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Revelstoke B.C. A Great Getaway

 (The Spokesman-Review)
(The Spokesman-Review)

There’s a glistening new gem in Canada’s Selkirk Mountains with the longest ski run in all of North America.

It’s Revelstoke Moutain Resort on 8,000-foot Mount Mackenzie, where you can ski or board 9.5 miles from a high-speed quad which tops out at 7,300 feet to a nascent village at 1,680 feet. That’s “only” 5,620 feet, but the runs are wriggly, of course, and that’s why you can tote up so many miles.

Until last year, only skiers with deep pockets and a love for hip-deep powder could enjoy this magnificent mountain with huge bowls and cozy glades, mostly those who could afford snow cats or helicopters to haul them to the top.

But prior to the 2007-2008 season, the owners cut long-long runs of the pines and firs, along with a new day lodge, an eight-seat gondola and a quad chair called The Stoke.

This year they’ve added a second quad, The Ripper, which opens up the North Bowl and adds three new intermediate runs.

They’re building a village and lodge at the base of the mountain where you can catch the gondola and restart your trip – if your legs still support you.

But you don’t have to be a skier or boarder to enjoy Revelstoke, as my wife Sally and I discovered.

It’s a 300-mile drive from Coeur d’Alene to reach the city which abuts No. 1, Canada’s main east-west highway. Mapquest predicted a 7-hour trip, but icy roads prolonged the drive by two hours; but the slower route gave us extra time to enjoy the snowscapes on the two-lane highways between the Selkirk and Monashee mountain ranges.

We checked into The Coast Hillcrest Resort Hotel, on Highway 1, a few miles east of town, where we had a super view of the valley where Revelstoke is situated. The view improved when we reached our room, which included a balcony and Jacuzzi.

Refreshed and warmed, we adjourned to the dining room and lounge. Even if you’re not thirsty, this lounge is worth a visit. The furniture is woody rustic and the walls are adorned with photos of Swiss mountaineers who, a century ago, guided climbers up nearby mountains. Early promoters called Revelstoke “The Capital of Canada’s Alps.”

The next day began with a bacon-and-eggs breakfast at the Main Street Café, a cute former residence on a principal thoroughfare. The food was good, the service terrific, and the locals friendly and welcoming. We liked it so much, we returned the following morning.

We then met with Meghan Graceffo, tourism development coordinator for the Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce, who conducted a walking tour of the charming town of 8,500.

The tour – and the town’s history – each began with explorer and mapmaker David Thompson, who passed through this territory in the first decade of the 19th century. White settlers didn’t arrive until the 1880s.

The Canadian Pacific Railway Co. plotted its transcontinental route through what was to become Revelstoke, and railroad officials named the town to honor Lord Revelstoke, Edward C. Baring, who was head of the London, England, banking firm that advanced the funds to complete the railway.

The last spike, typically Canadian iron, was driven near here in November 1885.

It’s still a railroad town, but unfortunately the Railway Museum which, Meghan said features a locomotive simulator and old rolling stock and engines, was closed this day.

But there were plenty of Revelstoke’s delights to see, which attract 16,000 visitors last year, many European.

Revelstoke is laid out on a conventional grid and is populated with well-maintained Victorian homes, bungalows of more recent vintage and a plethora of guest lodgings including motels, resorts, B&Bs, hostels and, in warmer times, campgrounds.

The old brick post office and customs building now houses photos and exhibits showcasing the area’s skiing, railroad, mining and logging history.

The museum also honestly depicts the prejudices of an earlier time when Chinese and Japanese laborers were welcomed for their skills but segregated and shunned by the white majority.

The visual Arts Center, in a building once occupied by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, exhibits paintings and photos, most focusing on the mountain grandeur surrounding the town.

In the nearby Mount Revelstoke National Park and overlooking the city is the site of the Nels Nelsen Ski Jump, built in 1915 and named for a local who held world and Canadian records for high flying on skis. The last competition was held in 1974, and a judges’ tower still stands.

