TR: Ski Road Trip 2020 - Utilizing the Mountain Collective Pass
Last summer, Facebook provided me with an ad for the Mountain Collective Pass. Given my recurring online shopping addiction, I clicked to investigate. This is going to sound like an ad, but hear me out! Because this was one heck of a deal. I discovered that for $471 CDN, I could buy a pass that gave me 2 days at ~17 resorts, plus 50% off subsequent days. Three of these resorts were located in Canada near where I was moving to (Revelstoke, Lake Louise and Banff). I figured, even if I only make it to the Canadian resorts, then I will have justified spending the money on this pass.
Fast forward a few months and suddenly my friend Kt was on board with buying the same pass and joining me for a road trip of checking out some pretty fantastic resorts throughout North America! We were enthusiastic about the possibilities. For example, hit up 10+ resorts, AND combine climbing at Yosemite and/or Red Rocks along the way? This quickly turned in to a 4+ week plan, and we had to reel in our ambitions a bit and "settle" for a 2 week roadtrip. We also had to be realistic about the fact that I had just undergone a third surgery on my foot and I was non-weight bearing at the time of these plans in November 2019, leaving the very distinct possibility that climbing was not going to be an aspect of my life for a while. But ski boots are like giant casts, so I felt pretty optimistic about skiing.
We both also had 5 day edge cards to Whistler, which allows you to use up to 2 of those days at any other Vail resort. With these two passes in hand, we planned a 2-week itinerary where we visited 6 resorts on the Mountain Collective Pass, plus 2 Vail resorts in Colorado. Airbnbs were booked, roof rack and box was finally installed, and we were ready to go.
Before I go further with this trip report, I want to acknowledge how lucky and privileged I am to have the opportunity to embark on a trip like this. Although I did not have much income last year, my savings from the year before while working two full time jobs allowed me to make the decision to spend money on a trip like this, in combination with moving in to my parent's property in the Slocan Valley where my expenses are minimal. I am exceedingly lucky to be able to make this choice, and to be working flexibly as a contractor at this time to pull this off. I am very grateful!
Okay, jumping back in.
There were a few initial concerning hiccups. First, I had initially been told it would be a 6-8 week recovery for my foot surgery that I had at the end of October; however, as I entered into January, I was still not approved to ski... I finally acquired approval January 16th and tried to get as much skiing in as possible before the roadtrip... which amounted to 4 total days due to a busy work schedule and sudden warming in the interior making the snow disappear for a bit. Ultimately, however, I was able to ski and ready to go!
The first step of the trip was to get Kt out to the Kootenays. Unfortunately in winter, this can be quite the difficult task. The two main airports in the area are dependent on clear skies for planes to land, and there is no longer Greyhound bus service to the area. We had Kt plan to fly in on the Thursday, 3 days before we had to leave for our roadtrip, to provide us with flexibility. We initially were in luck - her plane left Vancouver and headed to Trail! Once it arrived above Trail, the weather window had closed. They could not land, and re-routed to Castlegar. They could not land in Castlegar either, and re-routed to Kelowna. Kelowna is not super close to me... about 4+ hours each way, so this was less than ideal. This was the second initial hiccup/obstacle for the start of our trip.
Luckily, we are smart cookies. Kt booked a bus for the next morning to Revelstoke, and we booked a hotel for that subsequent evening. I drove up and met her in Revelstoke and we had a half day of skiing on Friday with almost no lift lines. It snowed 10+ cm that night, and on Saturday we had yet another amazing day of skiing at Revelstoke Mountain Resort. Our luck was turning around!
Resort #1: Revelstoke, BC
Revelstoke is one of my favourite resorts! Definitely 5 stars. I skied there for the first time last April and was so delighted to be back. I did, unfortunately, take a bit of a tumble onto an icy mogul drop from which I literally bounced back up and kept going from... but this resulted in my back flaring up in the same spot as the pain from a herniated disc I acquired the prior August. This was the third hiccup to the beginning of our trip, but I slapped on a back brace and continued on.
This was a fantastic start to our trip overall. Although, it was determined that while clearing snow off my vehicle, a family member accidentally broke off the part of my hood that shoots windshield wiper fluid towards the windshield (our fourth initial hiccup/obstacle). So Saturday, we left at 2 PM so that we could return to my home in the Slocan Valley and try to glue some key elements back on before we left Sunday morning. At this stage, a lot of elements were acting against us, but overall we were persevering just fine. I just hoped that road conditions would be good throughout our roadtrip, and that somehow we would simultaneously have amazing snow to ski most of the time... pretty ambitious... and yet...
Resort #2: Big Sky, Montana
On Sunday, we drove ~12 hours down to Big Sky Montana. We lucked out and had clear roads the entire way, and then it snowed 10+ cm overnight for a fantastic day of skiing at Big Sky! It seemed that most people at this resort stayed on the groomers. Combined with substantial snowfall the evening before, we had fantastic tree skiing all to ourselves for the most part. There was even a 8-person chair that HAD BUTT WARMERS WHEN YOU FIRST SAT DOWN! This was the epitome of luxury to me at a ski resort. Overall, I give this resort 5 stars!
