On paper, Revelstoke Mountain Resort has a lot working against it. With only three big lifts and 65 runs, some might assume that RMR isn’t worth driving several hours into the Rockies.
They couldn’t be more mistaken. The statistics belie a modest resort on a mammoth mountain that more than makes up in terrain what it lacks in infrastructure—an endless playground with a backcountry vibe that’s well worth the seven-hour drive from Edmonton.
When RMR burst onto the skiing landscape in 2007, it was envisioned as a resort with infrastructure and real estate rivalling the likes of Whistler Blackcomb. While those plans are still simmering in its ninth season, Revelstoke enjoys a reputation as one of the best under-the-radar ski destinations in North America.
So colour me excited when my friends and I settled on Revy for our next holiday ski trip—my first chance to visit after years of listening to such superlative word of mouth.
I had a chance to speak with Nico Leenders, RMR’s marketing manager, who explained the resort’s history and current scaled-down approach. Had the world’s economy not collapsed soon after RMR’s construction began, Leenders explains, the resort would likely be much larger, the infrastructure more expansive and the skiable terrain likely much more cramped.
“The original plans still exist,” Leenders notes. “We dust them off from time to time and look, but it’ll be quite some time before we do anything major, like put in another chairlift.
“We have the lowest skier density of any major ski resort in North America. On our absolutely busiest days, there’s still less than one skier per skiable acre on the mountain.” This, he adds, despite the current lifts working nowhere near their capacity.
Revy was certainly busy through my visit as thousands scratched the ski itch before Christmas. Both the base village and day lodge were packed, but I quickly learned that the mountain’s sheer size dilutes any sense of busyness while you’re on the slopes.
From the village, the Revelation gondola takes you halfway up the mountain, with the option to disembark early at Revelation Lodge. A short ski down from Revelation’s summit takes you to the Stoke, a quad chair that fires you up to Revelstoke’s sub-peak, where you can catch a shallow breath above the tree line before descending back into the maze.
With Revy’s lifts being few and far between, once you embark on a run, it can be well over an hour before you can catch your bearings by the sight of another lift. Whether you opt for the steep and deep powder of the mountain’s famous fall lines or the intersecting green and blue runs, it’s just you and the wilderness, with innumerable combinations to attack it.
But what truly sets Revelstoke apart are the less-trodden areas—the ones not marked by numbers on the trail maps.
“This ski resort was designed for a modern skier,” Leenders explains. “We only have 65 runs but over 3000 acres of terrain, while most other resorts would have 165 runs with that volume of terrain. That was done deliberately so that we could have amazing glade skiing, which we love to do out here.”
Revelstoke’s glades might be the most essential ingredient in creating its backcountry feel. At almost any moment on a run you can duck off into the trees and push yourself physically and mentally through some of the toughest and tightest terrain you’ll find on the mountain, only to emerge on a piste halfway down the mountain with burning quads and no idea where you are.
After spending my first day lapping the Revelation and Stoke lifts, on my second I made sure to explore the Riper side, a similarly massive area serviced by the lone Ripper chairlift and accessed only by a single traverse run or a hike up to the expert-level North Bowl. Over there, a few long and narrow intermediate runs snake through what is essentially one massive glade, all under the shadow of the expert-level North Bowl drop-ins.
There’s a certain magical sensibility to Revelstoke borne on this abundance of glades. Perhaps it’s because these runs are hard to point out on a map, or simply that being so enveloped by snow-covered trees plays to a childhood longing to visit Narnia. Either way, skiing Revelstoke is an experience I won’t soon forget and for which I will soon return, especially before those long-term plans take hold.
According to Leenders, regardless of any development, those who work and live in the area don’t see Revelstoke attaining the same high volumes of skiers as other resorts, given the far-flung distance from major cities and airports, and myriad resort options in between.
“Like many things in life, it may not be the easiest thing to get here, but it’s well worth the travel,” he says. “Our reputation lives up completely, and we hear that over and over again.”