I didn’t come looking for trouble on my trip to Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in Golden, British Columbia, but my mountain agenda included plans to reach the peak and face a grizzly bear, all without breaking a sweat.
AVOID BECOMING LUNCH FOR A GRIZZLY
The four-season resort is located just off the Trans-Canada highway in southeast British Columbia. It’s known for the lightest powder snow in Canada—hence the moniker “Champagne Powder Capital of Canada”—but I made the almost three-hour drive from Calgary (and the nearest international airport) for warm-weather fun. The resort boasts several hiking trails, including the challenging Terminator Ridge, which promises a “light” scramble. Hoping my scrambles would be confined to eggs, I opted for the easiest path, a ride on the eight-passenger Golden Eagle Express Gondola to the summit in 12 relaxing minutes.
HOP ON A GONDOLA
As I glided toward the top of the Purcell’s Dogtooth range, I watched two mountain bikers with scarred knee and elbow pads head down the hill, jumping over a berm and balancing along a bridge before disappearing back into the forest. With more than 3,700 feet of vertical drop, mountain bikers at Kicking Horse Resort enjoy one of the steepest slopes in North America and more visitors come each summer.
Insider tip: The best bike trail for all levels of riders is SuperBerm, and it's good rain or shine.
A couple of minutes after the bikers vanished, I spotted a black bear ambling across a clearing crisscrossed by bike trails. It scanned the area cautiously, seemingly aware of nearby humans, but I think the bikers were not as aware of the bear—or how much trouble they would find if they surprised it.
Creeping closer to the summit, the terrain below the gondola turns rockier. I grew cold as the air thinned; I pulled on a jacket and steped from the gondola. The wind slapped me in the face.
TAKE A HIKE
My head swiveled as I scanned the panorama of mountain peaks from five of western Canada’s national parks. Some of the bravest hikers head to the Via Ferrata–a mountain route with steel cables and ladders--on Terminator Peak, but intentionally hanging off the side of this mountain was not on my bucket list.
Drawn by views of the Columbia River valley and Rocky Mountains, I put my boots on the CPR Ridge hiking trail. I dawdled at every dip and turn as I shot enough photos to fill my Instagram feed for a week.
Insider tip: For an easy walk along the ridge with views of two bowls and the backside valley, hike from the restaurant to the saddle of Terminator 2.
EAT AT CANADA’S HIGHEST RESTAURANT
Perched atop the mountain at 7,700 feet, Eagle's Eye Restaurant is Canada’s highest. The views are first-class, but I didn’t need a VIP ticket to get a seat next to the large windows framing mountain views normally earned by uber-fit hikers or helicopter pilots.
The waitress was patient as I closed the menu to watch as another mountain biker dragged his steed off the gondola, pointed it down a razor-thin trail, and stood atop a small rise overlooking the Crystal Bowl. I held my breath as, one by one, the bikers faced a steep drop more suited for mountain goats. After dropping from sight, they reappeared minutes later to round the turn. Bikers are restricted to marked trails in this delicate landscape–rule-breakers are banned from the mountain--but the chance to ride through alpine landscape can’t be found anywhere else in Canada.
I tore my gaze from the bikers outside the window long enough to order soup and a sandwich and eyeballed the extensive drink menu. The resort offers several Caesar drinks laden with celery and Pepperoncini (a way to get your veggies?) but I was drawn to the Bear Paw Special, a liquor-laced coffee with a nod to the resort’s most famous resident.
Insider tip: Check the resort’s website for specials on lift ticket and meal combinations.
VISIT THE GRIZZLY BEAR REFUGE
The most unusual member of the Kicking Horse Resort team is Boo the grizzly bear. He came to the resort’s 20-acre Grizzly Bear Refuge as a young orphan and his enclosure, midway up the mountain, provides him with an environment similar to that of wild grizzlies. At the base of the mountain, I boarded the Catamount chairlift to the refuge where Boo lives.
Boo’s mother was killed by a poacher. At five months old, Boo and his brother Cari were unable to survive in the wild. The refuge was built to house the cubs, and every summer interpreters educate people about grizzly bears. Sadly, Cari did not survive his first hibernation, but Boo has become a great ambassador for his species.
Boo may be the resort’s biggest troublemaker: he gained national attention when, as a four-year-old, he dug out of his enclosure in search of a mate. The steel fences were no match for a horny grizzly and Boo escaped again in 2011 when a wild grizzly sow caught his eye. Both times, efforts were made to bring Boo back but he returned on his own, perhaps knowing a good thing when he sees it. Since his last escape, the fence has been reinforced to prevent future walkabouts.
I watched as Boo splashed in a large pond, his four-inch claws hinting at powerful hunting skills. The refuge offers Boo a large space to roam and while an electric fence keeps him in, other animals sometimes enter his enclosure. In 2016, a young bull moose crashed through the electric fence, possibly chased by wolves or cougars. Injured and weak, the moose was killed by Boo. Cat Cowan, a wildlife ranger at Kicking Horse Grizzly Bear Refuge, explained, “Boo has been able to display what role a grizzly bear plays in the ecosystem, of course, one of those roles being an apex predator. They epitomize everything that is nature, which is where adventure lives.”
Insider tip: The best times to see Boo are early morning or late afternoon.
I stopped to watch several willow ptarmigan birds near the grizzly refuge, their secretive dashes between junipers hiding them from most visitors. Their soft clucking drifted across the cool mountain air as another group of grizzly watchers bounced off the chairlift and hurried along the trail, their eyes straining to see one of the mountain’s most impressive creatures. .
They haven’t found trouble yet, but they look to be enjoying the search. I snapped one last picture of Boo and realized adventure does indeed live in nature.
Plan Your Trip: Fodor’s British Columbia Guide