My Favorite Places for Backcountry Skiing in Canada

Canada is my favorite destination for backcountry skiing. In the world. As a pro skier, I’ve skied all over the world and nothing beats the quality of snow here, especially in BC and Alberta. It’s for this very reason that I chose to call Revelstoke “home” and why I moved here with my family 15 years ago. British Columbia is also the birthplace of pillow skiing and heli-skiing. What’s not to like? There’s tons of locations that offer challenging and technical lines and, even though I ski close to 200 days per year, there’s always tons of routes I don’t get a chance to crush! It’ll take another lifetime to ski them all.

For people who are coming to the area for a proper skiing vacation, I always recommend checking out the fantastic network of hut-based skiing opportunities if they really want to go deep into the backcountry. British Columbia offers Alaskan and Japanese quality powder, but with far easier access. The lodging options are world-class, especially in BC, so if you need a day of rest, you can have one in comfort and style.

British Columbia

1. Blackcomb

TOP CHOICE FOR ADVANCED SKIERS
The advanced and expert terrain is gnarly and awesome!
The options for families and children are many and exceptional
Awesome terrain for skilled backcountry skiers
The apres at Whistler-Blackcomb is world-class
It can get crowded, especially on the weekends
There's less here for the backcountry beginner
On the pricier side, but, what can you expect from a world-famous destination?

Don’t confuse Blackcomb with Whistler! Yes, they’re side by side and practically related, but they are still two very different mountains. Whenever I go to Vancouver for work I make sure I have at least one day planned for a quick tour at Blackcomb. Backcountry access here is relatively straightforward and what every skier should keep in mind is that the terrain is mostly intermediate to advanced. There’s plenty of couloirs, glaciers and other large shredding objectives. There’s great slackcountry access, too, if you want to save yourself some skinning. Remember that just because these features are easy to get to, they’re not that easy to shred! You should have significant backcountry experience before heading out, or do yourself a favor and hire a local guide to show you what the mountain has to offer. The terrain is alpine, complex, and very demanding.

You can expect lots of alpine, treeline and tree skiing here....

Blackcomb - Good to Know

Skill level:

Intermediate to advanced skiers

Terrain:

Alpine, complex, plenty of steep couloirs and glaciers

Elevation:

Base is 7,992’. Consider vertical gains anywhere from 590′ (Disease Ridge) to 3800′ (farther east at the NW face of Mt. Pattison via Blackcomb Glacier)

Backcountry access:

Plenty of lift options, but you really gotta work for the good stuff

Snow:

Snow can be more wet due to maritime climate

Weather:

When weather isn’t ideal on Whistler, Blackcomb has more gladed runs

Guidebook:

Ski and Snowboard Guide to Whistler Blackcomb by Brian Finestone and Kevin Hodder

Best season:

Mid-January through March

Location:

Coast Mountains, British Columbia

Coordinates:

50°06′30″N 122°56′33″W

Getting there

Transportation to Whistler Blackcomb is definitely not an issue. Fly into Vancouver International Airport (YVR) and you’ll find several daily shuttles that’ll take you to Blackcomb. Of course you can rent a car at the airport but if you’re on a budget or have an aversion to driving, remember that the shuttles are reliable and frequent. For those who choose to drive it’s worth mentioning that the Sea to Sky Highway is known as one of the best coastal drives in the world.

British Columbia

2. Whistler

GREAT FOR FAMILIES WITH YOUNG SKIERS
Great spot for backcountry beginners Remove
On clear weather days, the views are unbelievable
Après, après, après!
Just like its neighbor Blackcomb, expect crowds on the weekend
Resort access is expensive

Skiers will find a little bit of everything at Whistler: access ranges from beginner to advanced. Skiers here will find plenty of tree skiing, alpine meadows and there’s fantastic beginner terrain just beyond the resort boundary. If you’re looking for something a little more complex, venture farther east to Fissile Peak and beyond and you’ll be rewarded with challenging, alpine terrain. It’s also worth mentioning that Whistler has stunning views on clear weather days, which makes for awesome bowl skiing, but if there’s any precipitation, the area can feel closed in and small. Regardless, it’s an awesome place for beginning to intermediate skiers, with plenty of amenities in the area for downtime.

