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Mountain love in the Kootenay Rockies

Playtime on the Powder Highway

- Words and photographs by Lia Crowe

In true romantic style, befitting the moment, Peter and I intertwine arms for the first sip of our sparkling wine, cold and crisp, as our deliciously exhausted, post-ski bodies cuddle in front of a glowing orange wood stove.

With the exception of Jack, our host at the Constella cabins, tucked high in the soaring hills of RED Mountain Resort, we feel like we might be the only people for miles. Outside there is nothing but acres and acres of snow-covered alpine forest. And as the flakes start falling silently from the sky and the day turns to the deep blue of dusk, the words “trip if a lifetime” come to mind.

Newbies to the Kootenay Rockies area—also known as the home of the Powder Highway due to its numerous adventure-packed ski resorts—we arrived a day earlier with a smooth touchdown at Trail airport, followed by a picturesque drive through the historical town of Rossland, as we made our way to RED Mountain Resort.

Expecting funky, down-home, Kootenay-vibe accommodations, we were thoroughly surprised as we pulled up to the grand entrance of The Josie Hotel with its chic decor and sophisticated atmosphere. Up in our room, a corner suite beautifully furnished and wrapped with mountain views, we settled in for an experience like no other. The Josie Hotel (Autograph Collection) merges high-end luxury with all the charm of a boutique hotel. It has true ski-in, ski-out access, cedar barrel saunas, a ski concierge who takes care of all your equipment, vibrant dining and a stylish apres-ski lounge, where I had one of the best gin martinis of my life.

Soon seated in The Josie’s buzzing Velvet Restaurant, we feasted on melt-in-your-mouth pork belly and truffle risotto, which we washed down with the dark, rustic, raspberry freshness of a Lambrusco—the pairing recommended by executive chef Derek Bendig. The Velvet’s menu highlights local meats, including a to-die-for Kootenay Bison Tartare on roasted bone marrow with cured egg yolk and brioche.

We sampled buttery Steelhead Trout Rillettes, Squash and Burrata Salad, Crispy Spiced Potatoes and a delicious dessert of perfectly puffy madeleines, all offered with wine pairings that even impressed, my food-and-wine-connoisseur partner, Peter.

The next day, suited up in ski gear expertly selected—based on our ability and preferences—by the friendly staff at the RED Mountain High-Performance Rental Centre, we were ready for first day of skiing, and this is the moment Dieter came into our story.

A fit-looking, moustached man in his 70s, Dieter is a “snow-host” at RED Mountain, a volunteer who guides skiers around the mountain and someone who will remain a highlight of our trip. With 3,850 acres of pristine skiing (placing the resort in the top 10 size-wise and number one for the most acres per skier in North America) and 110 runs spread across three mountains, RED is all about its terrain, which is vast and varied—hence my appreciation for our guide.

Dieter glided and delicately carved down the slopes and after a couple tips like, “put your weight into your big toe on the downhill side,” Peter and I, intermediate skiers already, are gliding right along behind him as he shows us why after skiing at 100 different resorts Red is the mountain he’s chosen as his home.

RED, he said, has a culture of respectful, high-quality skiers and snowboarders, gorgeous groomed runs, loads of powder, long and winding traverses and magical, tree-skiing runs that are even suitable for intermediates like us.

At the end of the day, Dieter dropped us off at the Paradise Basin, high on Granite Mountain, to experience the Constella cabins and clubhouse for the night: RED’s newest bucket-list experience. Our time spent here, which included a fondue dinner prepared by our host, was truly memorable.

After a few days of skiing and working up an appetite, we ventured off RED Mountain into the nearby town of Rossland, where the main street is lined with historical buildings that house cute shops, cafes, bakeries and specialty food and wine shops. The Rossland Beer Company glowed and buzzed with warmth and activities as we wandered by en route to a local favourite, Gabriella’s Restaurant.

Here, we enjoyed a six-course “trip around Italy” dinner created by chef, owner and native of Italy, Gabriella Pelli-Lapointe. With each course, our server showed us on a map of Italy the place in which each course was inspired; she described the region, gave a little history and explained why Gabriella chose it.

Prosciutto-wrapped dates served over arancini (which are crispy fried risotto balls), inspired by the city of Bologna, and a creamy smoked salmon fettuccine, inspired by the island of Sardinia, were a few of the courses which were all perfectly paired with wines.

By now Peter and I, fully bitten by the ski bug, were ready to round out our Kootenay visit with a day at the next stop on the Powder Highway—Whitewater Ski Resort near Nelson—and we lucked out with a “bluebird day” of cloudless skies and jaw-dropping views.

Whitewater offers a welcoming, down-to-earth community vibe, uncrowded slopes and the day lodge’s famous Fresh Tracks Café, which is consistently referred to as the best mountain food in North America. As we ravenously enjoyed the Glory Bowl and Thai Bowl, we began to see why.

As we fly back to Vancouver Island, feeling super-charged by the mountain air, Peter and I recap the high points of our trip. We concur that this includes experiencing the luxurious Josie, sleeping in a sexy little Constella cabin, gliding at high speeds down perfect, uncrowded runs, enjoying so much good food, and snowshoeing at Strawberry Pass.

However, we agree that if we had to choose one highlight, it was most definitely the welcoming vibe and the friendly culture. We were treated so well by everyone we encountered, people who all share a deep love of where they live and work. And as the mountains drop away behind us and the ocean comes into view, our conversation turns to… when are we going back?!?

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication
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