If you’re looking to get into backcountry skiing this year, start at one of these six slack-country options:
Mont a Liguori, Le Massif, QC
Le Massif is home to the highest vertical of any resort east of the Rockies — and also a massive off-trail powder playground. Chase a storm onto Le Massif, located about 75 km from Quebec City, and use their designated access points to ski the Mont a Liguori sector, an unpatrolled out-of-bounds area full of glades, steeps and prone to deep, fluffy powder. A valid lift pass is required and the area is not maintained by Le Massif. However, this is the best lift-accessed off-piste in the East, and it’s not to be missed.
West Bowl, Lake Louise, AB
Lake Louise has essentially an open-gate policy on its out-of-bounds areas — they’re not patrolled, but skiers and riders with valid lift passes can access this near-boundless terrain at will. Keep in mind, though, no avalanche control is done in these areas — so know your snow — and avalanche closures can apply to some areas. One of the most popular backcountry areas accessed from the resort is the West Bowl. Get there early (first ride) if you hope for fresh tracks, but for skiers and riders looking to gain some backcountry chops, this is a good spot to get your feet wet.
Polaris Bowl, Fernie Alpine Resort, BC
Like many Kootenay-area resorts, slack-country abounds at Fernie Alpine Resort, thanks to the bowls such as Lizard, Currie, Timber, Cedar, Peak and others. However, if you want a “beginner backcountry” experience, ride the Polar Peak Chair and ski or ride the backside of the mountain into the Polaris Bowl. To make it feel like “real backcountry,” there’s even a ski touring hut located in the area, but of course, resort-goers can ski out and back to the lodge for better creature comforts.
Stairway to Heaven/Terminator, Kicking Horse Alpine Resort, BC
If you like to work up a sweat before getting your face-shots, Kicking Horse, also in BC’s Kootenay Region, offers you the Feuz Bowl. To access, hike to the top of Blue Heaven (via the Stairway to Heaven) and drop in for deep stuff (though this is an in-bounds run that’s very popular). Another hike-in area is found by climbing from Eagle’s Eye to Terminator or Terminator 2 and dropping into the Superbowl. It’s steep and it’s deep — classic side-country.
Off-Piste Camp, Sun Peaks, BC
While not a specific destination, Sun Peaks (located near Kamloops, BC) is now offering an Off-Piste Camp for their 2013-2014 season. Running Mondays and Wednesdays from December 23 until February 19, intermediate skiers will learn how to ski powder, trees, steeps and other off-piste terrain. Dedicated and experienced coaches will pump up your confidence and increase your skill level, allowing you to take the next step into the fabled backcountry.
Flute Bowl, Whistler, BC
No roundup of resort off-piste would be complete without mentioning Whistler Mountain’s Flute Bowl. Accessed via a traverse from the Symphony Express, then a bootpack-climb (about 45 minutes) to the top of the Flute Bowl, this advanced steep-and-deep terrain will whet your appetite to explore the amazing backcountry of Garibaldi Provincial Park — which you’ll also enjoy expansive views of from the top of the Flute. Drop in, ski down — then push-out along a lengthy flat zone. It’s a bit more work than the resort skier is usually used to, but still the best run on the mountain.