Photograph of mountain biking near Rossland courtesy Dogwood Photography/Red Mountain Resort
Canada's border opened to fully vaccinated Americans in August, so maybe we can start making plans to dust off those passports and cross borders again. (Be sure to check current border information.) This is part of a series of Canadian adventures Portlanders could take as a road trip, plus farther-afield versions if you want to get on a plane. You can also read about an urban culinary adventure or a beer-fueled island escape.
Not three hours north of Spokane—worlds away from the hubbub of world-famous ski spots like Whistler and Banff—interior British Columbia’s Powder Highway circles the West Kootenay region, connecting homey, more modest ski resorts when the snow hits and vast trail systems for hiking and biking in the warmer months (plus fat biking in winter, too).
The closest Powder Highway stop for a Portlander is Rossland, a former gold mining town that now claims the title of Canada’s mountain bike capital. It was the site of western Canada’s first chair-lift, at Red Mountain Ski Area, now near 4,000 acres. When the surrounding hills aren’t covered in snow, Rossland is a home base for cyclists enjoying the work of the nonprofit Kootenay Columbia Trails Society, which maintains some 100 miles of singletrack in the area. Since 2004, that’s included the Seven Summits route, a 22-mile, International Mountain Bicycling Association–designated “Epic Ride.”
An hour farther northeast is Nelson, a silver mining town turned hippie enclave that’s home to the Whitewater Ski Resort (about half the size of the Red Mountain area) and best known to some as the filming location for 1986’s Cyrano-inspired Steve Martin–Daryl Hannah romcom Roxanne. Go north to Revelstoke (the route includes a ferry crossing) or east toward Fernie to access the rest of the Powder Highway. Or just continue up Highway 3A for a steamy stay at the Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort, where the soothing waters can be enjoyed in an open-air pool or rustic cave.
This outdoor wonderland was shaped in part by faraway world conflict. During the Vietnam War the region was nicknamed Resisterville for the number of American draft dodgers who ended up there, many of them staying on long after the war ended. On the shore of Slocan Lake, north of Castlegar, the New Denver Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre documents the racist imprisonment of Canadians of Japanese descent during World War II—relocation camps were sited in small villages and near ghost towns throughout the area.
Rossland is about an eight-hour drive from Portland, or two and a half hours from the Spokane airport. When you plan your route, it’s worth confirming the hours at the border crossing you’ve chosen—not all of them are open 24 hours. Air Canada also connects from PDX through Vancouver to the West Kootenay Regional Airport in Castlegar. (In addition to the airport, service-oriented Castlegar is also home to an all-important Canadian Tire location, as is Trail, east of Rossland—stock up on travelers’ needs at this store that’s sort of a combo Sears-Target-Dick’s.)
... OR FLY TO LE MASSIF
Another slightly under-the-radar ski hill with a burgeoning summer hiking and biking scene, Le Massif de Charlevoix is not as well known or established as Mont Tremblant, also in Québec’s Laurentian Mountains. Le Massif has grown over the past few decades: Skiers once rode snowmobiles or school buses up to the top. Chair-lifts arrived in the ’90s, and in 2002 the ski area was bought by a cofounder of Cirque du Soleil. This winter, Canada’s first Club Med location will open on the mountain.
Le Massif boasts Canada’s largest vertical drop east of the Rockies, just over 2,500 feet. And that steep plummet practically drops you right in the St. Lawrence Seaway. About 16 miles wide at this point, the island-dotted St. Lawrence provides an incredible backdrop in any season. The ski hill’s summit is easily reached from a main highway, while the base is near a string of picturesque villages that can feel a little like a visit to France, only not quite so far away.
Le Massif is about an hour-and-a-half drive from Québec City and just over four hours from Montréal, either of which would be at least a two-leg flight from PDX. Formerly year-round but now just summer and early fall, the sightseeing-
focused Train de Charlevoix stops nearby, as it hugs the St. Lawrence from Québec City to La Malbaie.