Thursday, January 26, 2017

Revelstoke Revealed

Did you know that Revelstoke owes its very existence to a British aristocrat? Not sure if he was a skier, but Edward Charles Baring, the first Baron Revelstoke saved the Canadian Pacific Railway – and thereby the town of Revelstoke - from ruin by buying up the bonds to ensure completion of the train tracks back in 1885.

Sutton Place Hotel in Revelstoke Village - Photo by Ian Houghton
Morph to today and Revelstoke Mountain Resort, which tops the chart in North America for vertical drop and longest run, was recently voted Canada's Best Ski Resort at the World Ski Awards in Austria. A huge accolade considering it is Canada’s newest ski resort, dating back only to 2007 when the Revelation Gondola and Stoke Chairlift launched its transformation from a heli haven into today’s world-class ski resort. Winning this annual award depends on online votes from a mix of ski industry professionals, tour operators, and media as well as the skiing and snowboarding public.

Chris Pawlitsky (right) with me (left) at the base of the Revelation Gondola. 
For four fabulous days back in December I skied Revy and had the good luck to hook up with Ski Ambassador, Chris Pawlitsky, a veritable fount of information, tactical terrain tips and general bonhomie. After breakfast at La Baguette in the Village (gluten free goodies and great coffee), Chris showed me round some of his go-to runs including Separate Reality: “Easily my fave run, Separate Reality has so many different lines, it’s close to the chair which means a quick turnaround time for banging off big daily vertical,” he says. “One reason the skiing is so fun here is that each run has so many different lines. For example, Separate Reality has at least seven different lines that make each one seem like its own trail.” This area is particularly gratifying in early season as it always has substantial snow.

Revy powder by Ian Houghton
Dating back to the days when he worked as a guide for the catskiing operation there, Chris also showed me his secret gulley on Hollywood. “Especially fun for snowboarders, this is a kind of big natural halfpipe that starts off wide open and then finishes in some beautifully gladed trees,” he explains. Local knowledge is such a great thing! Even when the pow isn’t freshly fallen, Chris can find untracked tree-lines. “Another classic and great line, which always has some wind-loaded pockets of soft snow, starts on the very top of Separate Reality, then ski over to hit the top part of SWF - which is under the top part of the Stoke Chair - then peel off down the main part of Pitch Black,” Chris adds. “This run always makes me smile!”

Overlooking the Columbia River Valley - by Garrett Grove
From the Ripper Chairlift, the tree skiing was particularly memorable, especially in the Glades of Glory. Chris took me on a minor hike, just a few paces off the main path, leading to a lesser-known area which was still only semi-tracked several days after a snowfall. In Revy’s gnarly North Bowl – the nearest thing to cat or heli skiing you’ll get from a chairlift-accessed traverse and short hike – Chris’s classic pick is Sweet Spot to Three Bears. “Being in the heli ski capital of the world is one reason that makes it so great here - snow everywhere, deep and consistent snowfalls,” he explains. Apparently the snow keeps fresh due to what is known locally as the ‘Mount Mackenzie Blob’, cloud cover which helps keeps the sun off the mountain when temperatures warm up occasionally. “This keeps the powder fresh, it’s like skiing in your own little cloud,” Chris describes. “Every peak in the area can be visible, but the top of the ski hill sometimes gets a little fog which really helps protect the snow from getting sun crusted.” As most of the resort is below the treeline, there are plenty of visual markers to help visibility during these cloudy conditions.

Revy, a great place for kids to learn on long, leisurely greens
Photo courtesy of Revelstoke Mountain Resort
We skied hard that day but it wasn’t all radical and rugged. Next on Chris’s list was Hot Sauce, a great south-facing, long run which is often groomed. He also took me to Snow Rodeo which is perfect for intermediates (and for 50-something skiers with early season legs and lungs!) Especially in spring, Snow Rodeo is in full sun the whole way down. “This is also where I would take someone for their first run back to the Stoke Chair,” says Chris. “A nice blue run, with lots of rollers, and usually soft snow on the sides. A classic, for sure, and the very first run on Mount Mackenzie going back to the original cat skiing days.” Back then, informal races were staged and the winners were always those who chose the route that is now Snow Rodeo.