Resort #3: Vail, Colorado
This was our first Vail resort that we visited while utilizing our Whistler Edge cards independent from the Mountain Collective Pass. This resort was closest to our AirBnB. When we arrived, we were startled to discover that the first parking lot we arrived at was $50 for the day. We relocated until we finally found a parking lot that Foxey (my vehicle) could fit in with its roofbox for $30 for the day... Thank goodness we had our Whistler Edge cards because a day pass was $230 USD (~$300 CDN)!
I quite enjoyed exploring the resort, mostly for the tree skiing. We started skiing the back bowl and then travelled clockwise to each successive chair, until we crossed back over to the front bowl. This took the entire day. We found some amazing tree skiing at higher elevations, but snow was quite compact and dense lower down. Kt was less thrilled with this resort than me. I give this resort 4 stars.
Resort #4: Breckenridge Resort, Colorado
This was our second Vail resort that we visited on our Whistler Edge card. We had a lot of fun here, but were quite shocked that "blacks" here were what we were use to as being designated as blues. There was a lot of fun terrain, but not a lot of steep terrain (although we did find some steep areas). A colleague of Kt's joined for the morning which was a lot of fun. The winds were very strong here and there were areas where grass was was the predominant terrain instead of snow, but most of these areas were closed off to skiing. Overall, I give this resort 4 stars.
Resort #5: Arapahoe Basin, Colorado
By this day, it had been 4 days since the last snowfall and conditions were getting pretty subpar. Lots of compact snow and icy regions. However, we were very pleased with how steep the terrain was, more like what we were use to in BC. I started off the day in my down-hill skis since the conditions were icier, but the pressure on my surgery foot was too much and I was unable to turn. I then brought my touring skis in to get sharpened and used them for the rest of the trip... I will be hanging up my downhill skis for the rest of this ski season! I give this resort 5 stars, although the snow quality on the day of our visit gets 3 stars.
Resort #6: Aspen Snowmass, Colorado
A few days before, Kt went to this resort without me while I had a job interview and work meetings. On her first visit, a local showed her where the best skiing was. It involved taking a t-bar like thing, a long traverse, and skiing down gullys to get to some amazing trees. It seemed that most people stayed on the groomed runs, so these areas were isolated and amazing! We skied here until early afternoon, and then relocated to Utah. I give this resort 5 stars!
The drive from Colorado to Utah was beautiful!
Resort #7: Snowbird, Utah
The night after we arrived in Salt Lake City, it snowed 9 inches. Unfortunately, there was an avalanche at 3 AM that blocked the road to the resort, but we managed to get to the resort at noon and had some of the best skiing of my life! The terrain here was incredible, and the snow was outstanding. We met a local snowboarder in line for the tram that brings you all the way to the top, and he took us to where you walk up to Mount Baldy. Thus, we had ourselves a steep little warm up. Unfortunately, Kt had hurt her hip flexor the day she skied Snowmass without me, and it flared up after our first run. We still went through the amazing tunnel to the other side of the resort (with museum in it!) and found some amazing steep skiing before calling it an early day. The tree skiing at this resort was more sparse compared to Colorado. I overall give this resort 5 stars.
Resort #8: Jackson Hole, Wyoming
We then relocated to Jackson, where we stayed at the Antler Inn. This hotel was fantastic because it had a large indoor hot tub and a free shuttle to and from the ski resort. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, it had been 3 days since the last snow fall and the resort was largely skied out. We skied 2 days here and had an amazing time overall! Unfortunately, my knee decided it was done with skiing on the last day (day 10 of skiing), and I had to jump turn to turn left every time, and could only ski groomers. This was my first groomers day I realized. I give this resort 5 stars!
Final Stats: On this last day at Jackson Hole, I skied >7500 vertical meters, for a total of >45,5000 vertical meters over the entire trip. Kt skied nearly 10,000 vertical meters more. I had to wear my back brace the entire trip because my back flared up, my foot complained unless in my touring boots, and my knee gave out a bit on the last day. I always wear knee braces on both knees when I ski starting 4 years ago, but sometimes they are not enough to prevent fatigue and pain. Kt had a pretty bad recurring hip flexor issue, and a few neck and shoulder issues from some tumbles. Overall, however, we were great and capable :)
This trip was my first ski road trip and it was a lot of fun. I would highly recommend getting a collective pass such as the Mountain Collective Pass and doing such a trip! We experienced some amazing resorts. I loved the tree skiing in Colorado, and I loved the snow in Montana, Utah and Wyoming. We had fantastic driving conditions every day that we had long driving days! And mostly amazing snow, although the snow did become quite compacted after 3-5 days after each snowfall.
When we planned this roadtrip, I was confident that my foot would be healed by the time we left. Unfortunately, it was still causing me issues and still is now. They think I will need to undergo a 4th foot surgery, which is very discouraging. I will have to enjoy as much skiing as I can in the meantime and see if I can start tolerating shoes to hike and climb soon!
I am very grateful to have had this opportunity to go on such an amazing roadtrip with such good company (thanks Kt!). Although I have moved to the Kootenays, it looks like I will be returning to Vancouver in the fall to work at UBC for a bit. Hopefully my life will bring me back to the Kootenays once I can be done with foot surgeries forever. Time will tell!