While much of the civilized world might think snowboarding is nothing more than an event at the Winter Olympics, I am confident there is still a contingency of believers that understand snowboarding is not an event, or even a sport for that matter. For you, the ones who believe in snowboarding's ability to suspend the time/space continuum, the ones who enjoy a toeside turn more than a double inverted McJohnny, and for you who, above all, believe that it's just a fun way to spend your day, I think I found a place that will speak to your soul. It is in Canada, but don't worry, there isn't a halfpipe within a hundred miles. It's called Red Mountain, and I'd argue that it is home to the best tree riding in the world.
Rossland, British Columbia might seem an unlikely mecca for the powder hungry Canadian adventurer, what with all the rugged glory of the Rockies and savagery of the surrounding mountains to the north; Rossland is an easy locale to overlook. But this popping little town encircled by rolling mountains teeming with old growth fir and pine has gained a reputation for deep snow and unmatched terrain. Few peaks are even above treeline, and while that might lead you to think, "How good could it really be?" Let me tell you something: just because there aren't any 2,500-foot couloirs or man-eating crevasses doesn't mean this place is mellow by any means. Truth be told, I found myself on pillows and steeps inside these trees that would rival anything at Mt. Baker.
Although it's a ways inland, Red Mountain receives a similar snowpack to the coastal range, meaning the snow sticks to everything and terrain features inevitably stack up with each storm. On this trip a friend of mine dubbed these remarkably fun formations "bronco bumps." We're talking a veritable Candyland experience with chutes and powder ollies into hallways of trees that require you to harness your inner-werewolf, like it or not. Riding this place properly means your snowboard will only be touching the snow half of any given run. And if you're like me, your friends may need to have the mental health hotline on speed dial after each day ... just in case.
Do it yourself
Want to see for youself what Red Mountain and Big Red Cats are all about? Of course you do ...
Rideable Acres: 4200
Vertical Drop: 890 meters
Snowfall: 750 cm
Nearest Airport: Spokane 2.5 hours
Where to Stay: Slalom Creek
Big Red Cats
Price: $359-399 per person depending on season. Standby $299 single day, $199 multi
Where to Stay: Red Shutter Inn
If convenience is your thing -- that is to say, a two-hour drive up mind bending hairpin switchbacks on sketchy roads isn't your deal -- you will be pleased with the mellow five-minute drive to the ski hill from town. As far as resorts go, this is a true gem with one of the oldest ski lodges still standing and that oh-so-charming mom and pop feel. I have to say, it's a stark and welcome contrast to the "elevated" (read: contrived) experiences that some of the mega-corp mountains try to sell you. Here, you relax in the quiet comfort of some good Canadian people whose problems are usually solved with either a patch of duct tape or a mid-afternoon Kokanee. It's authentic.
As for the hill, if you get yourself to the top of Granite Peak you are afforded a drop zone that spans a full 360 degrees. Pick a direction and hit it, each line will either offer you legendary gladed trees or pillowy fields of, well, another legend. And every run will drop you on a cat track that wraps back around to the bottom. Yep, it's as easy as that.
Then there is the lack of crowds. Any further explanation on this matter would jeopardize my journalistic integrity -- some things need only be explained once. For instance, when I say, "I am a snowboarder" and you inquire, "For how long?" and I reply, "Forever," then spit on your foot, don't take it the wrong way, I am just under the assumption that we are both adults and we don't need night classes to distinguish left from right.
However, if you were to ask about the backcountry surrounding Red Mountain I would have no problem telling you that the only way to get it is to drop in to Big Red Cats' A-frame office, which you'll find right before you roll up to the main parking lot at Red Mountain. Set yourself up with a day or two of tree riding with a couple of your best friends. It will be unmatched. This place will provide you with moments that will be branded into your brain so deeply they may impede on rational thought for some time (Wife and kids? Nonsense ...).
For example: The time I was riding behind my buddy and he ran into some nesting grouse, which in turn got all tangled up in his midsection while he was going full speed down a powder field. Or the time I saw this pillow but didn't know what was on the other side and had to ask myself if I thought it was good to go, to which I initially answered, 'Um, maybe' but then changed my mind to 'Yeah! Of course! Definitely!' This decision was immediately followed by the single rowdiest mind-over-matter experiment of my adult life and ended up concluding with a heroic conquest for the ages, which was of course, seen by none. Typical, right? It is at Big Red Cats.
It's a stark and welcome contrast to the "elevated" (read: contrived) experiences that some of the mega-corp mountains try to sell you. src="http://assets.espn.go.com/i/story/design07/dropQuoteEnd.gif" />
And it's those kinds of moments that leave little question as to whether or not it was worth it. Sure, you might not be dropping huge cliffs or riding the exposed north face of the Matterhorn, but you probably won't be risking your life, either. And rest assured, you will be shredding pow harder than you could ever imagine. That's still fun right?
My trip to Red Mountain reminded me that yes, there are still places that offer (and actually cherish) character and straight up good times over energy-drink-fueled-death-chucks and $100 lift tickets. Red Mountain and Big Red Cats are what keep snowboarding real, even in non-Olympic years.