An Ontario snowboarder and skier rediscover Kicking Horse together.
Part 1: Allison—The Snowboarder
words :: Allison Kennedy Davies
I’ve been a snowboarder for longer than I’ve been a mom, but sometimes, admittedly, it’s hard to remember. Between making lunches and signing permission forms, it’s easy to bury the adventurous soul you once were. When’s the last time you carved out five days to do something that challenged you? Here we are, at the beginning of an epic tale—how two moms with a long history of shredding the gnar ended up in the backcountry of Golden, B.C.
Spread out at the foot of the Purcells, Golden is not a red-carpet tourist destination that pretends people don’t live here. This is a real town that welcomes you to come explore among the locals, whether you’re an Australian on a work visa, a ski bum fighting for a berth in the upcoming Freeride World Qualifier, or a worker in the forestry or rail industry. It’s my kind of place—where you earn your way in with handshakes and smiles, just like you have to earn your turns in the backcountry.
Kicking Horse: A Small Resort on a Big Mountain
We were on a tight schedule and we hit the ground running. We grabbed our four-day lift tickets and rentals and headed out to meet our Big Mountain guide, Dylan Anderson. Dylan would be imparting a decade of local knowledge over the span of a day. We quickly realized Dylan taught my daughter to ski in the Blue Mountain Resort staff daycare, proving that the Canadian ski slopes are, indeed, a small world.
As we skied 17,000 leg-burning vertical feet, Dylan showing us the chutes and double blacks. The entire place is a terrain park—as Dylan describes it, Kicking Horse is a small resort on a big mountain. Kids grow up here learning to navigate unmarked cliffs and hazards.
After a backcountry training session, I’d wrapped my brain around the technical side of an avalanche search and rescue, but the emotional side was wreaking havoc as we headed to pick up my splitboard at Higher Ground Sports. The board was a thing of beauty—a Pallas Hedonist with killer graphics. I’d never contemplated the logistics of splitting my board in half and making it into skis… and now I had poles to contend with. The way the Hedonist swaps is impressive. You slide the bindings off the metal rails, undo the latches and split the board. You swap the “skis” so the edges are opposite to their “snowboard” position, remount the bindings in a forward-facing position, add your skins, build your poles, raise your binding risers on the steeps and away you go. Easy, right?
Into the Golden Backcountry
After picking up my board, we met our guide Louis where all official meetings in Golden take place—Whitetooth Brewery. Andy from Tourism Golden had scheduled this meet-and-greet and Louis rolled in, duct tape on his puffy coat, a smile on his face and his trademark hearty laugh. Over a few pints and a Red Tomato pie, we listed our goals—to be challenged, ride some powder, avoid high-risk avalanche terrain and make it down for jam night at The Wolf’s Den.
Morning came early. With our avalanche packs, camera gear, bagged lunch, skins and skis/board, we took the gondola up. In Yoda-like fashion, Louis said the plan would unveil itself. We’d take the cat track and drop into a double black in the bowl—terrain we definitely hadn’t ridden yet.
We rode up the Stairway chair as Louis checked the bowls, the weather and our vibe to formulate a plan. A decision was made: We’d take the cat track and drop in on another double black along Redemption Ridge, traverse through the bottom tree section and head to the resort boundary. From there we’d put on our skins and start the long trek up Rudi’s Ridge South.
I was expecting it to be tough, but I’d underestimated how tough. Some serious elevation and two days of longer runs than I’d done in decades made it slow going. I actually liked the trudge, and I didn’t find the split board hard to adapt to, but I required frequent stops.
“Life Was Good, Until…”
We arrived at a colourful string of Tibetan prayer flags and a victory bell to ring on the summit. Our lunch spot would have provided stunning views had things not been so socked in. We refueled and readjusted equipment, removing skins, rebuilding boards until we were ready for what we’d come here to do. The top section of the run was everything I’d hoped for: thigh-deep powder, a mellow incline and a wide-open bowl to do big sweeping turns. It didn’t last nearly long enough, naturally. We agreed to head back up for a second run, even though we were fighting for time. We didn’t reach the summit before transitioning to ride back down in more powder. Life was good, until we got to the flat treed area that stood between us and the in-bounds cat track down.
