REVELSTOKE, BRITISH COLUMBIA -- The morning view at the summit of Mount MacKenzie was definitely Instagram material: snow-covered peaks across the way, illuminated by a bluebird sky, with an otherworldly blanket of deep cloud shrouding the lower slopes and the town of Revelstoke below.
This top-of-the world vista, which we enjoyed one day last winter at Revelstoke Mountain Resort (RMR), gave my group of skiing buddies a jolt of adrenalin as we began to descend.
We were following RMR ski school manager Dan Sculnick, who earlier warned us not to be discouraged by the leaden skies in the resort village. "You can be miserable down in town and grumbling because it's winter. But then you get above the clouds and you get your vitamin D and everybody is smiling."
High-Speed Quad Chairs at Revelstoke
And we were grinning as we flew down groomers and then ventured off-piste, down steep bowls and through glades; fast and long runs that left our quads burning by the time we got to either of the two high-speed quad chairs, The Stoke and The Ripper.
The conical Mount MacKenzie is a big hardcore affair, perfect for intermediate and expert skiers, though there are green runs on the lower levels. One expert run under the Revelation gondola is called Kill The Banker. The cheeky name was attached to the run after RMR's original financier was led down it in 2007, just prior to the resort's official opening. "What are you trying to do? Kill me?" said the money man, according to RMR lore.
The pull of gravity on Mount MacKenzie impressed Olympic champion skier Aksel Svindal, who told Sculnick during a tour a few years ago that the mountain had the ingredients for a world-class downhill course.
"We had fun all over the mountain but when we got onto a run called Pitch Black, you could tell that Svindal's mind went straight to racing. He looked at the run and said things like 'take out that tree' or 'smooth that out' or 'open up that corner a bit' and you would have an amazing downhill course, one that would rival the best downhill runs out there," Sculnick said.
Famous Powder Dumps in British Columbia
On the day we visited Revy last season, there wasn't much new snow at the resort, which is famous for its regular powder dumps. (Revelstoke typically gets 12 to 18 metres of snow annually.) But the massive ski terrain combined with the lack of any lineups left us more than satisfied when we finally stopped for lunch.
"We just skied over 1,100 feet in four runs between 9:30 and 11:40," Sculnick told us as we caught our breath, outside the Revelation Lodge, that morning. "You couldn't ski that much at a lot of other resorts in such a short period of time because you'd be on the lifts way more."
Sculnick noted the sprawl of the mountain allows skiers to spread out, limiting the amount of time required to queue. "Five-to-10 minute lineups at the most on a really busy day here."
Based on three visits to Revelstoke, I can corroborate Sculnick's assertion. Lineups on the upper half of the mountain are typically minimal or non-existent. Usually, I've skied straight on to a chair -- unless, I am just too tired from the never-ending runs and want to give my legs a break before climbing aboard a chair.
When you're ripping it up at the resort with the highest lift-serviced vertical drop (5,620 feet / 1,713 metres) of any North American ski operation, lactic acid build-up and the need for a breather comes with the terrain.
Sculnick, a Quebec native, told us he decided to live in Revelstoke after skiing here one day in April a few years ago. "My wife and I came on a bluebird day, deep powder -- and 15 turns from the top of the mountain, she turns to me and says: 'We're moving here, right?' And so we got Revel-stuck."
Before RMR opened eight years ago, there had only been a small local ski operation with one chairlift and a few ski runs. But Revelstoke had a well-known heli-skiing and cat-skiing industry. So the potential for a world-class resort on Mount MacKenzie was obvious to those familiar with the mountain and the local ski culture.
"The top half of the mountain used to be just cat-skiing. You got onto a cat and drove up the mountain to where we have a lift now," said Sculnick.
That means skiers and snowboarders at the resort can enjoy, on a powder day, the thrill of cat-skiing but without that snowsport genre's steep price point. Peter Nielsen, general manager of RMR'S Sutton Place Hotel, similarly said that the heli- and cat-ski operations paved the way for RMR.
"If you have a helicopter, then you go where the best snow is and it's in this valley -- and now there is a ski resort in the middle of it," said Nielsen. "That was the vision of the original developer. And it's not uncommon for visiting skiers to say they had a better day skiing at the resort than they did with a helicopter in the backcountry."