by JEN FORSYTH & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he words "powder" and "highway" are two of my favorites. When you put them together, I start packing my bags. First developed as a marketing collective for 8 alpine ski resorts, 23 backcountry skiing outfits, 9 heli-skiing and 15 snow-cat skiing operations, the Powder Highway delivers on every image of road tripping and powder hounding the new name conjures up.
"The goal of linking the Kootenay Rockies ski experience under one brand name came from a common desire among the resorts to have visitors linger longer," says Anne Pigeon of Whitewater Resort. "We want those who discover this place to realize just how much there is to do -- that they can come back year after year and never ski the same place twice."
This is perfect timing with the 2010 Winter Olympics bringing visitors from all over the world to Whistler, just west of the Powder Highway. With luck, Olympic tourists from all over the world will extend their vacations in North America, or at least hear about what the interior of British Columbia has to offer.
The Powder Highway is loosely bordered by Red Mountain Resort to the southwest, Fernie Alpine Resort at the southeast and then travels north through Invermere, Fairmont, Golden and Revelstoke before making its way back south to Rossland, B.C. Along that run, it passes multiple mountain ranges, from the Monashees to the Selkirks and to the Purcells -- all within the Kootenay Rockies.
Joe Letourneau, a Spokane resident, heads up at least once, if not several times, during the winter season to take advantage of what Canada has to offer.
"I like to go to one area, in particular, the Kootenay Rockies, because of the cool and funky culture; it's like going back in history 20 years," Letourneau says. "The skiing is good, the snow quality is excellent, and I like the people. There is a good selection of backcountry, whether it be heli- or cat-skiing or alpine touring, which is what I do when I go up there."
And the Powder Highway has as much skiing history as Route 66 has automotive history. Lining all sections of the highway are nearly 50 cat- and heli-skiing operations, and these backcountry practices were pioneered in the Kootenay Rockies.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & D & lt;/span & espite all the history, there's something new on the Powder Highway. At the northern boundary of the highway is the town of Revelstoke, a secret for the lucky few who have heli- or cat-skied in the area. Sitting on the Columbia River, with the Selkirk Mountains on one side of the valley and the Monashee Mountains on the other, the town quietly boasts being one of the snowiest place in North America -- between 480 and 720 inches of snow falls every year. It was just a matter of time before the town was discovered.
Now there are new owners and a master plan that includes more than 5,000 residences, along with more than 500,000 square feet of proposed commercial development. But Revelstoke Mountain Resort is getting noticed as home to the longest ski run in North America. Scheduled to open this winter is an eight-person gondola and a high-speed quad, with more to come starting in the spring. When fully completed, plans call for 21 total chairlifts accessing 115 runs. Included in the purchase was the Selkirk Tangiers Heli-Skiing Operation, which gives the Revelstoke Mountain Resort access to another 500,000 acres of skiable terrain.
Other amenities along on the Powder Highway include Mountain Perks Destination Management, offering a transportation service that links four of the eight ski resorts. Mountain Perks also serves the new international airport, so you can leave the driving to them.
The Canadian Rockies International Airport (which replaced the old Cranbrook Airport) is currently completing the necessary infrastructure to be able to service international flights. This entails an updated terminal with a customs processing area and longer runways to accommodate larger aircraft. Soon the big jets should be floating in from all over the world.
The Powder Highway can take you way beyond skiing, too, whether that means dog-sledding, snowmobiling, ice fishing, ice skating, soaking in the many hot springs or just wandering around all of the funky ski towns along the route.