our first morning when we were greeted with 20cm of fresh snow. Having such a large area serviced by so few lifts gives the mountain a spacious feel that I hope is not diminished in the future by the addition of the newer lifts at the extremities of the current boundary. We skied at Revelstoke for 5 days but I know we barely scratched the surface of what this place has to offer. What I can say though, is that this is truly a world-class mountain with some of the best lift-accessed off-piste terrain I have ever encountered. It also boasts such a selection of well-designed pisted runs that I could be quite happy tearing them up at high speed all day long without even putting a foot in the powder.
World-class mountain it may be but for now, world class resort it is not. Typical ski resort infrastructure is the missing piece of the puzzle and the base of the mountain is a mess of half finished concrete carcasses that will eventually turn into hotels, bars and gift shops. Of course, whether you need the full resort experience or not is a matter of personal taste. Many people would be quite happy with things the way they are and you can count me in that group. Revelstoke has jumped right to the top of my list and I will be back for many years to come.