Castle Mountain, Alberta
Castle Mountain is one of the most remote resorts on our list, located in sparsely populated Southeastern Alberta. It’s not usually thought of as a destination resort, but it can be reached in about 1 1/2 hours from Fernie, BC as a day trip which makes it a 2nd resort option out of Fernie. We happened to hit very good conditions on the one day we skied there for this review
|Real Vertical ?||2,833′: Rank: 32|
|Size||3,592 Acres, Rank: 11|
|Annual Snowfall ?||354″ claimed / 278″ actual, Rank: 56|
|Lift Pods ?||4, Rank: 72|
|Distinct Trails ?||78, Rank: 48|
|Review Date||March, 2018|
|Number of visits||1|
Castle Mountain Review
Castle Mountain was on the very edge of getting cut from our list due to inconsistent snowfall and the resort sometimes shutting down suddenly in a low snow year. However, we still made the long drive from Fernie, BC, and were super glad that we did. Granted, we hit it on a great day during a great season. So it’s hard to know what it is like in an average year. Although, the terrain, snow, views, and lack of crowds are fantastic, but the actual factors that make a ski resort like lifts, lodges, and other capital improvements are still lacking.
The beginner area
When we arrived at about 9:30AM there were just a few cars in the parking lot and a whole bunch of school busses. Turns out it was a local school field trip day and there were tons of kids at the base area, but they all stayed on the short beginner chair at the base which was the only lift with a line all day.
The Sundance Triple
There are 2 other chairs from the base and we took the main one which is the Sundance Triple right up the front. It’s pretty steep and had some decent steep groomers which we really enjoyed. It’s a nice consistent pitch with a respectable 1,460′ of vertical. Unfortunately, all of the chairs at Castle are old and run on diesel generators. And we were the unlucky ones on the lift when the Sundance chair generator quit suddenly, and we spent 15 uncomfortable minutes worrying about having to be evacuated. Luckily it started back up so no harm done. However, it’s an example of what happens when a place runs a really bare-bones operation.
The Tamarack Chair
After a few runs on the lower mountain, we headed up to the Tamarack chair. The locals call it the Red chair (it’s red!). Stacking Tamarack and Sundance Chair together give you access to the full 2,800′ of vertical. When it’s not windy, the Red chair is the place to be. It’s a huge bowl area with lots of lines and sparse trees. We actually found untouched powder in spots right under the chair, in the afternoon, 2 days after it last snowed. That is pretty unheard of in our experience and it was the most memorable feature of Castle for us. We liked the more challenging lines right under the chair the best.
The Huckleberry Chair
Next we sampled the Huckleberry chair which has mostly intermediate runs and almost all of them were groomed nicely. This chair has only about 1,000 ft of vertical and it’s a long slow ride, but it’s fun for a couple of runs. This chair was definitely the most popular major chair, more suitable to the average skier.
Food and Ski Lodge
Lunch food wasn’t memorable but the main problem was the lack of a place to sit due to all the kids on the field trip. We’ve run into this time and time again at these smaller local gems. Understandably, building lodges is expensive. So they tend to just keep what they built decades ago going as long as possible. Castle is another example of this. However, you go there for the snow, terrain, and lack of crowds. And we would take those things over lifts and lodges any day!
Last but not least!
After lunch, we decided to try the “Chutes” area, which was visible to us from the Huckleberry chair earlier in the day. It looks windblown with some cliffy areas from below. Most of the runs are rated double-black diamond on the map. But when you drop in, you realize it’s not that difficult or complicated. This is the place to go if you are a strong skier. For us, these were the most memorable runs of our entire ski season. These are some of the longest chutes we’ve ever skied, and the windblown powder in there was just amazing.
A trip well worth it!
At the end of the day, we got back in the truck for the long drive back to Fernie and reflected on one of the best days of the season at this amazing place. It has fantastic terrain and views, lots of vertical, and good snow, which are the things we are mostly looking for on this project.
- Spectacular scenery
- Probably the least crowded place we ever skied
- It’s cold and north-facing so snow is preserved well
- Chutes area is incredible
- Lots of steep terrain including some steep grooming
- Diesel-powered lifts are ancient, slow, and unreliable
- Very exposed and windy on the upper half of the mountain
- Base lodge and food service need improvement
The bottom line
Wow, this place was incredible on the day we were there during an above average snowfall season. I suspect we hit it just right and that it’s not going to be that good normally. It’s such a unique, interesting place with a big upside potential for a great day. If conditions are good and you are in the area, give it a shot because we certainly will be going back if we ever find ourselves back in Southwest Alberta or Southeast BC.