Two-nation Ski Odyssey: Extreme Downhill Along the U.S./Canada Border

As the ski industry has evolved from its infant, tow-rope days, ski resorts have fallen into two distinct camps: high-end resorts and backcountry gems. Each has its advantages; the former combines copious après-ski activities with much-heralded slopes, while the latter forfeits the fancy trimmings to give die-hard ski bums every reason to wish for year-round winters. If your passions fall into this latter category, two Rocky Mountain resorts along the U.S.-Canada border will have you hop-scotching from nation to nation in search of that perfect, untrammeled snow-covered terrain.
When it comes to downhill resorts, Montana's Big Mountain embraces the 'KISS' (Keep It Simple, Stupid) rule. Mind you, with 3,000 acres of skiable terrain, average annual snowfall of 335 inches, a base elevation of 4,500 feet, a summit elevation of 7,000 feet, and a vertical drop just shy of 2,500 feet, the allure of this part of the snow-covered Rockies needs little elaboration. If you want loads of unexplored terrain and a no-frills resort experience, this is the place. Eleven lifts service the powder-covered slopes, including two high-speed quads. The resort is geared toward intermediate and beginners, but, thanks to a generous out-of-bounds policy, tree skiing and expansive backcountry exploration will keep experts bent at the knees and pinching themselves back into reality. The Big Mountain Nordic Center, adjacent to Chair 6, will also appease all skinny-ski fanatics, and nearby Glacier National Park is sure to impress nature-lovers, especially during the winter when the park's animal population stand out against the snowy backdrop.
Whether you get your fill of Big Mountain, or simply whet your appetite, be sure to save time in your northern Rockies vacation to trek over the border to British Columbia's Fernie Alpine Resort, a scant two-hour drive from Big Mountain's base. The resort has long held cult status among Alberta and BC skiers for its pristine, natural snow (an average of 350 inches annually) and consistently steep slopes. Five alpine bowls, 2,500 acres, a 2,800-foot vertical drop, 106 defined trails, and ten lifts create the perfect cousin to its U.S. counterpart, with one additional benefit—Canada is cheaper than the United States. Fernie has it all: tree runs, moguls, off-piste, chutes, and less-extreme intermediate and beginner runs, along with better weather than Whistler Blackcomb and less-frigid temperatures than neighboring Lake Louise. And, Calgary is only three hours from Fernie, should you long for a touch of urban distraction after the relative isolation of the Rockies—unless you're ready to loop back to Big Mountain and start all over again.

Published: 5 Dec 2002 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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