Meghan suggested lunch at the Modern Bakeshop & Café where we warmed ourselves with bowls of steaming, spicy Thai veggies, which were excellent antidotes to the -5 degree temperatures.

The next stop was the Nickelodeon Museum, Canada’s only mechanical music museum. David Evans, a Brit who immigrated here four years ago, provides a delightful tour of the 100-plus instruments shipped from his native land.

The oldest is a barrel organ built in 1795, and others include a mechanical piano owned by the French Royal Family of Napoleon III and the Empress Eugenie, a 1912 machine that plays violin and piano at the same time, organs of every size, plus gramophones, phonographs, jukeboxes, and the centerpiece, a multicolored mid-20th century machine containing multiple instruments including a saxophone, accordion, drums and cymbals.

Another popular attraction is the B.C. Interior Forestry Museum.

Supper was at the Kawakubo, a mid-town Japanese restaurant that features sushi, sake and steak. The deep-fried gyoza and spring roll appetizers took the edge off, followed by meal of tempura, lightly battered vegetables and shrimp.

The next day, it was on to that magnificent mountain just 10 minutes from town.

By way of explanation, I’m 70 and Sally is in her early 60s. Although we’ve skied since we were teens, we’re past the ages when deep powder appeals. We’re also averse to the steep and ungroomed advanced runs that attract the experts and youngsters with well-toned legs. We prefer the intermediate blue rectangle runs.

That was fine with Lisa Longinotto, a ski instructor in her mid-40s whom the mountain management provided as a guide.

We met Lisa in the airy and spacious day lodge and after she heard our ‘druthers, we followed her onto a moving “sidewalk” that conveyed us to the nearby Revelation Gondola.

Revelation whisked us to mid-mountain, and then, after a short traverse on The Last Spike, we mounted the high-speed four-person Stoke lift to the top.

What a view looking across the Columbia River to the Monashee Mountains.

After a brief stint in the warming hut, we started down Last Spike, then to the Hollywood and Feller Buncher Runs.

They were well-groomed fun roller-coaster paths, with just a few rocks showing on this early-season day. The snow was falling, and was expected to reach the 14-foot average winter depth in a short time.

With a few stops to admire scenery and snap pictures, we were back in the day lodge for coffee in about an hour.

But with perfect light and fluffy snow outside, we were soon back up the mountain for another run.

By early afternoon a storm was blowing in, so prudence dictated that we forego more wonderful gliding and head home. We retreated to our room, packed hastily, then got on the road as snow enveloped us. Five hours of driving brought us to Castlegar, B.C., halfway home, where we spent the night. We finished the trip the following day.

Owing to the weather, we couldn’t sample the whole mountain, but our guide Lisa emailed us some of what we missed. “Finally tried out the new Ripper chair. Remember that cruiser run with the rollers that you liked so well?

“Multiply by 500 and you have a level to imagine the new terrain on the North Bowl, wide, corduroy, great grippy snow, and it goes on for 2,000 feet. Super fall line and lots of incredible scenery.

“Getting over to the chair it feels like you are really going out there. The feeling of isolation definitely crosses one’s mind. However, once to the top a quick trip ‘downtown’ and you’re back to the land of the living. Gotta come back and try this one out.”

And we will, if not this winter, surely next summer to take in additional Revelstone attractions like nearby Glacier National Park, Canyon Hot Springs, white water rafting, the town’s golf course, and nightly music in Grizzly Plaza.

If you’re a skier or boarder and want to visit soon, we guarantee you won’t be disappointed. In addition to the new resort, Nordic skiing areas include the Mt. MacPherson Groom Area in Mt. Revelstoke National Park, or around the Revelstoke Golf and Country Club. Several cat and heli-skiing firms offer back country tours, and there are dozens of affordable lodging and eating opportunities.