For the first time in my entire life, I wished I was on skis. The ensuing 45 minutes wasn’t pretty.
I’d been cursing cat tracks since I landed, but my angst was at an all-time high now. For the first time in my entire life, I wished I was on skis. The ensuing 45 minutes wasn’t pretty. It involved me using Louis’s poles, Louis towing me out of snowy dips and at the bitter end, me riding the struggle bus hard until the gondola was in sight. We made it. We’d done it. I’d asked to be challenged and I can guarantee you, I was.
Jam Night at the Wolf Den
Alive and exhausted, we headed back to the Kicking Horse River Lodge to crack a beer and hail a taxi (our legs were done) for our ultimate destination: jam night at The Wolf’s Den.
Happy to be alive, we pulled ourselves together for The Howl. It was Australia Day—which might as well be a B.C. holiday—and the bar was packed. We’d also heard from The Wolf’s Den bartender, Mellie, that the final must-do on our list was a Shaft—a legendary espresso-based cocktail at a semi-seedy spot called The Riverhouse. Mellie took us there, post-jam.
It was Australia Day—which might as well be a B.C. holiday—and the bar was packed.
We were barely in the door when I spotted Louis at the bar. He pointed at me with an ear-to-ear grin layered with extra meaning after the sufferfest he’d witnessed hours before. It seemed fitting to buy the man a Shaft.
And just like that it was time to go. We retraced our steps to Calgary, my mind reeling. Golden had my heart, Rudi’s had my number, and I honestly I just wanted an encore with less nerves, more preparation and some joyful anticipation. I set out looking for a challenge and I got it. The Kicking Horse backcountry has so much to offer—and with a little help, you too can accept the challenge (and the ass-kicking) that comes along with it.
Part 2: Kristin—The Skier
words :: Kristin Schnelten
When Allison and I got the green light for this trip, I immediately joined the local gym. Two days a week became three became five. When the snow fell I hit the hill, re-learning the alpine turn (after a 20-year affair with telemark). For five months I was on full-time prep for this five-day adventure, determined to absolutely grab it by the balls. Twenty years had passed since my last backcountry trip, my last big-mountain turns were 15 years ago, and had I even skied real powder in a decade? Memory foggy, I had to hope like hell for long muscle memory.
A bit jetlagged and altitude-fuzzy, Allison and I emerge from our first gondola ride at Kicking Horse and huddle on the summit, where our guide attempts to give us the lay of the land. Dylan directs his pole this way and that, pointing out peaks, bowls, lifts and runs—none of which we can see. The visibility is dreadful. Five feet at most.
Welcome to Kicking Horse!
We take off down the cat track, snowplowing down the first pitch, uncertain of the steepness or even direction of the run. As I squint through the haze hoping to keep on Dylan’s tail, a woman barrels like so many freight trains through my periphery, just inches away. Hoping to pass me on the inside, she misjudges the edge of the track and launches into the bowl below, exploding into a yard sale of skis, poles and bouncing goggles.
Good morning and welcome to Kicking Horse. Where there’s a 100% chance of getting your arse whooped, one way or another.
That first morning is a doozy. Knowing not at times if we’re headed uphill or down, alternately absorbing invisible bumps and losing our stomachs on unseen drops, I add vertigo to my laundry list of struggles, muttering expletives as I attempt to buy just one solid turn.
Battered but Grinning
To-die-for truffle fries and a pint at Eagle’s Eye Restaurant—along with the brief emergence of the sun—turn the afternoon around. We tally up our top-to-bottom runs, thighs burning. After a full day on the mountain we head back to town, battered and shaken but grinning, two flatlander moms in just a bit over our heads.
We drench our woes in pints at Whitetooth Brewing, carb up on tacos and margaritas at Reposados, and eventually make it back to the brewery, capping off the night with stellar sing-along live music. Walking back to our riverside lodge, I decide I’m pretty sold on this ski town and its unforgiving mountain.