Everyone needs poseur pictures to post on social media and Chris knows the best spots for these, too: “Right of the top of the Stoke Chair and looking south or directly west, beside the warming hut and tool benches is a great place to get a picture of the entire valley.” It’s a vivifying view with the soaring Selkirks bordering the Columbia River.

The Village Idiot Bar & Grill
Having your own local for the day is handy, too, for après ski advice. “Mackenzie Common Tavern at the base has a wicked meatball sub and hosts live music on the weekends. And the great big heated deck, shared with the Rockford, makes for some incredible outdoor gatherings,” Chris recounts. To savour the authentic ski town vibe of Revelstoke itself, he recommends taking the complimentary shuttle from The Sutton Place Hotel to try out the Village Idiot Bar & Grill. For fine dining, 112 at the Regent Hotel is steak-house hedonism. Funnily enough these were two favourites of mine from previous visits several years ago. Since then several new eateries have emerged including the Craft Bierhaus which is trending at the moment for local craft brews on tap, gourmet food and impromptu entertainments. “Revelstoke completely comes alive in the winter,” says Chris who has lived there all his life. “The restaurants and bars are packed, as is every hotel, and the grocery store. Some old timers might think it is too busy, but it is cool. Revelstoke was too slow, too sleepy, for too long.”

Arriving at The Sutton Place Hotel
After a full-on ski day with Chris, my leaden legs were particularly grateful for the luxury of staying right onhill at Sutton Place Hotel, Revy’s only ski in, ski out property. You literally walk a few paces from the bottom of the slopes into the back door of the 205-unit condominium hotel. The ski locker room is right near the elevator which then whisks you up to utter luxury in your spacious apartment. These are so modern, so comfortable and so fully equipped that lucky people live here year round. I know, I met some of them at the nightly cocktail parties in the hotel lobby where complimentary drinks and hors d’oeuvres are served by the fireside. This is a fabulous way to mix and mingle with likeminded ‘Revelers’ and get the latest info on ski conditions, après ski, and the opulent onslope lifestyle. And you can bump into those you met earlier in the steamy hot tub which overlooks the mountains of the colossal Columbia River Valley. 

Lobby bar at The Sutton Place Hotel - by Blake Jorgenson
Sutton Place also has a big heated year-round pool and two more hot tubs in another of its three buildings which make up the Village. These also house the après ski options, chief of which to my mind is the Rockford Wok Bar Grill which is a culinary cut above conventional ski resort après ski bars. With upscale décor, top service quality, and gourmet menu, it accommodates all nutritional nuances from breakfast buffet, through lunch, après ski, cocktails and decadent dinners. Although it is classy looking, you can still feel at home in ski gear – although I personally like the opportunity to dress up a bit later in the evening after all day in scuzzy ski togs.

Outdoor après in between The Rockford and Mackenzie Common Tavern
Rocking Revy's rugged runs: “The 93 North Andromeda is a great ski for Revelstoke," says ski designer, Max Flowerday. "The early rise rocker tip will keep you on-top in deep powder while the camber makes them very responsive and playful for gladed terrain.” Max co-owns 93 North Skis, based in Canmore, and gets out to Revelstoke as often as he can. "My favorite run is 'Conifers of Gnarnia' but it is only good when there is fresh snow down to valley bottom," he says. Other tips include eating at The Village Idiot, going to the Modern Café for coffee and hanging out at the hot tub at the Rec Centre. 93 North Skis - which is holding powder and backcountry ski demos at Revelstoke, Lake Louise, Red Mountain and Whistler Blackcomb - is brand new this winter so look out for an article later this season.  

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