Travel

8 under-the-radar ski destinations across Canada

Lesser-known spots with prime powder and postcard-perfect peaks.

Lesser-known spots with prime powder and postcard-perfect peaks

(Source, left: Instagram/@silverstarmtnresort; right: Instagram/@castlemountainresort)

This article was originally published January 17, 2020 and was updated January 24, 2020.

It's no secret that Canada is home to some of the best powder on the planet; Whistler Blackcomb, Mont Tremblant and Lake Louise are consistently named among the world's best ski areas. But aside from locals, few know about the slopes just outside Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and Fredericton or the incredible backcountry terrain in Quebec's Gaspésie region.  

With the Old Farmer's Almanac forecasting heavy snowfall across Canada this winter, paired with milder than normal temperatures, 2020 seems like a banner year to explore the country's lesser-known winter playgrounds. 

We went off the groomed path in search of Canada's more remote ski destinations. Here are eight hills that are worth the trek, plus details on how to get there, where to stay, where to après and what fun winter activities that are available beyond the slopes.

Mount Sima in Yukon

Just outside downtown Whitehorse, you'll find a hill with a towering summit. With an elevation of 1,180 metres, Mount Sima is home to 15 marked runs, four terrain parks and a resident lynx. Fun fact: The hill served as a venue for the 2007 Canada Winter Games. 

How to get there: Fly into Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport and drive south. Mount Sima is located approximately 14 kilometres from the airport or 15 kilometres from downtown Whitehorse. 

Where to après: Just five minutes from the hill on Mount Sima Road, you'll find Winterlong Brewing Co., which serves up a selection of craft beer alongside meat pies, Scotch eggs, charcuterie boards and Klondike Kettle Corn in its 42-seat tasting room.  

Beyond the slopes: Try your hand at mountaineering and capture some Everest-esque Instagram content while exploring Mount Sima's Equinox ice towers, which range in height from nine to over 18 metres. Experiences run the gamut from leisurely walking tours to climbing adventures complete with the crampons and axes needed to scale the frozen pillars.

Where to stay: Pair your ski trip with an aurora borealis–viewing experience by booking in at Boréale Ranch, located about 46 kilometres from Mount Sima. The Northern Lights, which are best enjoyed from late August until mid-April, can be taken in from your room's mountain-facing balcony or windows, or the property's outdoor hot tub. 

Castle Mountain in Alberta 

All eyes are on Banff and Lake Louise after the first dusting of snow, but south of these two Rocky Mountain hotspots is a ski resort that is considered one of Alberta's best-kept secrets. Castle Mountain, the province's second largest resort and home to some of the longest fall line runs in North America, is a winter sports kingdom to be reckoned with. Spanning over 1,450 hectares, Castle boasts more than 94 trails and eight alpine bowls across two mountains. 

How to get there: Fly into Calgary International Airport and head south. Castle Mountain is located roughly 255 kilometres from the airport.

Where to après: The memorabilia-filled T-Bar Pub is a Castle Mountain institution. Celebrate runs conquered while refuelling with wings, nachos and thin-crust pizzas in a laid-back atmosphere.

Beyond the slopes: Castle's breathtaking mountain vistas aren't just reserved for those with lift tickets. The resort's Scenic Snow Cat Experience offers winter fun and amazing views without all the pesky skiing. Castle offers all visitors the opportunity to hop in a cat, typically used to shuttle skiers into backcountry terrain, and climb Haig Ridge to enjoy hot chocolate and snacks from one of the area's most scenic lookouts.

Where to stay: Shack up slope-side at Castle Ski Lodge & Hostel, which offers comfortable no-frills accomodations in the heart of the action. You'll enjoy gorgeous mountain views, free wifi and sauna access as part of your stay.

Searchmont Resort in Ontario

The Soo may seem an unlikely ski destination, but Searchmont, located 45 kilometres outside the city centre, boasts a prime location in the mountains of the Canadian Shield and a high average annual snowfall. The hill has around 40 hectares to explore, featuring 21 runs and a terrain park with table tops, grind rails, barrels and ramps.  

How to get there: Fly into Sault Ste. Marie Airport. The resort is located 48 kilometres from the city centre. 

Where to après: Northern Superior Brewing Co. is a riverside craft beer institution that has existed in Sault Ste. Marie for more than 100 years. Pack some snacks and stop by the tap room to sample the brewery's namesake lager or a pint of maple-flavoured Irish red ale. 

Beyond the slopes: Hiawatha Highlands, 36 kilometres from Searchmont or about 11 kilometres from downtown Sault Ste. Marie, is a playground for winter sports enthusiasts with more than 50 kilometres of forest trails for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or fat biking. 

Where to stay: Fairfield Inn & Suites Sault Ste. Marie is a comfortable, conveniently located home base with recently refurbished guest rooms and complimentary breakfast, as well as an indoor pool and whirlpool to unwind in after a long day on the slopes. 

SilverStar Mountain Resort in British Columbia

SilverStar, one of Canada's oldest ski resorts, is hardly a secret among British Columbians. But East Coast winter sports enthusiasts may not realize that this hill is a ski destination on par with Whistler Blackcomb. With 132 runs, the longest of which is eight kilometres long, and more than seven metres of annual snowfall, SilverStar has quietly claimed a position among the country's premier ski spots.

How to get there: Fly into Kelowna International Airport and drive north. SilverStar is roughly 61 kilometres from the airport and about 24 kilometres outside of Vernon.

