At Castle Mountain Resort in southwestern Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, the snow is deep, and the powder is light and amazing. Home to some of North America’s longest fall line runs, Castle Mountain is Alberta’s second-largest resort covering approximately 1,450 hectares with 95 trails and eight alpine bowls across two mountains. On average, Castle records the most snow in the province “by a country mile,” says Castle Mountain Resort sales and marketing manager, Cole Fawcett. Plus, the lift lines are short, and the slopes are uncrowded. It’s skiing and snowboarding heaven.
Yet as amazing as this place is, what stands out equally strongly, are the people and the deep sense of community here.
Community-owned by Castle enthusiasts, “it’s always had this friendly, homey vibe. Castle has always been ingrained in the community,” Fawcett says. “It’s a really fun place to be a part of. We are committed to maintaining a low-density skier experience so that when it snows, every run is not tracked out in an hour. We have almost the same acreage as Sunshine Village with one-fifth the guests – it’s mind-boggling.”
Fawcett concedes that the resort’s southwestern Alberta location means it’s often windy here – but that can have its benefits as well. “Even if it didn’t snow, the wind blows the snow around, and it still feels like a powder day – that’s a really nice side of that.” Other potential critiques of the resort is the lack of town nearby – “that’s fair too. We don’t have the same kind of amenities that towns like Kimberley, Revelstoke or Fernie have to offer,” Fawcett says. “You don’t come to Castle for the shopping or the spas. You come because you really like to ski or snowboard.”
While Castle Mountain has a reputation for challenging terrain, there is plenty to keep everyone happy, from beginner and intermediate level skiers and riders to advanced and expert. There are six lifts – two triple chairs, two double chairs, one T-bar and one magic carpet – and a terrain park designed for fun for everyone from beginners to experts.
Castle Mountain Resort is home to one of North America’s only resort-based cat skiing operations, the Powder Stagecoach – the adventure of a lifetime with open bowls, glades and epic powder, Thursdays to Saturdays (available this season until March 21). Skiers and boarders fuel up with a hearty hot breakfast, receive a packed lunch and bottled beverage to go. Castle Mountain provides each skier and rider with avalanche safety equipment and delivers a safety presentation before everyone heads out for a hosted day of skiing and riding for a minimum of five runs – up Huckleberry chair and then onto the cat which takes you high up onto Haig Ridge. There is an après-ski photo presentation and celebratory beverage to wrap up the day.
“Safety is No. 1,” says Darrel Lewko, lead guide and the cat skiing operation manager. “We make sure everyone enjoys their day and goes home safe. We control it and do snow science in the area, the same as we do on the main hill.”
Cat skiing at Castle lends itself to strong intermediate and up skiers and riders. (Check with Castle Mountain Resort for more information). “Our terrain is quite mellow,” says tail guide Dennis Miller. “When you go to another heliski or cat operation, once you’re out there, you’re out there all day,” “Here, once you get to the village, you can take a rest, miss a lap, go to the washroom – you have an out, all the time.”
Dean Hordal, a skier from Cochrane, Alberta, describes the cat skiing as “just phenomenal. They are really knowledgeable and patient. And the food was really good.”
Hordal’s cat skiing trip was a Christmas gift from his daughter Morgan, a snowboarder from Calgary who’s visited Castle several times. “It has a good vibe. It’s really friendly, and it has a good sense of community,” Morgan says. “Every time I’ve been here, there’s been powder, so I feel like I’m on a roll.”
Adds Lewko: “It’s conviviality and inclusion. We kind of wrap our arms around you then you become a part of what we are.”
And if you and your family are looking for a non-skiing adventure, Castle Mountain Resort offers the Scenic Snow Cat Experience (Saturdays), open this season until March 16. Huckleberry chairlift takes you up to where the snowcat is waiting. Then the cat takes you up to Haig Ridge for amazing views, complete with photo stops, hot chocolate, snacks and a T Bar Pub & Grub voucher you can use when you get back to the village.
Edmontonian Ryan Sinfield, an avid snowboarder, recently explored Castle for the first time and he’d like to return for a family visit. “It’s got a very nice local feel. It’s convenient for kids, with on-hill accommodation,” he says. “There’s not a lot of places in Alberta like that.”
Castle Mountain Resort provides everything you’ll need for an enjoyable stay, including:
· Alpenland Ski & Sport, a one-stop on-hill rental and retail shop with skis, boards, accessories and clothing; as well as tuning and repairs.
· Snow School, with beginner, group and performance lessons;
· Child care is available Wednesday – Sunday and holidays.
Castle Mountain Day Lodge offers a variety of options for breakfast and lunch, with a cafeteria, and Joe’s Café tucked away at one end of the lodge serving specialty coffees, fresh-baked treats and more.
Après-ski: Castle Mountain’s T-Bar Pub & Grub – casual, welcoming and decorated with ski memorabilia – offers a variety of beverages and tasty food. Service is prompt and friendly, and there’s live music most Fridays and some Saturdays.
Castle Ski Lodge & Hostel is located on-mountain just a couple of minutes’ walk across the parking lot to the lifts. With the views of the surrounding forest and mountains, it almost makes you feel like you’re outside when looking out your window. Castle Ski Lodge & Hostel is friendly, cosy and unpretentious with everything needed for a comfortable stay, including a good Wifi connection. The hotel’s double and family-style rooms include private bathrooms and cable TV. All rooms have access to a sauna, laundry and common area with kitchen.
Other on-mountain accommodations include condominiums, vacation homes and B&Bs. Visit skicastle.ca for more information.
How to get here:
Castle Mountain Resort is Alberta’s closest mountain resort to the prairies. From Calgary, it’s a two-and-a-half to three-hour drive to Castle Mountain Resort, located 50 km west of Pincher Creek.
The writer was a guest of Castle Mountain Resort. They did not review or approve this article.