Whistler - Good to Know

Skill level:

Beginner to intermediate

Terrain:

Tree skiing, couloirs and big alpine bowls

Elevation:

Base 7155’. There’s vertical gains to be had from 590′ (Musical Bumps) to 4,593′ (Fissile)

Backcountry access:

Same as Blackcomb. There’s an amazing lift system in place, but there’s still some routes that require a harder approach

Snow:

Plenty of snow, though somewhat wet because of Whistler’s western orientation to Blackcomb

Weather:

When the weather’s bad, Whistler’s bowls can seem crowded. Blackcomb is better for bad weather days

Guidebook:

Ski and Snowboard Guide to Whistler Blackcomb by Brian Finestone and Kevin Hodder

Best season:

Mid-January through March

Location:

Coast Mountains, British Columbia

Coordinates:

50°7′15″N 122°57′16″W

Getting there

The closest airport is in Pemberton (40 minute drive) but Vancouver is also a viable option since it has more incoming flights. From there you can take a car, a bus or even fly. The Sea-to-Sky highway that takes you to Whistler offers amazing scenery. This way you get to start your vacation right away.

British Columbia

3. Duffey Lake Road

TOP CHOICE FOR ADVANCED SKIERS
Ski powder just off the highway!
Quiet, secluded
Awesome terrain for skilled backcountry skiers
Inclement weather and avalanche safety are not to be underestimated
Route selection can be tricky if you’re new to the area

Duffy Lake Road is the backcountry mecca accessed from Whistler. It’s super rewarding, not too crowded and worth the trip. From Whistler, drive north for about 1hr and then east towards Lillooet. You’ll gain 4000’ on the road alone and there’s ample touring available directly from your car. Because of the proximity of the road and the terrain, you’ll get a pretty good idea of what kind of skiing awaits. All you have to do is park your car, pick an objective and head out. There’s plenty of tree skiing and great access to alpine terrain. Also, depending objectives, there’s a great backcountry cabin accessible from this road called Cerise Creek Cabin. Check it out.

Duffey Lake Road - Good to Know

Skill level:

Intermediate to advanced

Terrain:

Couloir, glaciers, tree skiing, bowls, high angle descents

Elevation:

Consider elevation gains anywhere from 2624′ (Rohr Ridge) to 3300′ (Vantage Peak)

Backcountry access:

Drive your car. Park your car. Start your ascent

Snow:

As it’s more inland, the snow quality is excellent

Weather:

Can be difficult and dangerous in whiteout conditions. Plan accordingly

Guidebook:

There’s great map offered by backcountryskiingcanada.com

Best season

Mid-January through March

Location:

Pemberton, British Columbia

Coordinates:

50° 24′ 23.922” N 122° 18′ 59.6088” W

Getting there

You’ll need a car! Located between Pemberton and Lillooet, Duffy Lake Road offers secluded ski spots just off road.

British Columbia

4. Revelstoke

Cat-ski, heli-ski, backcountry ski - any way you ski here, you’ll find the stories are all true
Big terrain. Big everything
Still not too crowded
There could be more family-friendly options

The backcountry access off the Revelstoke Mountain Resort (RMR) leads to a variety of terrain: there’s fantastic glade skiing, steep couloirs and summits all available. Skiing the south facing trees is fantastic and highly recommended. Revelstoke is home to many a backcountry guide and outfit, so there’s plenty of options for getting out and attaining new objectives. Like Whistler and Blackcomb, there’s great benefit in using RMR lifts to access some stunning backcountry spots. The resort also has the biggest vertical drop in North America. Not bad. Regardless, all of the skiing backcountry here is for the intermediate and advanced skier. Ski with a guide or a super experienced partner and be ready to take on some intense routes.

