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Last weekend, Louise and I were invited down to Castle Mountain Ski Resort for a media day. As we were in Bali for most of last winter (check out some of our Bali adventures here!), we were waaay overdue for a ski day so couldn’t have been more excited when the invite came through.
Castle Mountain is one of those places we’d always heard a lot of good things about, but for some reason or other, we’d never managed to make it there until now. Castle boasts mountains of snow (11m last year), and one of the longest runs down a fall line in North America… Yes theoretically you could straight line an entire 2,000ft chute.. if you completely lost your mind.
I suppose the main reason we’d never made it down to Casttle was because of Fernie. Fernie has an amazing reputation for incredible fluffy powder and a great apres ski scene (read about our Fernie adventures); the town has great bars and restaurants, luxurious hotels and even an ice bar.
But Fernie has a downside that can make or break your trip. Fernie is at such a low altitude that it’s pretty common to have rain on the slopes. Either you’ll get the best skiing of your life, or the worst.
Castle Mountain, on the other hand, although not too far from Fernie, doesn’t suffer from the same problem as it’s actually 1200ft higher.
It means you get all that fluffy, champagne powder and can leave your garbage bag poncho at home. It’s also a bit closer than Fernie, $15 per day cheaper and a hell of a lot quieter! Finally, if you’re into CAT skiing, Castle Mountain has one of the biggest land leases in the Canadian Rockies, and a huge chunk of that is devoted to glorious cat skiing! Check out the Powder Stagecoach CAT skiing page for more details.
So, just by the stats alone, we were way overdue for a visit!
The weather over the past few weeks has not been kind to skiers. Based on the warm weather, we reckoned we were in for an icy, scrapey day, and the drive over seemed to confirm our suspicions. Not a speck of snow anywhere and just miles and miles of brown fields.
We quickly found ourselves wondering if it was worth getting out of bed for a day of downhill ice skating…
Well as it turns out, you can’t trust the weather along the way at all. As soon as we reached the mountains, the patchy hills give way to towering snow covered peaks. From a distance, the ski hill itself also looked pretty good! Things were definitely looking up, but it remained to be seen if the hill was going to be crusty and icy (tl;dr it was actually great snow).
After 2.5 hours of driving, we finally reached the quaint little ski village at Castle Ski Resort.
As far as ski resorts go, the infrastructure at Castle is quite basic. A small rental shop, a pub and a main lodge with a cafe, a bar and a restaurant. The mountain itself has 6 chairlifts that service 94 trails across 2 mountains.
Of all the other ski resorts we’ve been to in the Rockies, this one easily has the least ‘commercial’ feel to it. It feels like a family resort, and the dozens of family owned cabins littering the resort suggest that it’s not just a front.
It’s quite clear immediately that Castle is a mountain for serious skiers. Not because it’s difficult (there are plenty of runs for all abilities), but because there aren’t all the bells and whistles to distract you like in most other typical resorts. There’s no coffee shop halfway up the mountain, tube rides, licensed yurts or whatever else you normally end up spending a week’s salary on on a typical ski day.
No, at Castle you’re there to ski, and it was really a refreshing change compared to the lazy way we normally ski (i.e. stopping for food/coffee several times in one day).
Once we’d arrived at Castle, we were given a quick introduction from the resort and were split into different ability groups. When we filled out our forms a few weeks ago, I was in a particularly confident mood and decided we were advanced skiers and should go in the advanced group.
Fast forward to the actual day and suddenly we weren’t feeling quite as cocky. The groups were read out, and we were paired up with our guide, Cole, one of Castle’s marketing team members, and Shannon, Eritrea’s first ever winter Olympic Athlete (…competing in slalom…)..
Yes… definitely might have overestimated our abilities a little.
But in the end we were glad to be thrown into the frying pan. Our guide cole took us straight to the top and immediately put us through our paces down some of the off-piste areas.
Much to our surprise, Louise and I managed to keep up quite happily, and even managed to find some fresh tracks and powder! To think that there wasn’t any snow just a few miles away and yet here we were tearing it up on fresh pow! What’s more, the runs were short and sweet and gave our unfit bodies time to recover between each lap.
Louise and I couldn’t stop grinning as we powered through lap after lap on the red chair.
Eventually, we’d plucked up the courage to take on some of the chutes on the south side of the mountain, and Cole hastily guided us to Gambler; one of his favourites.
Honestly, I could have lapped that run all day.
Normally, even hearing the word ‘chute’ brings me out in cold sweats, but these aren’t the kind of ‘no fall zone’ chutes you see in ski movies. Gambler was a long, relatively wide and steep run with plenty of untouched snow and not another group in sight. Louise and I chewed up the slope as fast as our skis could carry us!
A few good runs down the chutes and Castle was suddenly rocketing up my mental ‘ski resort leaderboard’. It’s honestly been a couple of years since I’ve had this much fun on skis and it’s made me hungry for a few more powder days this season.
The only real downside to the poor weather conditions was that the lack of snow and the sunshine had turned some of the lower runs into less forgiving snow and ice. This might have been a source of frustration for some of the beginner groups, but we stayed close to the top of the mountain and easily avoided those runs until it was time for lunch.
Overall I would really rate the skiing highly. I would compare it to Fernie in its layout and difficulty, and would say there’re plenty of great runs for people of all abilities.
After such an incredible morning, Louise and I were pumped to get out and experience the second half of our media day and the organized activity; the scenic snow cat experience!
This is an experience designed to take tourists to the highest points of the Cat skiing terrain in order to give the most scenic panoramic view and give a little background on the area.
Our tour was an abbreviated version of the tour, but it was enough to get the general gist.
The tour started at the top of the Huckleberry chairlift (if you didn’t know, Castle Mountain is famous for its huckleberries and even has an annual huckleberry festival in August), where our group was hastily boarded onto the powder stagecoach (a pimped out CAT).
Within seconds of being boarded, the CAT roared into life and started ascending at a mind bogglingly steep angle.
The cat gently rose up the peak to take us to a viewpoint that typically takes 2-3 hours to hike (if you don’t want to pay for the cat tour). Our guide emphatically talked about the different landmarks in the area and about the newly designated Castle Provincial Park as we waited.
Looking out the window, it was pretty clear to see why this area would be great for CAT skiing; acres of untouched powder went by as we peered longingly out the window.
Once at the top, we had a minute or so (literally) to take it in and grab some photos. The view was impressive but it was a shame we couldn’t have stayed longer.
Then finally it was a quick ride back in the cab and back down to the chairlift.
At $89, this is quite an expensive tour IMHO, and in all honesty I’m not sure I would pay it if I was there to ski. With the regular tour, you get hot chocolate, snacks and a $10 voucher for the pub, but I still struggle to see the value for anyone that skis or snowboards. For $10 more than this ticket, a regular lift ticket takes you to an even higher peak where the views are just as, if not more impressive.
With that being said, if you absolutely don’t ski or snowboard, then this is a magnificent way to effortlessly take in some views at the top of a mountain. Riding a snow cat is quite a fun experience in itself, and I suppose this is really what you’re paying for, along with the interesting narrative while you ride. The other major downside I see is that the tour apparently only runs around sunset, so if you’re not a skier/snowboarder you’ll have to sit around for the entire day waiting for your time slot.
Of course, this would be a totally different story if you were actually CAT skiing!
You can find out more about the Scenic Snow Cat experience here.
If you like any of the gear in our photos, make sure to follow the links in the captions – Gear was provided by Sporting Life Canada but this post is created entirely from our own opinions and experiences.