Powder Paradise – RED Mountain, BC : Resort Sessions

RED Mountain is a gem among the Kootenay's. Our crew explored the resort and surronding area during our first edition of Resort Sessions. Rider: Marko Grilc. Photos: Chris Wellhausen
Frank Knabb waves hello as he sends one in BC.
For only $10 bucks, you can get a lift on snowcat which gives access to unprecedented terrain.
The stacked crew was raring to go and got after it all over RED.
Marko Grilc with an A-Frame to start things off right.
Colin Spencer and Frank Knabb get a feel for their legs on some groomers.
The crew chatted with the patrol and decided it was time to find some powder stashes.
Madison Ellsworth sends one into the fluff.
Colin Spencer with a proper slob, if there is such a thing.
It was so good, the crew hiked lap after lap.
RED Mountain, shralped.
RED Mountain and its cats await.... Read on for the full RED Mountain Resort Session feature from the November issue of the magazine below.

This feature originally appeared in the November issue of TransWorld SNOWboarding magazine and has been updated with the photo gallery and video below. Subscribe here. 

Photos: Chris Wellhausen

Words: Gerhard Gross

On the front of the cabin in RED Mountain's Kirkup snowcat, some freed spirit has been seized by inspiration, taken a marker, and scrawled the words, "Even if I catch air for only a second it may take days for my soul to land." It's a fitting expression for an area known to operate on Kootenay Time, a vortex in southern BC where things run a little slower and priorities are in proper order. On a pow day, the 20-centimeter rule is strictly observed by locals—those who have a steady job in the winter, anyway. For the rest, it's always on.

Inside the cat, riders Marko Grilc, Frank Knab, Madison Ellsworth, Colin Spencer, our local guide Tom Rodrigue, filmer Leland McNamara, photographer Chris Wellhausen, and I are rumbling along on a five-minute bump to the top of Kirkup, a sidecountry peak that marks Red's farthest boundary. As the resort continues to expand, they hope to add a lift to provide full access to the terrain. For the time being, cat rides are just 10 dollars a lap, first come, first serve.

Outside the cat, filmer Colin D. Watt is clinging to the back, then scrambling to the roof, GoPro in hand, looking for a creative angle.

Check out the RED Mountain Resort Sessions Video here.

Cat angles. Photo: Chris Wellhausen

When our driver comes to a stop, we unload and find ourselves a short hike below the crest punctuated by a handful of pine and larch, caked with thick crystals of wind-driven snow, turning them into frozen snow ghosts. Catching our breath at the top, we look out to the northwest and Tom points out Old Glory, with a long, straight ramp leading up its height before a steep slope plunges off the other side. "There's an old fire warden's cabin on top," Tom says. "That's the highest peak in the whole area, and they used it for spotting forest fires. The Columbia River runs through the valley below. Good fishing."

Visible from the top of RED, the Columbia divides the blue-collar town of Trail—where zinc and lead smelting and refining drive the region's economy—before continuing south to the Washington state border, a 20-minute drive away. Ten minutes up the road toward RED sits Rossland, a laid-back mountain town with a vibe that feels worlds away from Trail. Another five minutes past that, Red's base area waits.

Kirkup, where we stand, is the fourth of the Seven Summits in the Rossland range, and from here we can see the rest—Lepsoe, Elgood, Plewman to the north; and Grey, Granite, and Record mountains to the south.

The crew was eager to get after it.

"If you want to stretch your legs, all the peaks are accessible," Tom adds. "You just put your skins on and go. You'll come back to either a road or the resort. There are a bunch of cabins to go to."

That boomerang effect applies equally to the resort. Designed with 360-degree cat tracks that circle the base of the three in-bound peaks—Red, Granite, and Grey—riders can drop in anywhere off the lifts with the confidence that they'll eventually hit a run that will return them to one of the four lifts or the base area. That doesn't mean you won't get cliffed out on some of RED's burlier terrain, like the 55- to 60-degree pitches found on Microwave, a reminder not to let your guard down whenever you're off the groomers.

This is only our second day here, so Tom continues to identify some of the main features of the resort that are visible from our vantage point. To the south we can see the back of Grey Mountain, which has hosted backcountry skiers since the 1920s, yet didn't see lift access until 2013, which added another 997 acres of in-bounds terrain and brought the total to 4,200.

Much of the magic of RED is that it hasn't been overdeveloped, and a healthy dose of its history remains intact.

There are seven main chutes running along Grey, with plenty of lines to find in the trees that separate them, ending in a vast, open shoulder at the end of the ridge, aptly named "Pretty Vacant." While the resort was working on the new lift, they offered daily cat rides to the top, the same deal that now applies to Kirkup.

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Much of the magic of RED is that it hasn't been overdeveloped, and a healthy dose of its history remains intact.

We ended up at the top of Kirkup after a short ride off the back of Grey's chair, where we linked up with the cat. Aside from some high-speed groomers, sidehits, and patches of days-old pow to slash on the edges of the runs, it was a fairly routine journey. This wasn't always the case for Grey's chair, however.

Colin Spencer and Frank Knabb

"They had a few issues when it first opened," Tom explains. "Eventually they discovered that there was a spirit, an old miner, who died on the mountain. They had a local shaman come in to bless the mountain and remove the spirit. Since then, we've got wicked snow and the chair's been running."

