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.
|Annual Snowfall||354 Inches claimed|
|Review Date||March, 2018|
|Number of visits||1|
Castle Mountain was on the very edge of getting cut from our list several times due to inconsistent snowfall and the resort shutting down suddenly in a low snow year, but we made the long drive from Fernie, BC and are super glad that we did. It’s tough to review this place though because we hit it on a great day during a great season and it’s hard to know what it is like in an average year. Also, the terrain, snow, views, and lack of crowds are fantastic, but the actual things that make a ski resort like lifts, lodges, and other capital improvements are lacking.
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.
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. This had an impact on us when the Sundance chair generator quit suddenly. It took a while to get it going again and we spent 15 uncomfortable minutes worrying about having to be evacuated. Luckily it started back up so no harm done, but it’s an example of what happens when a place runs a really bare-bones operation.
After a few runs on the lower mountain, we headed up to the Tamarack chair, which locals call the Red chair (it’s red!). On the map it looks much shorter than the Sundance chair but that’s not the case because it’s only about 100′ less vertical. These 2 chairs together give you access to the full 2,800′ of vertical, but 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. The upper couple-hundred feet of this pod is very wind blown and rocky just like Arapahoe Basin in Colorado, but after that it’s all wonderful. We liked the more challenging lines right under the chair the best.
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.
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 because 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, but you go there for the snow, terrain, and lack of crowds and I would take those things over lifts and lodges any day!
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, and most of the runs are rated double-black diamond on the map, but when you get in there you realize it’s not that difficult or complicated. This is the place to go if you are a strong skier because 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 amazing.
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, but 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.