Revelstoke - Good to Know

Skill level:

Advanced and expert skiers

Terrain:

Glade skiing, big verticals, alpine glaciated terrain, bowls, big, bold chute skiing — all of it is big

Elevation:

Consider elevation gains anywhere from 5250′ (Mt. Macpherson – Summit via SE Face) to 565′ (Door Chutes via RMR Stoke Chair)

Backcountry access:

Good slackcountry access via RMR lifts, other spots require some serious effort

Snow:

The snow quality is excellent, but can be a little heavy

Weather:

The weather here is ideal for powder, because it’s so far inland

Best season:

Late January through mid-March

Location:

Southeastern British Columbia

Coordinates:

50°59′53″N 118°11′44″W

Getting there

The nearest airport is in Kelowna. Once you’ve arrived, you can rent a car, take a bus or shuttle to the resort. If you’re not able to score a direct flight to Kelowna, consider Vancouver and Calgary for transfer points.

British Columbia

5. Rogers Pass

All that famous Selkirk Mountain pow!
Not too crowded, considering how famous it is
Advanced level skiers will be rewarded with challenging runs
Aggressive terrain
While the turns are worth it, what’s required to earn them may not be for every skier
Less options for inexperienced skiers

Just as Duffey Lake Road is the ski mecca for the Whistler area, Rogers Pass is the mecca for skiing in all of Canada. Rogers Pass truly has it all: tree skiing, couloirs, glaciers, you name it. And unlike other destinations in Canada, you’ll find beginner terrain as well as complex, full-mountain terrain. There’s an unparalleled amount of snow, which, combined with a longer than usual season, makes this area a no-brainer if you’re trying to decide where to shred this winter. As always, because of the enormity of the Pass and its massive potential, ski smart and safe. Rogers Pass isn’t slackcountry solid the way other spots can be, but your efforts are sure to be rewarded.

Skiing in Rogers Pass is a rite passage if you live in Western Canada. Really, it’s a rite of passage for ski tourers all over the globe.

As Travis Rice recently told me at a party, “There is nothing like Rogers Pass, it is the 7th wonder of the world.”

By Kate Erwin

Read full review

Rogers Pass - Good to Know

Skill level:

Advanced and expert skiers love it here

Terrain:

Everything, depending where you go. Couloirs, bowls, tree skiing, alpine you name it

Elevation:

Consider elevation gains anywhere from 4265’ (Paradise) to 3770’ (Perley Rock)

Backcountry access:

Most approaches are longer than usual, but you’ll be rewarded

Snow:

Amazing, dry powder

Guidebook:

Rogers Pass: Uptracks, Bootpacks & Bushwacks by Douglas Sproul

Best season:

Late January through mid-March

Location:

Glacier National Park, British Columbia

Coordinates:

51.2833° N, 117.5167° W

Getting there

Closest town is Revelstoke from where most people plan their trip. Since Rogers Pass is located in the Glacier National Park you will need a permit to ski some locations here. Regular visitors can apply for an annual permit.

British Columbia

6. Golden

Amazing terrain for expert and advanced skiers
Slackcountry and backcountry here is some of the best in Canada
Amazing hut system for exploring all that Selkirk powder
Not as family friendly as some other locations
Nightlife and apres isn’t as lively as other locations

Golden backcountry access off Kicking Horse Mountain Resort is mostly complex and alpine – all of which is sublime. Though access is somewhat easy, the terrain and snowpack are serious and must be respected as such. There’s also some glade and tree skiing to be had, along with pillow lines and just about anything else you can think of. Golden sees slightly less snowfall than Revelstoke and Rogers Pass, but there’s less people too, making it an awesome spot to spend your time. There’s also some awesome hut-based skiing available here, depending on how you’re looking to spend your downtime.

Golden - Good to Know

Skill level:

Mostly suited to advanced skiers

Terrain:

Deep chutes, big bowls, some tree skiing too

Elevation:

Consider elevation gains anywhere from 1,640′ from G7 Corner (Reudi’s Ridge South) to 492’ (Ozone)

Backcountry access:

Easy from Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

Snow:

Epic powder it’s the Selkirks after all

Weather:

Not too many off days here. Kinda perfect

Best season:

Late January through early March

Location:

Southeastern British Columbia – The Selkirks

Coordinates:

51°18′7″N 116°58′0″W

Getting there

There is the Golden Municipal Airport but it has some aircraft restrictions so most tourists will opt for airports in Vancouver or Calgary. This is a well known ski destination so you’ll have many options to get from the airport to your hotel or rental.

