What counts most for serious skiers is powder and lots of it, followed closely by lack of competition for said powder. Next on the list would be a decent vertical with heaps of terrain which includes steeps, bowls and glades. This pretty much sums up Castle Mountain which is located a stone's throw over the BC border in the South West corner of Alberta just south of Pincher Creek. You’d be forgiven if you’ve never been to this corner of Alberta except that this is also where Waterton National Park is (a must see by the way). Considering Castle Mountain is only a 2.5-hour drive from Calgary—which is comparable to that of Sunshine and Lake Louise, you’d be surprised to learn that the crowds at Castle are basically non-existent as it only gets about half the skier visits of these other big resorts.
The two-seater Tamarack Chair at Castle access all this terrain along with the 'chutes'.
Having skied Castle Mountain some 25+ years ago I can honestly say that things have not changed all that much since then and this is for the better in my opinion. Sure they have a few new lifts, more terrain and condos are now scattered around the base area, but that good ole’ Castle vibe endures. I’m not a fan of cookie cutter mega resorts with high-speed lifts and $12 fries. My home mountain is Whitewater Ski Resort and for good reason, as it also lays claim to this same undiscovered down-to-earth vibe,… or at least it used to be able to. Castle Mountain Resort may just be the last remaining, truly off-the-radar ski resorts in Canada that still has the goods (vertical, terrain and powder) which puts in shoulder-to-shoulder in the big leagues with those other more well-known resorts.
With 3,592 acres of skiing and riding to discover and an average snowfall of over 9 metres, Castle Mountain easily rivals both Sunshine and Lake Louise (actually Castle beats Sunshine for total acreage and ties Sunshine for reported average snowfall). When it comes to vertical, Castle is the fourth largest in all of Alberta and has more runs than all but three other resorts. If you like bowls, Castle has eight of them, those off of the Tamarack Chair are enough to keep you busy for days, add to this the East Glades and the West Chutes and this resort is just crazy huge. If you are an advanced skier then the Chutes is where you want to go, with over 25 diamond and double diamond runs this is a steep skiers nirvana. From the Skyline Traverse you’ll find two thousand plus vertical feet of steep skiing and riding right down to valley bottom which will make your thighs burn and your smile widen. If we’d had more than one and a half days to sample the inbounds terrain at Castle I would have simply lapped this zone run after run. On a powder day, this is where I’d head first, after sessioning the Tamarack Chair’s Bowls of course.
We skied Castle two days after a modest snowfall and there was still powder stashes to be found all over the mountain, something those mega resorts with high-speed lifts and endless crowds cannot claim. While the -20 something temps kept the crowds away, for the most part, I was told that lift lines were rare and typically only a few skiers deep on weekends and holidays.
Just off the Huckleberry Triple Chair to the west is where you’ll find the Powder Stagecoach Cat Skiing terrain. You can sample some untracked cat skiing for as little as $399/person which includes a hot buffet breakfast prior and a cold beer afterwards. The combination of the Huckleberry Triple Chair and Cat bump up to Haig Ridge means that you don’t spend very long in the Cat (which is always a good thing) and that one Cat can ferry around two groups of 12 skiers/riders. With 900 acres of terrain, Powder Stagecoach offers plenty of pow turns to go around and an ideal set up for those who have never tried this form of skiing/riding before. Powder Stagecoach only operates Thursday, Friday and Saturday so be sure to book in advance to ensure they have availability and if it storms all week then Thursday’s the primo day!
After Cat Skiing concludes on Saturday the terrain is open to self-propelled backcountry skiers on Sunday and Monday. Those with a ski pass can ride the Huckleberry Chair (saving some vertical) and skin to the top of Haig Ridge from there. If you want the full-meal-deal then there is a designated uphill route from the base lodge to the top of the Huckleberry Chair that can be skinned up during operational hours of the resort.
The combination of huge terrain, cat skiing, ski touring, on-hill accommodation and minimal crowds makes Castle Mountain Resort one worth checking out. Its down-to-earth vibe is rare in these days of mega-resort and it’s refreshing to know that the true soul of skiing lives on.
Castle Mountain Resort
Lift tickets: $94.95CAN
Vertical: 2,833ft / 863m
Base Elevation: 4,630ft / 1,410
Runs: 94 including 8 bowls
Annual Snowfall: 9m / 358”
Acreage: 3,592ac / 1,454h
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