There are two sides to Canada’s Kicking Horse resort– steep, deep powder trap, and foodie heaven. Christine Ottery sucks up both.
If you are the type to carve a gastronomic trail from morning patisserie to slopeside chalet déjeuner to Michelin-starred evening blowout, you might well sniff at the trans-pond ski experience. With a few honourable exceptions, North America’s mountain munchies infamously consist of basic fare: chilli, burgers and hot soups. Until now. Welcome to the Canadian Rockies’ one-stop shop for the gliding gourmet.
Perched above the British Columbia resort of Kicking Horse – so named not for any poetically gambolling wild chargers but because a Canadian Pacific Railway scout once got booted by a grumpy packhorse here – the Eagle’s Eye is the Canadian Rockies’ highest restaurant, and the best by far. Sitting at over 2,000m, it is wrapped in 360-degree views of the Rocky, Purcell and Selkirk Mountains, and overlooks Columbia Valley, carved out by the Pacific-bound Columbia River.
A very reasonable $30 will buy you a lunch of two courses and a drink here, and rugged mountain staples such as salmon, buffalo and elk are all prepared with impressive French finesse. But the gourmet main event is the restaurant’s monthly Wine Maker’s Dinner. The feast consists of seven courses designed to marry with seven wines from BC’s boutique vineyards at Hillside Estate, one of the Canadian wineries that produces the famous ice wines, intense dessert wines made with grapes that have been frozen to -15°C for three days.
My menu included dishes such as tender roasted rabbit loin in potato crust with a black truffle jus, washed down with a quaff of plummy Cabernet Franc ’04. Head chef Alain Sonet is a genius, and even those who don’t know a Pouilly Fumé from their elbow can taste how the wine and food choices enhance each other. But being fussy about your food doesn’t mean you’re not just as keen on some high-octane, high-quality skiing or boarding. Luscious, lingering lunches need burning off, after all.
In Kicking Horse, you can have your cake and eat it. The main attractions are the varied, challenging terrain, and the thick, icing-sugar fluff that’s heaped upon it – last season saw 700cm pile onto the peaks. Evocatively named runs like Mustang Sally, Saddle Sore, Stallion, Whistle Blower and Derail are some of the routes down the two main ridges: CPR (disappointingly named for the Canadian Pacific Railway and not the high-drama heart-starting manoeuvre that looks so cool on ER) and Redemption. The steep couloirs that stem from the ridges are all black diamond or double black diamond, so you’ll need a fair amount of experience, steely nerves and a good hour’s digestion time before you drop in. I took the plunge on one of the signposted runs off the Redemption Ridge, called One Trick Pony (Saddle Sore was for later). Even tracked-out snow was soft and chalky as I wove down the steep chute, which levelled out into the Feuz Bowl way too quickly. Heading to the cable car for a second bite was a no-brainer.
After a couple of days on the ridges, the Terminator beckoned, a formidable jagged peak with nerve-fraying gradients. With runs named Truth, Dare and Glory, wild horses couldn’t drag me away, despite the hefty uphill hike to get there. With my boarder boyfriend for moral support, I made it almost to the top of Glory, where the run became so narrow that there was barely room to turn. I dropped in for a downhill so raw that as I sought out pillows of powder on the thick, crusty surface, I wished I was carrying avalanche gear.
With 2,750 skiable acres, Kicking Horse is not as expansive as its European counterparts, although it makes full use of its ridges and gullies. Forty-five per cent of its runs are for the advanced skier, so there’s plenty of terrain to cover without needing to go out-of-bounds (where, should disaster strike, you face spiralling bills for rescue and repairs as wintersports insurance doesn’t apply), and future seasons may see more expansion.
In an attempt to shed its reputation as a resort only for hardcore have-a-go heroes, Kicking Horse has paid more attention to runs for riders who want to build their confidence – the groomed blues in particular – and to family-friendly activities such as the tube park for small children and the fire pit for toasting marshmallows. This has paid off, with national accolades for the quality of Kicking Horse’s groomers, which are a welcome easy blast after tackling something a bit more hair-raising.
What makes Kicking Horse a viable week’s holiday is the number of other available options for snow lovers. Heli-skiing, snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing, ice-climbing, snowmobiling, telemarking and avalanche training are all on offer when you’re all sloped out. And you don’t need to spend the whole week eating at the Eagle’s Eye either, although it’s tempting. Down in the resort, Sushi Kuma and Corks are both also great options for refined refueling.
Carrier Zoom (www.flyzoom.com) flies from Gatwick to Calgary from £199 one-way including taxes. Air Canada flies return from Heathrow to Calgary from £495 including taxes. Transfers take three hours
Staying there High-end: Whispering Pines Townhomes ($280/night) (www.stayingolden.com) Mid-range: Prestige Inn ($109.50/night) (www.prestigeinn.com) Budget: Country Comfort B&B ($65/night) (www.countrycomfortbandb.com)
Tour ops High-end: Frontier Travel (www.frontier-travel.co.uk) Mid-range: Crystal Ski (www.crystalski.co.uk) Budget: Ski Deals (www.skideals.co.uk)
Season: mid-Dec to mid-Apr Vertical drop: 1,190m-2,445m Terrain: 2,750 acres Pistes: Green: 20%; Blue: 20%; Black: 60%
Snowmaking: none Lift passes: $60 per day, $284 for five days Mountain munchies: four restaurants Guiding: Golden Guides provides various activities, and also offers free hosting twice daily.
Facilities: the Local Hero is one of the liveliest places, with its deck, outdoor fireplace and music. For more raucous nightlife, the Lodge is the place to be.
Highlight: thrilling chutes Bummer: gondola has no mid-station – to the top every time.