British Columbia

7. Whitewater Ski Resort

Laid back vibe and awesome value
Amazing tree skiing
Old school and no frills. Which is oddly endearing!
Even with its epic powder, the crowds aren’t bad. At all.
Its laid back vibe may not be for everyone

The Whitewater Ski Resort just outside of Nelson, BC, offers solid access to beginner and advanced terrain, all via lift just outside of the resort. Here, you’ll find lots of tree skiing, burnt trees, and alpine features. It should be noted for those of you venturing out here that there are strict backcountry rules in place, so beware and considerate when exploring the area. This particular region of the Selkirks boasts significant amounts of cold, dry snow.

Whitewater Ski Resort - Good to Know

Skill level:

Mostly suited to advanced skiers, but there’s options for all

Terrain:

Tree skiing, alpine terrain, plenty of powder skiing

Elevation:

Consider elevation gains anywhere from 2200’ (First Choice) to 1300’ (Acidophilus)

Backcountry access:

Solid slackcountry access from the resort

Snow:

Excellent dry, powder

Weather:

Not too many off days here

Guidebook:

backcountryskiingcanada.com has a great map!

Best season:

Mid-January through early March

Location:

Southern British Columbia

Coordinates:

49°26′40″N 117°09′07″W

Getting there

Fly into either Vancouver or Calgary and get a connecting flight Cranbrook (YXC). Once you get to Cranbrook, plan on renting a car because shuttle service to Whitewater is minimal.

Alberta

8. Lake Louise

Awesome for families - Banff National Park has tons to explore
Tricky, but rewarding terrain
Doesn’t get a ton of powder
Sleepy apres scene

The backcountry access off the ski hill at Lake Louise Ski Resort is good but not extensive. You’ll find some tree skiing and plenty of alpine bowls, mostly what Lake Louise is known for. The alpine terrain is definitely worth seeking out, but because of the complexity of the terrain and snow, you’ve got to be patient and carefully pick your lines. The area has a continental snowpack that really depends on the season, but I’ve always thought it best between February and April.

Lake Louise - Good to Know

Skill level:

Mostly suited to advanced skiers, but there are options for all

Terrain:

Bowls for days, open slopes, tree glades

Elevation:

Base is 8,650′, with elevation gains anywhere from 3,117’ (Redoubt Bowl) to 2,461’ (Surprise Pass)

Backcountry access:

There’s lift access from the resort for skiing out

Snow:

Not the most quantity, but the powder is light and dry

Weather:

The season is good, but colder than other hotspots

Guidebook:

Not a book, but an awesome map!

Best season:

February through mid-April

Location:

Alberta, Canada

Coordinates:

51°26′31″N 116°09′38″W

Getting there

The closest town is Banff but most travel from Calgary. Lake Louise is a well known ski destination so you don’t have to rent a car at the airport (unless you want to, of course), there’s plenty of busses and shuttles.

Alberta

9. Icefields Parkway

No crowds (it's miles and miles of highway after all)
The highway makes for awesome access
Road conditions can be tough. Check with the weather service before you go!
Have a backup plan in case of a whiteout

The Icefields Parkway, known as Highway 93 to most, links Lake Louise and Jasper, with Banff and Jasper National Parks at either end. This area boasts endless backcountry options whether you’re looking for gladed tree skiing or huge alpine descents. Either way, if you’re traveling between Banff and Jasper, you may find some lines to distract you mid-journey, but always be sure to be mindful of the weather and avalanche reports. You’ll find continental snowpack here with solid skiing between January and May.

Icefields Parkway - Good to Know

Skill level:

Intermediate to advanced

Terrain:

Depending your destination, the terrain varies

Elevation:

Varies depending on where you go along the way

Backcountry access:

All done the old fashioned way. Drive. Park. Skin to ski

Snow:

Light and dry

Weather:

The season is good, but colder than other hotspots

Guidebook:

Confessions of a Ski Bum: The Icefields Parkway Lake Louise to Bow Summit by Marcus Baranow

Best season:

Mid-December through April

Location:

Highway 93, Alberta

Coordinates:

52.17035°N 117.07302°W

Getting there

This parkway stretches 230 km from Lake Louise to Jasper and is also known as Highway 93.