Like many resorts, RED has grown in the wake of a natural-resource industry that started generations before. In 1890, gold-copper ore was discovered on the south side of the resort's namesake peak, ushering in a gold rush. Some of the larger mining pits still lie just out of bounds off the top of the RED Chair and are worth shredding, especially for the steep tree lines that lie below. And even though it requires ducking a rope, there's still an old road to catch you at the bottom and funnel you back to the resort.

Check out the RED Mountain Resort Sessions Video here.

The gold rush attracted many Norwegians who brought centuries of ski culture with them, and on December 26, 1947, RED saw the opening of western Canada's first chairlift.

Although a new hotel is being built at the base, much of the magic of RED is that it hasn't been overdeveloped and a healthy dose of its history remains intact. This includes five privately owned and two public-access cabins that dot the resort, some hidden beside main runs or deep in the trees, waiting to be discovered. One, the Yodel Inn, still serves as the primary residence for a man who is probably the end-all definition of a ski bum, Wake Williams.

Frank Knabb waves hello as he sends one.

We can't see any cabins from where we are on Kirkup, though. All we register now are rolling faces covered with pow and well-spaced trees waiting farther below. We drop in.

Halfway through our six-day trip, Marko has to bail back to Slovenia, but we get reinforcements in the way of Mark Sollors and Curtis Ciszek. Sollors grew up about two and a half hours northwest in Kelowna, BC, home of the closest major Canadian airport, but it's his first time here. "I'm just blown away at how every peak you get on top of you can ride any way you want and you just all funnel back down to the bottom," he says.

We've spent some time testing just how well the catchall cat tracks work as we look for leftover slivers of pow in the wide-open glades of Jumbo off Granite's southwest side and the steep trees of High Spirits on the north side. We've popped airs and sniped trannies until our legs burned on the sidehits of Easy Street. We've pointed warp-speed down Granite's Main Run and spun laps off the T-bar in the Rockstar park. It's easy to hit all that when there are virtually no liftlines. Now, hungry for more blower turns, we pick up snowshoes from the local rental shop and set our sights on the summit of Mt. Roberts.

"I'm just blown away at how every peak you get on top of you can ride any way you want and you just all funnel back down to the bottom."

Looming above the base of the Paradise Chair, Mt. Roberts features Red's most legit sidecountry terrain with a buffet of cornices, spines, and cliffs. A half-hour hike off the back of Granite gets you video part–worthy features that require packing your beacon, probe, and shovel, and checking in with ski patrol first.

When we get to the top, we find the north-facing slope has protected a few pockets of pow, and the crew spends two days laying waste to only a fraction of the terrain Roberts offers.

On our final day, we're scheduled to meet with Wake Williams for a tour of his cabin, the Yodel Inn, tucked just out of sight in the trees off Rhino's Run. Built in 1944, by Wake's father and four friends, the resort still allows Wake to live in the cabin and come and go as he pleases.

A deep trench leads to the front door, and snow climbs seamlessly from the base of the roof, up and over its apex. Inside, a tall wood stove commands the center of the cabin, prayer flags hang from beneath the bedroom loft, multiple packs, old skis, and photos line the walls. It's musty and humid with our breath, the ceiling of the loft so low that log beams graze Ciszek and D. Watt's heads when they stand. Altogether, the place, maybe 400 square feet total, is an iconic example of one of Canada's first ski-in/ski-out dwellings.

Check out the RED Mountain Resort Sessions video here.

We gather around a table at the back to listen to Wake's tales of how the place was built and some of his personal history. Fit and wiry with shoulder-length silver hair, Wake is soft spoken, yet there's an underlying intensity to him. Once an aspiring ski racer, he discovered climbing in his fifties, which led him to the Himalayas. He claims he'd still be there if an ankle injury hadn't brought him home. Now in his sixties, he passes his time maintaining his cabin and skiing Red.

It's late in the day, and after sharing a few beers, it's time to move on. Before we leave, Wake reminds us that whenever the prayer flags are hanging out front, he's in residence. "Anyone can knock

"I'm just blown away at how every peak you get on top of you can ride any way you want and you just all funnel back down to the bottom."

Own a Piece of RED

Mom-and-pop resorts have become increasingly rare in the past two decades—the ability for someone to have any stake in a resort, even rarer. In response, this fall, RED turned the resort ownership model on its head when it launched its "Fight The Man. Own The Mountain." campaign on Startengine.com. The premise is simple: With an investment ranging from 1,000 to 25,000 dollars, you can own equity in RED Mountain, which includes everything from chairlifts to the lodge, condos, and snowmaking. Buying in doesn't get you voting rights in the company, but it does give you access to six tiers of perks, depending on your investment level. For RED, the hope is to raise money to improve the resort while retaining its unique, funky flavor, something that's often impossible when big money investors get involved. More at startengine.com/startup/red-mountain-resort/

RED Mountain Resort Guide

On-Hill Eats: Sourdough Alley (burly breakfast burritos), Paradise Lodge (don't miss the dirty mac 'n' cheese), Gabriella's (hearty Italian a five-minute walk from the base area)

Post-Boardn' Beers: Rafters

Rossland Eats: Mook Thai Cuisine, Aka Dake Sushi, Misty Mountain Pizza

Local shop: RossVegas

Closet Major Airports: Spokane, Washington; Kelowna, BC

Mountain Stats:

4,200 acres, 2,919 vertical feet

4 lifts, 1 T-bar

110 marked runs

Check out the RED Mountain Resort Sessions video here.

Check out more about RED Mountain here. 

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