Why British Columbia’s Powder Highway is ideal for frosty family fun

Hit refresh and head north to the Canadian Rockies with your family, to a fabled road with a snowy name: the Powder Highway. Make this the year you begin a tradition of family travel and adventure, and awaken a feeling of togetherness.

Standing on a mountainside can make you reflect on childhood memories with starry eyes and a sense of nostalgia. With winter on the horizon, why not revisit those youthful adventures from a different perspective: give the cliché "fun for all ages" a more profound meaning by making new memories on the slopes with your kids or grandchildren.

A vehicle is in the middle distance, driving along a snowy road lined with tall pine trees. Snow-laden, forested mountains are straight ahead, and huge clouds linger on top of them, under a grey sky.
The Powder Highway passes through ski resorts such as Kimberley, B.C. © Powder Matt / Lonely Planet

Pick up the Powder Highway in Calgary

What better way to begin this journey than with a flight descending to a land where prairies meet mountains. Calgary, Alberta, Canada’s 'little Denver', offers easy access to ski country. It's not as polished as the American Rockies or the Alps, and some would say it has limited nightlife, but this area has massive peaks soaring skyward, extra helpings of light, fluffy powder on the pristine terrain, down-to-earth mountain folk and a 600km-plus ribbon of road dotted with authentic outdoorsy towns and backcountry lodges. Then sprinkle ski resorts and world-class heli- and cat-ski operators into the mix.

Up north, people find the atmosphere to be more wild. This region may be partly undiscovered and a bit off the trodden routes, but it’s full of adventure and has the remarkable ability to bring people together. Entertaining the kids will be a breeze; they’ll be glued to the window, watching elk herds stare back, as your vehicle whisks you through Banff National Park. An SUV is recommended here, as the road leads to deep snow in Golden, British Columbia (B.C.). The town itself is a bit rough around the edges, but the snow-capped summits, true sentinels of the town, are just one of the reasons why it's home to so many mountain guides. Slide into Bluebird Cafe, a local haven for baked goodness and strong joe to kick start your engines.

An elk stands on the snow amidst trees; its head is slightly lowered, as if cautious.
There's plenty of wildlife to spot along the course of the Powder Highway © Powder Matt / Lonely Planet

Adrenaline-fuelled adventure at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

Three hours' drive from Calgary, you'll cross the Columbia River and travel toward the upper reaches of massive, vital wetlands. At the top of a beautiful perch, Kicking Horse Mountain Resort awaits. This resort will have young rippers’ drooling at its stats: it's home to the fifth-highest vertical in North America and more chutes than a skier or boarder could imagine.

Kids will inevitably make a mad rush to stake their claim on bedrooms, but there are plenty to go around here. Check out the Valley View Chalet, offered by Lush Mountain Accommodations, to feel true relaxation. Pick some bluetooth tunes – maybe "Take it Easy" by The Eagles – and immerse yourself in the slope-side hot tub. The views are spectacular and, at night, while one side features an alpine sunset glow on the Dogtooth Range, the other side could be basking in the wood fire’s dancing light as the kids toast up s’mores.

A person in a red ski jacket and black pants is joyfully holding up their arms; they're standing at the top of a piste, beside a ski-lift station. Behind them is a mountain chalet and, beyond that, are mountains covered in snow.
Kicking Horse is the place to go for adventure © Powder Matt / Lonely Planet

As morning calls, embrace the falling snow. It's best to explore this big playground by taking a Big Mountain Private Tour, which includes a private guide for up to six people and lift line privileges. The guide also provides skill-enhancing tips and chooses runs that are appropriate for everyone in the group. Is there anything better than being together, sharing tales on the ski lift and shredding it up? Day one is that perfect powder primer day. Next up, lift off in a private helicopter with Purcell Heli-Skiing. They depart right from the base of the resort and have access to deep turns in massive, untracked terrain amongst thousands of peaks.

Taking it easy at Kimberley Alpine Resort

The thighs may still be burning, so head to slopes that are a bit easier and less steep. For some real cruising, hit the groomed goodness found at Kimberley Alpine Resort. As you continue to drive down the mist-filled valley on the Powder Highway, be sure to dot in and out of the craft shops along the way, stopping for coffee or beer (for the non-drivers, of course), and breathe in that mountain fresh air.