Golden Locals: “Dispensing Hugs Like Candy”
Despite an influx of development since my ‘90s-era visit, Golden has managed to retain its funky little centre. It’s rough around the edges, with dusty sidewalks and scattered empty lots—some fenced with planks of bright, discarded skis. Sun-haggard ski bums belly up to bars next to generations-long railroad locals and loud, wealthy tourists.
It’s the kind of place where a musician and bonafide character can hand-paint his decaying van in bright, block colours and christen himself Pablo Euphoria. Where you hear whispers of a fabled, kind hippie named Infinity Solstice, and an hour later that same long-haired legend saunters into the bar, dispensing hugs like candy.
Bowl Lines and Backcountry Prep
Saturday dawns, crystal clear and frigid. We meet our instructor for the morning, biologist-turned-patroller Lenka. Wicked smart and patient, she walks us through one scenario after another, bolstering our confidence in the use of beacon, probe and shovel—and assuring us the chances are very low we’ll put our new skills to use tomorrow.
The sun shines all afternoon, and we pick our favourite lines in the bowl. It’s been days since the last storm cycle, yet we manage to find patches of untracked snow at a perfect rock-star pitch.
Completely wiped from our second day on the mountain, we make another stop at the brewery—for pints, Red Tomato pizza and a meetup with tomorrow’s backcountry guide. Louis needs to size us up, see what he’s getting into with these vacationing moms. Allison and I need to be talked down from irrational fears. Quick to laugh and contagious with positive confidence, Louis sets us at ease. Mostly.
I’m determined to make big-mountain trips happen more often. To stand in this very spot with my children.
“Pumped and Petrified”
Twelve hours later, the three of us are riding the chair—Allison and I a bubbling concoction of giddy, pumped and petrified. We take a left off the ridge, out of bounds, headed for my first foray into the backcountry in more than 20 years. I’m wobbly with my heavy pack in the deep, choppy snow, but make it to the bottom of the bowl with minimal expletives. We traverse further out, attach our skins and set out on the track. The climb to Reudi’s Ridge is gentle and fairly short, extended by frequent stops to clear bindings, catch our breath, laugh at our tortoise pace.
When we arrive at the top and take a look around, adrenaline and exhaustion fuel my thoughts. I’m determined to make big-mountain trips happen more often. To stand in this very spot with my children. To return stronger, more fit. To make it back inbounds before dark.
Two laps of fresh tracks and bouncing powder turns down the mellow face lead us to a long, flat runout. If that first hazy, nauseating day was my time to curse, this is Allison’s moment to let the fucks fly. Forced to choose between butt-wiggling her board forward in Louis’s tracks or post-holing in waist-deep snow a hundred metres through the woods, she is stuck. (And I’m damn grateful I don’t snowboard.) Louis laughs and encourages, he tugs and suggests. Louis gives space for frustration and time for tears. Louis, it turns out, is some sort of guiding god.
We make it back to the parking lot, long past last chair, limping and sniffling, absolutely done. Physically, emotionally. Done. Louis deserves every accolade and tip we can bestow upon him. And Allison and I need a drink.
Open Mic Après
It’s open mic night at The Wolf’s Den, and our favourite bartender Mellie is next on stage. We cheer her on, laugh with the table of Aussies and their ukulele-playing buddy, follow our new best friends down a dark alley to the next bar. Surprised to find Louis there at The Riverhouse, we dole out a round of Shafts and share the longest, tightest hugs.
Stumbling home in the dark, the lyrics to Mellie’s song repeat in my head:
Come to this town, you’ll have a good time
Catch a snowflake, and choose your line
Meet some people, drink the wine
Come to this town, you’ll have a good time.
Kicking Horse spun me dizzy and spat me out, drenched and gasping. Beat me to a pulp, left me for dead. But if Kicking Horse wanted nothing more than to see me fail, Golden was my biggest fan. A booze-filled reminder of my former self and ski-bum dreams, it smacked me on my backside and said, “Go get ‘em, kid. You got this.”
Learn about COVID-19–related changes to travel in Golden here.