Some of my favorite memories from my childhood are of spending New Year’s skiing at my favorite hill, Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. Kicking Horse isn’t like other ski hills because it never gets old, it grows with you and never stops feeling wild and exciting, even in its twentieth season this year. Even though the resort has gotten bigger and now draws in even more tourists than it used to, especially thanks to its Eagle’s Eye restaurant overlooking five national parks at the peak, it still is, and will always remain, an oasis for skiers searching for an exhilarating experience within the safety and community of a ski resort.
Twenty years ago, Kicking Horse Mountain Resort celebrated its inaugural season as a new and improved version of the original Whitetooth Ski Area in Golden, British Columbia. Whitetooth first opened in 1986 with only three runs covering 2,000 ft of vertical serviced by the original Pioneer chairlift that still operates today at Kicking Horse. Towards the end of the 1990s, the Golden community was concerned about the financial situation of the ski area so a plan was developed to expand the hill and rebrand it into a full-time four-season resort with world-renowned snow sports and mountain biking, instead of just for skiing on the weekends.
Construction began in the summer of 2000 and two new lifts, the Golden Eagle Express gondola and the Catamount chair were completed after only a few months, ready for opening day on December 8th, 2000. Kicking Horse Mountain Resort originally featured two large bowls, Crystal Bowl and Bowl Over, but it has since been expanded after the introduction of the Stairway to Heaven chair in 2002 and additional bowls in 2010 and 2018. Today, the hill features an additional three bowls: Super Bowl, Feuz Bowl, and Rudi’s Bowl, increasing the skiable area to +3,500 acres with over 4,400 ft of vertical, making Kicking Horse one of the top three largest vertical ski resorts in all of North America.
From the beginning, Kicking Horse knew it was more than just a family ski hill; with entire bowls of double black terrain and legendary faces like CPR Ridge, Whitewall, and Terminator Peak, Kicking Horse is about challenge, adventure, and excitement. Two-thirds of the hill is classified as advanced or expert terrain, and many of the faces and chutes are only accessible by hiking, making Kicking Horse very different from other resorts in Canada and the US. Over the years, there has been pressure to add more chairlifts and intermediate or beginner terrain to make the area more accessible to all, but the Horse has always stuck to their original identity as a ski hill that provides not only their iconic “champagne powder”, but also makes their visitors into better skiers by challenging them in an experience that lends itself to a half resort, half backcountry adventure.
As they approached twenty years of incredible skiing, the world finally recognized Kicking Horse for the unbelievable hill it is and in 2018 it was added to the Freeride World Tour, one of the most prestigious skiing and snowboarding competitions in the world. After great success, the Horse remained a stop of the Tour for 2019 and will be featured in February 2020 as well. The Freeride World Tour only has five stops and since 2018, Kicking Horse has been the only resort in North America included.
In the 2018-2019 season, Kicking Horse underwent the largest ski resort expansion in Canada, opening up over 600 acres of new terrain to allow the public to experience the revered Ozone face featured in the Freeride World Tour and a new Middle Ridge that opens into Feuz Bowl and Rudi’s Bowl. The new expansion perfectly reflects the adventurous and challenging nature of Kicking Horse, bringing a backcountry experience within reach of an everyday skier.
I visited Kicking Horse over New Year’s for the first time in almost four years and I can easily say that the slopes are as wild and epic as they have ever been. The champagne powder still sparkles in the sun above the cloud bank, the chutes still give me butterflies at the top, and I still go home feeling as exhilarated and proud as I was when I skied my first double black in Feuz Bowl when I was seven years old. My parents even still make fun of me for having to be carried home one night that year when I skied eight top-to-bottom gondola runs in one day in my ski lesson. Kicking Horse will always hold some of my best memories, and I hope to never lose the feeling of coming home that I get as soon as I see the Golden Eagle gondola rising through the clouds.
After twenty years of staying true to their identity as an oasis of adventure above all else, Kicking Horse is ready for the next twenty years of challenging skiers of all levels and feeding thrill-seekers from across the world. They may only have five lifts, but they hold as much skiing spirit and pride as any other ski resort, on top of a very healthy level of adrenaline and wilderness.