A person is sitting in a rocky pool, in the middle of a forest; only their crossed legs are visible.
Lussier Hot Springs is a great place to stop to ease any aches and pains © Powder Matt / Lonely Planet

Between Golden and Kimberley, there won’t be any resort hot springs for the crew to lounge in. Instead, take a short detour halfway through this journey to the natural Lussier Hot Springs. Up a forestry road, someone may wearily ask, “Are you sure?” But drop down a short path and you'll discover hot pools nestled beside a river; all the more magical with flakes lightly falling down.

Kimberley Alpine Resort is king when it comes to being kid friendly, and there are trails all over the mountain that all ages can rage out on. Head to the back side of the resort to find Easter Chair. This is where to go for long, groomed-to-perfection runs with minimal crowds, a place the group can all make tracks together. Take the slow lifts up, rest and cherish this time spent chatting. Then ski right to the door at Trickle Creek Lodge. Request a room mountainside: they're a great vantage point to watch all the action if you want to spend an afternoon on the balcony with a book.

The exterior of a bar/restaurant, ; it has horizonal wood cladding and a corrugated metal awning decorated with a set of antlers and The Shed in red, cut-out letters. A few tables in an outdoor seating area are laden with several feet of snow.
The Shed in Kimberley serves classic comfort food © Powder Matt / Lonely Planet

Evening plans are made easy with cool vibes from the town of Kimberley just a few minutes down the road. The Shed is a local favorite with the look of a vintage "man cave", and serves up classic comfort food and cold ones. For local produce, hit Kimberley Centex Market, an old gas station turned fruit stand and organic market. Wrap up this leg of the trip by taking a class with the local First Nations, Ktunaxa, such as a moccasin-making workshop hosted nearby at St Eugene Resort.

Endless exploring at Fernie Alpine Resort

Leaving the Purcell Mountains, crossing First Nations’ and early explorers’ river routes through Cranbrook, the young and old alike may want to explore the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel before moving on. Next destination is the snow-globe valley of Fernie, flanked by craggy rocks on two sides, and forest covered, pointed peaks on the others. Renowned for deep snowfall – there's an average of over 30ft each winter – this has been a powder lover’s favorite stop since the 1960s.

Four people in ski jackets of different colors are on a chair lift, ascending a mountain. Their backs are to the camera and it's snowing lightly.
Fernie is famed for its heavy snowfall © Powder Matt / Lonely Planet

Historic Main St is simply a must-visit. Stroll around the quaint mom-and-pop shops as eyes gaze upwards to the snowy headwall looming over town and framed in the windows. That headwall is a signature of the famed Fernie Alpine Resort. Cedar groves and piles of snow abound throughout town: opt for a classic Canadian scene in the woods at Snow Creek Cabin. This spot allows all ages to play and chill. Fernie Alpine Resort has easy green and blue runs, with days of exploring to be had in its five legendary alpine bowls.

During the evenings, the group can sign up for a fat biking tour, or go sledding. With these activities so close to the mountain’s village, it's easy to slip away to Cirque Restaurant at Lizard Creek Lodge for fine dining and to reminisce about your refreshing Powder Highway adventure over a toast in the Ice Bar.

Five people are seated around a table in an ice bar, chatting. One of the people is obscured by two bottles of alcohol in the foreground. In front of those bottles is a sign made of ice with the bar's official hashtag.
For those of age, a toast in Fernie's Ice Bar makes for a fun end to the trip © Powder Matt / Lonely Planet

Getting here

A minimum of two nights and two days of skiing are recommended at Fernie Alpine Resort and Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, along with one night and one day skiing at Kimberley Alpine Resort, if time is running short. Otherwise, take in the full adventure tour. Additionally, the Vail Resorts Epic Pass can be used at all three resorts for up to seven days.

Best time to visit is usually March (the largest snowfall month) but December (pre-holidays) and January have been fantastic in recent years with minimal crowds on the slopes.

Alternative airport options to consider are Canadian Rockies International Airport in Cranbrook and Glacier Park International Airport across the border near Whitefish, Montana, located only an hour and a half away from Fernie.

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