The best ski resort in the world?

Five years have slipped by since I hailed Revelstoke as the most exciting development in snow business on either side of the Atlantic over the past 20 years.

I predicted that within less than a decade Revelstoke Mountain Resort (RMR) would earn its place as one of the top 10, alongside Aspen, Jackson Hole, Whistler, St Anton, Chamonix, Val d’Isère, Courchevel, Verbier and Zermatt.

At the time I wrote that I had seen the future of North American skiing, and I raised the question: “Is this the best ski resort in the world?” It was time to go back and find out.

Last season, after skiing the same wooded mountainsides in the deepest and lightest powder I’ve been fortunate enough to experience over the past half-century, I asked myself the same question. The answer was a surprising, but unequivocal, “yes”.

Surprising because the world economy has irrevocably changed since December 22, 2007 when the first skiers climbed aboard the Revelation gondola for the two-mile ride up Mount MacKenzie.

I was right about Revelstoke (RMR), but wrong about the timescale. Five years ago this was boom-town British Columbia, with a hotel and a host of apartments under construction. Property prices doubled overnight and Revelstoke seemed assured of becoming the new Whistler. The Gold Rush of 1865 had evolved into the Snow Rush of 2007.

But no one knew of the financial horrors that lay ahead. Property prices fell by 40 per cent. Many of the building plots snapped up in the first wave of euphoria have yet to greet their first breeze block.

The resort teetered on the edge of bankruptcy and changed ownership. Only the fact that the basic mountain infrastructure was already in place saved it from extinction. Inevitably, the original plan for 22 lifts by 2017 has been drastically downsized. Only four of these have so far been built, with a fifth likely to come within the next five years. The reduction may well be a blessing in disguise here. More lifts don’t equal more skiing.

But throughout the global economic furore that avalanched into even this remote backwoods community, the BC snow has just kept on falling and the number of skiers keeps on rising.

What brings them here is that in an average year it attracts some 40 fluffy feet of dry white powder.

Of course, you should expect this of the global capital of helicopter skiing. For 35 years the world’s wealthiest skiers have been drawn here by the promise of up to a dozen £1,000-a-day chopper rides that lead to the ultimate snow experience. For those who can afford it, they do. What RMR has done is to bring this delight within reach of the rest of us. It started by buying Selkirk Tangiers, the largest heli-ski operation in the area with drop zones scattered across 500,000 acres of untamed terrain. Then it bought the local cat-skiing company (skiers are taken up the mountain on a tracked vehicle to places that cannot be accessed by lift).

But most important of all, RMR built the giant gondola up Mount MacKenzie – and completed it before the downturn. Along with three chairs, that gives access to what is the longest lift-served continuous vertical drop in North America, and what will be, when the next lift has been installed, one of the longest in the world.

With 1,829m from top to bottom, Revelstoke has more thigh-burning vertical than Val d’Isère, Courchevel or St Moritz. It’s only a few metres short of Cervinia – but at twice the gradient. To give you some idea of the scale, the average visitor manages only 1.5 gondola rides a day.

It’s a giant of a mountain, best suited to strong intermediates and experts. Powder hounds can find their fill after only a short hike, but there’s also sufficient easy terrain for children and learners.

What all this adds up to is the perfect place for proficient skiers with – or without – less adventurous family or friends in tow. If you have come here to heli-ski and the weather prohibits flying, you simply head for the cat or the hill. If you have come for the lift-accessed piste and off-piste skiing, you can also choose a blue-sky day during your week to sample group helicopter skiing.

The resort offers astounding skiing terrain set around a well-preserved little Victorian town that over its 147-year history has seen its fortunes rise, fall, and rise again. Trapping gave way to mining and then to lumber. The last spike in the Canadian Pacific Railway was hammered in here, and in the town’s heyday, in 1912, steamships came up the Columbia River to make it one of the most prominent transport hubs of North America.

As Rod Kessler, in charge of the development of the mountain says: “We get a bit tired of being asked if we are going to be the next Whistler because we are not trying to be it. We wonder who is going to be the next Revelstoke.”

Source: By Peter Hardy