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Red Mountain, British Columbia,Canada. March 2012

After coming back to Europe and a fine week at La Plagne last season where we had a holiday with Ski Esprit I was looking to be more adventurous again in 2012. It would be back to Canada and to Red Mountain (was branded as Red Resort for a time but it seems to be back with its old and more familiar name). Our two children, Craig (5) and Anya (2) would be the major factor in our planning of this trip, keep it simple !

We had looked at the various travel options including flying into Spokane across the border in Washington state but with a minimum of two stops en-route it was not really going to be the best choice. If we flew Air Canada it was from Heathrow and meant getting the shuttle down from Glasgow or Edinburgh, so we looked at Canadian Affair and at the time they had a direct flight from Manchester when we wanted to go, leaving mid afternoon and arriving in Calgary at a suitable time. So we booked up for a trip that would last just under a month. The flights cost £1850 for the 4 of us and were a fair bit cheaper than AC or BA. I then set about booking car hire and accomodation We decided to spend the first night at the Delta Calgary airport hotel, firstly because its at the airport, its also adjoining to the car rental area and it has a pool to keep the kids happy until bedtime. The main part of our stay would be down in Rossland and was for exactly 3 weeks and we had already bought season passes at the early bird prices last April meaning that after the 12th day on the slopes the pass had paid for itself. We found Red Barn Lodge, situated at the edge of lower Rossland in 13 acres of grounds and booked up. We then booked a night at Fairmont Hot Springs and a night at Canmore for the return journey to Calgary.

Things were all in place and looking good until I received an e-mail in October saying that the outbound Manchester flight was cancelled, our options were to go out a week earlier, a week later or to fly from Gatwick on the same day. The Gatwick option was taken. Then a few days later we were told the day and time of flying home had changed so we had again to change our other bookings. We did find Canadian Affair staff good to talk to over the phone and we will use them again in the future (2014 planning has already began).

We set out on Tuesday March 6th, driving down to Gatwick (400 miles+) and staying the night in the Copthorne Hotel, Effingham . The Hotel cost £105 for a family room which was big and we had reasonable evening dinner there, the only downside was that the pool was closed for maintenance but we were able to use the facilities at the sister Hotel a few miles away.

Next morning we checked out and drove to the south terminal at Gatwick, we used Gatwick Park and Stay(£90) and just phoned before arriving at the drop off point where a chauffeur collected the car and took it away. On return it was straight forward to have the car delivered to the drop off point again after we had collected our luggage. Air Transat check-in area was quite small and away in the far corner but the service was fast and friendly, only downside was having to haul the snowboard bags back upstairs to the oversize baggage drop off. On way out they did not pay a great deal of attention to baggage weight but at Calgary on return they were quite strict, probably as the plane was nearly full on the return. It was an Airbus 330 with 3 rows of 3 seats and we had pre-booked seats (cost £9 per person per flight), this was fine on the way out and we all got seats together (Sister and Brother in law were with us) but on way home we were allocated different seats. I sent an e-mail to Canadian Affair and they refunded the £36.

Flight service was good and we had no issues, landing in Calgary at 12.30pm. We got off the aircraft and got through passport control and immigration fairly quickly, picked up our luggage and walked across to the Delta Airport Hotel (C$ 330) where we had excellent service at check-in and help with our luggage (stored most in the lobby). Had a swim and a bite to eat then headed to bed, the kids were really tired and slept for a while but were up really early. Had breakfast and went to pick up our car from the Alamo desk. It had all been pre-paid and in Oct we had asked to extend the hire by another day because of the flight changes. I had also asked for a ski rack, got a surprise when it was the magnetic type that fit on the roof and hold a set of skis or a board as I was expecting cross-bars that I could strap our board bags onto ! In the end we took our boards out of the bags and put them on the roof and then packed the rest of the stuff in the vehicle the best we could. We had a Mazda CX7 which was nice but the kids car seats take up so much space it does not leave a great deal of room. We managed though and were soon heading south out of Calgary , it was a mild (6c) and clear morning as we drove down to Nanton then onto Blairmore where we stopped for a coffee (snow on the local hill of Pass Powderkeg was looking quite nice). We had lunch at Sparwood where Craig got to see the largest truck in the world (so they claim) before we headed on to Creston and a stop at Tim Hortons. We had thought about driving over towards Nelson via the Kootenay lake ferry and down that way but in the end we just went our normal route from Creston to Salmo over the Kootenay pass (Salmo ski hill was also looking in good shape). We stopped at Wal-Mart in Trail for a few supplies then drove up to our home for the next 3 weeks at Red Barn Lodge.