Where to après: Grab a seat fireside and warm up at The Den Bar & Bistro. With live music and a versatile menu that ranges from pub fare to seafood fresh from the Pacific, The Den is the perfect place to unwind after an action-packed day.

Beyond the slopes: Located in the heart of SilverStar's mid-mountain village, Pinheads Bowling is the world's first ski-in ski-out 10-pin bowling alley. After some grub and a few games, head across the street to finish the night skating at the village's outdoor rink. 

Where to stay: Count snowflakes from your private outdoor hot tub by booking a suite at Snowbird Lodge. Snowbird's ski-in, ski-out luxury condos feature all the comforts of home along with a location that's walking distance from the Des Schumann Summit Express Gondola. 

Chic-Choc Mountains in Quebec 

For solitude and fresh tracks, look no farther than Quebec's maritime region. With more moose than people and an average of six metres of snow falling each winter, the Gaspé Peninsula is a cold-weather hotspot for experienced skiers seeking adventure. The area is primarily a backcountry destination with several skiable mountains that can be explored over the course of a long weekend.

How to get there: Fly into Mont-Joli Regional Airport and proceed to Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, a small city between the St. Lawrence River and the mountains, which are roughly 100 to 255 kilometres away, depending on which mountain you choose.

Where to après: Many travellers choose one of the package deals which typically include accommodations, meals and ski guides. For those venturing into Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, Le Malbord microbrewery and bistro makes a great stop. Expect elevated pub grub and beautiful charcuterie boards along with a range of locally brewed craft beer.

Beyond the slopes: Snowshoeing is a particularly popular pastime in the Chic-Chocs and a great way to explore the region's powder-laden alpine forests.

Where to stay: For the ultimate all-inclusive ski vacation, book in at the Auberge de Montagne des Chic-Chocs, the only mountain lodge in Eastern Canada. A stay at this four-star property in the Matane Wildlife Reserve includes lodging, meals, guides and equipment rentals. In the winter, the only way to reach this secluded sanctuary is by tracked bus.

Crabbe Mountain in New Brunswick

New Brunswick may be home to the world's largest lobster, but come December, a different crustacean enters the conversation. Crabbe Mountain lays claim to the largest vertical descent in the Maritimes and some of the best terrain in all of Atlantic Canada with 21 alpine trails, 12 glades and two terrain parks.  

How to get there: Fly into Fredericton International Airport and head northwest. Crabbe Mountain is located roughly an hour from the airport or 45 minutes from downtown Fredericton.

Where to après: After a day on the slopes, stop by the Thirsty Boot Lounge at the base of the hill for fireside drinks and live music on Saturdays. 

Beyond the slopes: With more than 30 kilometres of Nordic ski trails, Crabbe Mountain's cross-country offerings rival its hills. Explore the area's forests by cross-country ski or snowshoe, both of which can be rented on site.

Where to stay: Situated on the Saint John River, the Delta Hotels Fredericton offers a ski-and-stay package that includes lift passes for Crabbe Mountain. Spend your days playing in the snow and your evenings enjoying the hotel's pool, spa and fantastic lobster rolls at DJ Purdy's Lounge.

Asessippi Ski Resort in Manitoba

Yes, the Prairies do have ski hills, thank you very much. Part of the Manitoba Escarpment, which runs along the border with Saskatchewan, Asessippi Ski Resort boasts 26 runs, two terrain parks and even a few runs designed for downhill tubing.

How to get there: Asessippi is actually closer to Regina than it is to Winnipeg, so out-of-towners should fly into Regina International Airport then drive east for just over two and a half hours to get to the hill. From Winnipeg, the drive is roughly four hours.

Where to après: Part of the resort, O'Liftys Pub N' Grub offers comfort food and Manitoba craft beer served up with panoramic views of the hill.

Beyond the slopes: Asessippi offers plenty of winter toys for non-skiers, including snow skates, snowshoes and snow bikes, all of which can be rented on site to explore the area. 

Where to stay: 15 minutes from the hill, The Russell Inn is a good pick with an indoor hot tub, pool and waterslide, and an outdoor Crokicurl rink.

Marble Mountain in Newfoundland

The Rock prides itself on offering some of the best skiing east of the Rockies. Marble Mountain boasts a top elevation of 546 metres and few lift lines to speak of. Located on the west coast of Newfoundland, in the foothills of the Appalachian mountain range, Marble is home to 39 runs, the longest of which is four and a half kilometres.

How to get there: Even if you're in St. John's you might still prefer to fly to Marble Mountain rather than tackle the 680-kilometre drive. The closest international airport is Gander International Airport, which is about a three and a half hour drive to the mountain. A better bet is to fly into Deer Lake Regional Airport — the mountain is just a half hour drive from there.

Where to après: Pop into The Knotty Pine Lounge at the base of the hill for food, drinks and music in a fun, rustic atmosphere.

Beyond the slopes: Keep an eye on Marble's events calendar to stay on top of unique opportunities at the hill, such as the chance to take a ride in a snow groomer.

Where to stay: Book a room suite at the base of the hill to maximize your mountain time. Marblewood Village Resort offers self-contained units complete with electric fireplaces, full kitchens and private patios just steps from the slopes.


Jen O'Brien is an award-winning editor and freelance writer based in Toronto. Follow her @thejenobrien.

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