Alberta

10. Sunshine Village

Widely considered to have the best powder in the Banff area
Great place for family skiing
Night life could be livelier

The Sunshine Village Ski Resort has some beginner terrain, but it also features Delirium Dive, a controlled backcountry area in Alberta’s Banff National Park. The Dive offers serious skiing and steep angles. With plenty of alpine terrain this zone is a great place for advanced skiers to test their mettle, though depending on the season, opening dates are subject to the resorts careful discretion. You gotta be sure to bring all your avy gear and a skiing partner too. It’ll be worth it.

Sunshine Village - Good to Know

Skill level:

Intermediate to expert

Terrain:

Tree skiing, couloirs, steeps, cliffs, chutes

Elevation:

A couple runs include 689’ (Rock Isle Lake Area) or 2,264’ (Delirium Dive)

Backcountry access:

Solid access from the resort

Snow:

Continental pack. Light and dry

Weather:

It’s definitely colder here. And snow keeps much longer after a storm

Guidebook:

Lake Louise Sunshine Banff Ski Touring Guide

Best season:

February through April

Location:

Alberta, Canadian Rockies

Coordinates:

51°04′43″N 115°46′56″W

Getting there

Pretty much the same for Lake Louise, you just need to get to Banff. Calgary is your best bet, from there you can rent a car or take a bus or shuttle.

Alberta

11. Kananaskis Country

Most of the cars in the lot are there for snowshoeing. More powder for you!
Wildlife! Keep your eyes open
While it’s awesome to have skiing this close to Calgary, it can get crowded

Welcome to Kananaskis Country or K-Country, the closest backcountry skiing area to Calgary! You’ll find a wide variety of everything here, from beginner to advanced form tree skiing to alpine bowls and mountain tops.

Kananaskis Country - Good to Know

Skill level:

Intermediate to advanced

Terrain:

Glaciers, glades and trees, everything depending on destination

Elevation:

A couple runs include 2952’ (French Glacier) or 1800’ (Black Prince)

Backcountry access:

Most runs require a good hike, bootpack or skin

Snow:

Continental pack. Light and dry

Weather:

Cold, but the snowpack is what to look out for, not the storms

Guidebook:

Summits and Icefields 1 by Chic Scott and Mark Klassen

Best season:

February through April

Location:

Alberta, Canadian Rockies

Coordinates

51.0763° N, 115.1288° W

Getting there

Calgary. All the way. From there, rent a car and you can be skiing before you know it.

Quebec

12. Chic Chocs

West coast quality powder in the East
Stunning backdrop on the Saint Lawerence River
There’s plenty to ski: 25 peaks over 1000m
Remote location. Takes some time to get to

While many skiers don’t think of Quebec when they think of backcountry skiing, the Chic Choc Mountains offer the best backcountry in Eastern Canada. There is amazing tree skiing, couloirs and plenty of open glades. It’s almost a western skiing experience in the east. Access is easy and there’s plenty of options for any skill set. The Chic Chocs are also some of the oldest mountains in Canada. The views are truly amazing as they run dead parallel with the St. Lawrence River. This is definitely out of the way for some, but worth checking out. Look in and around Murdochville, Quebec, for places to stay.

Chic Chocs - Good to Know

Skill level:

Beginner to advanced, depending on location

Terrain:

Glaciers, couloirs, glades and trees, everything, really

Elevation:

Consider 1640’ (Vallieres-de-Saint-Real) or 1814′ (Mt. Albert)

About the author

Greg Hill

Greg Hill

ACMG Ski Guide Extraordinaire and emission free adventurer

Greg Hill is known far and wide for incredible first ascents and all around skiing prowess. He’s also a good friend of 57hours. His on mountain accomplishments are too many to list here, but he’s been known for skiing the odd 2,000,000’ in 2010; he skied 50,000’ in 24hrs because he can. Oh, yeah, he also climbed and skied 100km in the month of March, 2014. Not too shabby. Of late, Greg’s changing the world one adventure at a time with his Chevy Volt. Zero emission skiing and adventure.

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