Its an Englishman, Anthony Bell and his wife Helen (Canadian) who own this lovely property down in lower Rossland, it has brilliant views looking out towards Mount Roberts and Red Mountain. They have converted the old barn into their home where they also do B&B but we were staying in the guest house (normally C$ 150/night but discounts for longer stays). It is a 3 bedroom property (2 double rooms and a twin room) with a spacious lounge ,large kitchen, bathroom, entrance hall for storage and a big basement with a washing machine and a tumble drier. They also have 3 donkeys, two dogs, a cat and lots of chickens that provide fresh eggs that could be bought.

We were met with a friendly welcome and soon settled down for our first night in town, it was good to be back to an area we love.

Red had got a fair bit of snow at the start of the season but had then had a fairly dry February, this was about to change though and we were blessed with great snow for the whole stay, in fact it snowed every day except for two while we were in town. We got our gear into the car and made the 5 min drive to the hill for our first day. We got a space in the small upper parking lot and went to the ticket office to get our season passes. It was great to see Kelsey again as she had looked after Anya two years previous when she was only 4 months old, she got our tickets and said she was really looking forward to doing some evening babysitting for us. It was then over to kindercare to see Jenny Nash who has ran the facility on the hill for almost 30 years, she is a great character and runs the best kindercare facility we have ever experienced. It had to be good as our bill for the 3 weeks was over C$2600. You get a 10% discount with a season pass but they also do a punch pass with 10 tickets on it for C$250. A normal half day session costs C$39 so it was a decent saving. We put Craig in kinder ski each morning (C$69) and this was excellent, this was from 08.30 until 12.30 and included a 1.5 to 2 hour ski lesson and almost everyday he had a private 1 to1. The instructors were all excellent and very enthusiastic and one of them, Maud was from La Plagne and she also done some evening babysitting for us on the recommendation of Anthony and Helen. For the first week Craig done all his turns from the lower Silverlode chair which allows access to some really nice groomed blue and green runs which had lovely packed powder conditions (and some fresh powder days too) and his progress was amazing. Then at the start of the second week he was very excited when we picked him up in the afternoon , he was telling us about this other chair (Motherlode) and how Doug , one of the older instructors had taken him all the way to the top and he had done such a long run back to the bottom. As the week went on Doug had him skiing the mini powder bowls, had him skiing tree runs then had him skiing from the old two man chair on Red Mountain itself. In the meantime Anya was having a lovely time with Jenny and her staff and in the afternoon she would get out on her small plastic skis for a wander about, she loved going up on the magic carpet lift and then pointing to the Red chair and asking to go up on that, maybe next time.

From day 2 the snow began and we had some amazing powder days, the new snow each day ranged from 5cm up to 35cm and Red really comes into its own when its like that. From Granite Mountain you can ski 360deg anywhere. They always say that when there is really good snow that Red is a huge ski hill but when conditions are not so good and there has been a lack of fresh snow that it is a very small hill, I can see that pretty clearly too. We have been coming here for over 12 years, only missing a couple of winters when we have stayed in Europe and I still find new lines and new areas every time, there are always times when I cant exactly pinpoint my exact location and runs we have done many times never look or feel the same twice.

From the top of the Motherlode chair you have 3 main options, firstly to ski Paradise bowl where there are also some nice groomed runs like Southern Belle, Gambler and Ruby Tuesday which divide some nice tree skiing such as Maggies farm and Gambler towers. Then further to the left looking down you have some lovely tree runs accessed from the powder fields traverse, Bombshack Trees, Alder Gully and Jumbo can then take you back to the Paradise chair or you can keep heading further left into Powder fields, Hans’ run and the Orchards which take you back to the Motherlode chair.

Secondly from the Motherlode chair you can traverse round Ridge road and drop into some steep stuff such as Coolers, Dougs run and Oil can. Then thirdly you can zoom down Buffalo Ridge and drop into Sara’s chute, Booty’s run (one of my favourites) or keep going along Slides traverse and Capt Jacks trees and the Slides or you can fly down the steep but groomed Main run where on powder days you can always find great snow off piste until you hit Easy street and make your way back to the chair for another lap. The chairs are slow here but that is part of the appeal, Silverlode opens at 9am and we were always on the first two or three chairs up, from the top it’s a quick slide down to the Motherlode chair and the slow ride to the top. By the time you are at the top of Granite Mountain it will be 9.30am.

Red Mountain itself is 1600ft lower than Granite but it also provides great sport, down the Face of Red or Backtrail provide real fast cruising and are where the ski racing takes place then there are some fine tree runs such as War Eagle and Hole in the Wall and if you take the groomed Sally’s Alley on the back side of Red you are rewarded with great views down to Rossland and beyond.

