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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Head to Red: Red Mountain Resort a haven for rustic skiing

By John Nelson For The Spokesman-Review

ROSSLAND, British Columbia – If you hate corporate ski playgrounds, you just might love Red Mountain Resort.

An old-school revolution is going on here.

Known for its sprawling terrain (2,877 acres inbounds) and rugged tree-skiing, Red is one of Canada’s oldest ski resorts with roots that date back to the 1890s, when Scandinavian miners introduced the sport. Ardent community ski clubs quickly formed to build the original mountain, and over the years, Olympic champions such as Nancy Greene learned to race on Red.

But for all the love Red Mountain has among riders in the region, it faces many challenges staying in business. It’s removed from any major population center in Canada. The closest major airport is in Spokane, a 2.5-hour drive away across the border.

So how do you keep a beloved powder paradise with more lift-serviced terrain than Jackson Hole going in a time when resorts like Whistler Blackcomb are being snapped up by corporate giants like Vail?

You sell the mountain to the people.

“Fight the Man. Own the Mountain” is an Internet crowdfunding campaign designed to keep Red the authentic, snowy sanctuary it has always been, but make it sustainable for the long term.

“Skiing and snowboarding are a way of life, not a line item,” said Howard Katkov, Red’s owner and CEO. “The families that are the core of this lifestyle are getting priced out left and right.”

Just check daily ticket prices. Whistler Blackcomb’s walk-up ticket price for adults is now $148 CAD ($119 USD). Add meals and accommodations and most people can’t afford Whistler anymore, Katkov said.

“If you went to Whistler on a weekend, it would cost you multiple thousands of dollars,” he said.

Meanwhile, Red Mountain remains affordable. Adult tickets bought in advance are just $57 USD, less than weekend tickets at Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park, a resort with a fraction of the terrain.

When you talk about Red Mountain Resort, you’re actually talking about four mountains. Lifts go up three peaks: Red, Granite and Grey mountains, and cat skiing is offered on Mount Kirkup nearby, with runs funneling back to the resort.

The Mount Kirkup cat rides are an incredible value. For just $10 a ride (CAD), you can access mostly low-angle tree skiing, a remarkably affordable side-country powder option.

Grey Mountain next door to Mount Kirkup has several long advanced and intermediate runs and an array of steeps falling off its north side.

And then there’s Granite Mountain, the resort’s physical and emotional center. On the south-facing Paradise Basin, you’ll find crowd-pleasing groomers. On the north face, you’ll find some harrowing double-diamond tree runs. In between, you’ll find endless tree skiing through the Powder Fields.

The oldest section of the resort, the namesake Red Mountain, offers even more advanced and intermediate terrain.

In all, Red feels like a throwback in the best possible way. Groomers are well-groomed, advanced runs are delightfully rough and scary.

So how does “Fight the Man” work? Your minimum buy-in is $1,000, for which you receive a few perks like free tickets.

For more money, you get more things — for instance, at the $3,500 level of investment, you’ll get custom-designed skis from Blizzard or a snowboard from Lib Tech. If you should invest $10,000, you get a lot more, including the opportunity to stay on-mountain in cabins that are being planned. If the resort is ever sold, investors’ shares will be paid out first.

The money raised will be used for improvements on the mountain, said Don Thompson, general manager at Red. In the plans are a high-speed quad on the lower mountain to replace the fixed-grip Silverlode Chair, moving people more quickly onto the slopes. The current Silverlode Chair would then move to serve lower terrain toward Grey Mountain.

As a show of faith during the off season, the resort remodeled Paradise Lodge on the popular intermediate terrain of Granite Mountain, adding 40 percent more seating and installing flush toilets as a sign of the kind of improvements to come. In the future, an owners’ clubhouse and overnight cabins will be built in Paradise Basin, Katkov said, available to some of the biggest investors in the resort.

So far, the crowdfunding campaign is bearing fruit ahead of its April 2 deadline. As of January, $1.5 million had been raised, with 51 percent coming from Canada, 47 percent from the U.S., and 2 percent coming from Australia.

One investor is Spokane resident Greg Connolly, who visits Red Mountain regularly. Connolly, an ardent snowboarder who has been to resorts around North America, loves the community of Rossland and how it complements the resort.

“Look at a place like Jackson Hole, which is great but no one can afford to live there,” he said. “I just wanted to be part of something to keep the culture of the community and the affordability.”

Connolly also simply loves the snowboarding at Red.

“The terrain is so technical,” he said. “It’s not only big – it’s world class.”

Part of keeping Red sustainable is to improve on-mountain lodging, Katkov said. To that end, a new 106-unit boutique hotel – The Josie – is scheduled to open in February at the Red Mountain base, attracting destination skiers. And next summer, Katkov said, a 92-bed hostel will be built in the village to attract value-oriented skiers.

Beyond the resort, Red Mountain maintains a close relationship with the gold-rush-era town of Rossland, an outdoors-loving community that climbs, hikes and bikes when it isn’t skiing.

“The Rossland community has rallied around us,” Thompson said. “They are already here and invested in the mountain.

“We want to maintain the culture of this place. The community is special. You can feel it when you get here.”

John Nelson is a freelance writer based in Seattle. Read his blog at