Future plans for the expansion of the ski area can be viewed on a large model in the real estate office in the base lodge. The first stage will be the installation of a chair up Grey Mountain (6719ft) and trees have been felled and runs cut down to Stagger By and Rino’s run on the lower slopes of Granite Mountain (6807ft). The chair has been purchased and is being stored in Alaska at present and there is hope that it may be put in place this summer. Further chairs are planned for Kirkup Mtn and to Wolf ridge in front of Record Mtn and Mt Roberts. All these are a long way from becoming reality and a lot will depend on where the world economy goes over the next few years. It will certainly be a very decent acreage if it all comes to fruition. One problem that Red has is that it is quite difficult to get too from the main areas of population and from the UK (basically 2-3 days) and it would benefit greatly if Cranbrook was upgraded to an International airport.

Normal lift operation times are from 9am until 3pm then 3.30pm from mid march from when the Red chair swings from 10am until 4.30am.

The recently renovated base lodge has improved the customer experience but the old features are still in place, there is a new coffee shop on the first floor opposite Sourdough Alley (the main place to eat) and the old Rafters bar has been extended and there is seating all round it, its still a great place to enjoy a jug of beer at the end of the day. There is also a newer, larger retail shop on the ground floor selling clothing and equipment.

Prices seem higher than two years ago, a jug of beer for instance is C$15-17 (C$13 on a Thursday), a speciality coffee costs around C$ 4-5, regular coffee about C$2.50. At lunch a burger and fries is around C$12, Poutine (C$9), a chicken wrap (C$9) and a coke (C$4).

Up on the hill Paradise lodge is still a fine place to stop for a mid morning coffee and a bite to eat and on sunny days to sit on the deck as your burger cooks on the BBQ.

In town the Flying Steamshovel has a decent selection of beers on tap and has a decent food menu. Garlic prawns starter (C$11), Burger (C$12), Steak sandwich (C$14) and often has entertainment on in the evenings. Underneath they have their own liquor store which is open until 11pm each evening and has a good selection of beers wines and spirits.

Then there is the Prestige Inn, the lounge bar is large with big screens showing mostly sport and there is a decent menu. We ate well one evening and had brilliant service and found the total bill pretty reasonable but a few nights later when it was busier the service was slow and the food not quite so good.

We had a really lovely evening meal at the Garage restaurant in town, its always popular and its best to book and reserve a table. Had a Calamari starter (C$8.95) then the fillet steak special with crab and prawns (C$23.95) which was excellent and served with a selection of fresh vegetables and mashed potato. The total bill for 4 including a nice bottle of Okanagan wine (C$46) came to C$192 and we all thought it was really good and excellent value.

One of our favourite places to eat is the Gypsy at Red, situated below Red Robs condos and just along from Big Red Cats. It has always had a good reputation for fine dining in a nice relaxed atmosphere. We reserved a table well in advance and had a lovely evening, Had an excellent prawn starter (C$15) followed by Sirloin steak (C$28), there was also a nice selection of other dishes served with vegetables and a choice of potato. Deserts were large (C$8) and could easily be shared between two and an after dinner coffee (C$4.50) finished things nicely with the total bill being C$218 for 4.

The Alpine Grind coffee shop at the edge of town is a quirky little place for lunch if you are down from the ski hill, nice friendly service and excellent freshly prepared soups, wraps, sandwiches. Our bill came to C$27 for two coffees and soup and a sandwich each.

Another old favourite located down the road between the ski hill and town is the Rock Cut Pub and Diner. Always a good menu and a decent choice of draught beers. You also get nice views over the ski area. Prices reasonable.

Down the valley in the town of Trail you will find the famous Collander family restaurant, this place is the best value eatery in the area, They have daily specials which include as much spaghetti as you want and whatever is left can be wrapped up and taken home. Jill, myself and the kids ate really well in the Collander and with drinks the bill was just C$44.

The town of Rossland itself is a delightful place and there are about 4 coffee shops and a lot of nice little boutique/souvenir shops, a bank, a hardware store, a Chinese takeaway, a Japanese restaurant (was not open when we went to eat there),a liquor store and an excellent small supermarket called Ferraro foods which has a top deli section and a fine butchers and fish counter. We bought quite a lot of fresh food here, including lovely tender steaks to cook back at the house. There is also a hardware store and shoe shop and a delightful toyshop/sweet shop called Jellybean Junction. There are three snowsports shops namely Butch Boutry ( a very well stocked shop), Powderhound and Rossvegas the snowboard store.

We had planned to go over to Whitewater for the day but decided not to as the ski hill no longer has a day kindercare, it was something to do with the place being too small and therefore not getting licenced. The kids were more than happy to stay at Red.

Some afternoons when we came down from the hill we would head on down into Trail and take the kids to the excellent aquatic centre, it was C$12 for a family tourist pass and the water was always nice and warm.

During our stay I had a friend of mine from Aberdeen who spends a month touring around different ski hills in the States come up to Rossland for a couple of days, he had never skied Red before so I had a nice couple of days showing him around and he was happy with what he saw before he headed back down to Schweitzer mountain at Sandpoint, Idaho.

Our time went so fast and we were soon packing up and saying our goodbyes to all our new and old friends, the kids were crying when they left kindercare for the final time and Anya loved her new hat and Craig was proud of his Red tee shirt that Jenny gave them. We said goodbye to Kelsey in the ticket office and she had given the kids book tokens which they had used in the Café Book shop down in town. We got to know a lot of the older generation of skiers here such as June who was retired but had been out on the hill (mostly the very first chair each morning) for over 95 days this season, Louis who was 87 and was formerly in charge of the snow hosts , Eric who was originally from Bavaria, John Orr originally from Glasgow who goes home each summer to work in a heather centre in the highlands. There was also our old friend and snow host Andy Cant who first showed us the delights of Red all those years ago (its his fault we keep returning) and has told us many fascinating stories about not only the ski hill but the surrounding area and its mining history. These people and many others like them are the real heart and soul of this place and they are all excellent skiers too, so its always sad when we leave but we leave with a smile in the knowledge that we will return soon.

On our last morning we got up and looked out, nothing had changed, it was snowing again and I cleared about 15cm of fresh snow from the car before we set off. The Kootenay pass was fine and we were soon back at the Tim Hortons in Creston….had it been over 3 weeks since we were last in there ? We then had a nice easy drive to Fairmont Hot Springs resort. it’s a place we have visited a few times over the years. Our room with two king size beds had views over the hot thermal pools and cost C$173 for the night which includes access to the pools. The kids loved swimming and playing in the warm water for a while before we went to the Bear Paw lounge for dinner. I had the special Sushi starter (C$8.95) then the smoked Salmon Fettucine (C$15.95), a Pepsi was C$2.95 and Sleemans Honey Brown Lager was C$5.20 a pint. Jill finished with warm apple pie costing C$7.50. The food was decent but the service was not normal North American standard, the server was Australian and spent more time chatting to her friends than looking after her customers , anyway she got the smallest tip of the trip from me for her efforts!

The next morning we were back in the pools before driving up to the ski hill for breakfast in the large day lodge which has excellent views out over the slopes. Craig and I were going to have a ski but decided not to and we got back into the car and set off for Canmore and our final night in Canada. We stopped at Radium Hot Springs for fuel then entered the Banff National park. If you are transiting straight through you do not need to buy a park permit, its only required if you are making an overnight stop. If you are going to be in the park for more than a week or so it works out cheaper to buy an annual pass.

We arrived in Canmore where it was snowing lightly, we checked into the Ramada Inn and suites on the Bow valley trail. It was C$119 for our room. There was ample parking at the Hotel and the room was large and well equipped. It also had a swimming pool (coolish water), a hot tub and a large water slide/flume into the pool, Craig loved this and we were on it for ages before we got ready to go out for dinner. We were meeting friends at the Rose & Crown. This place has an English style bar and a restaurant at the side. I had the large fish and chips C$12.99, Jill had a chicken wrap (C$12.99) and the kids meals were C$6.99 each. Juice for the kids was free and a pint of Rickards red was C$5.48. Good food, good service and fine company for our last supper of the trip.

After a swim the next morning we checked out and drove back to Calgary airport, handed the car back and went to check-in with Air Transat, they were much stricter with baggage allowances than at Gatwick on the way out. We went through security and headed to Molson’s Brewhouse for lunch. Had a beer which was a pint of Molson Canadian at an expensive C$7.40. Soft drinks such as Sprite were C$2.99. Meals were all pub fare and priced at between C$16 and C$20.

Flight arrived home the next morning at 07.21 and we were through the airport and driving away by 08.30.

Fuel costs in Canada have risen from 2 years ago. In BC regular gas was C$1.30 and in Alberta it was around the C$1.17 for a litre.

Our rate of exchange was from C$1.51 to C$1.58.


This report may not contain much, or even anything that can be used in the next Where to Ski and snowboard guide but I hope that Chris and Dave might consider finding a wee bit more space for Red and in time it might again feature more prominently in the Western Canada section. Anyway I enjoyed writing it as although we have only been home a few days I am missing the place already…..and its still snowing.

P.S. 2014 trip is looking like flying to Vancouver, then a few days at Apex Mountain near Penticton before moving on home to Red. We will then return via Castle Mountain to Calgary and fly home from there. Before that we have a week in Courchevel 1850 again with Ski Esprit.

Best Regards,

Stuart, Jill, Craig & Anya McWilliam.


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