Then and now: Castle Mountain

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The little mountain that could stays true to humble roots

The southwest corner of Alberta is known for two things. Crazy winds called Chinooks and snow. A perfect mix of those two things makes for a stellar day at a humble ski resort called Castle Mountain Resort. But only humble only in size and lift count. This place surprises powder hounds and those who scream for the steeps.

So back to the humble part.

Build better friendships, go Cat Ski Castle, Save 10-20% by booking in November.

Back in the early ‘60s when the Beatles were taking the music world by storm, a D-9 Cat was breaking trail into the West Castle Valley to the base of Gravenstafel Ridge. Anything less than the big yellow beast would not have made it through the two metres of settled snow in the valley. Clearing of trees was done 20 years earlier by a massive forest fire that swept the ridge, creating ideal lines for ski trails. By 1965, West Castle Ski Resort opened.

Castle Mountain in the early days.
Photo provided by Castle Mountain.

The clanging of the original four T-Bar drifted through the valley, a sound that always draws in the ski crowd. A beautiful Swiss-style lodge greeted both the skiers looking for the steeps and the families of Southern Alberta. A few rental rooms were always booked on the weekends. But that was the problem - it was only busy on the weekends causing financial distress for the original owners. In 1972, Mount Baldy Ski Resort near Oliver B.C. took ownership of the resort.

Tough road in the early days

When Lethbridge won the bid to host the 1975 Canada Winter Games, West Castle was named to host the alpine events. The eyes of the nation would be watching Canada’s best athletes. The giant slalom, slalom and dual slalom events would be on the slopes while the cross-country events would be 10 kilometres east. To handle the anticipated crowds and to the delight of the regulars, the highway from Pincher Creek was paved.

But, the first week of February bought an amazing volume of snow over the Continental Divide. In 48 hours, 152 centimetres of snowfall was recorded in Pincher Creek. Gravenstafel Ridge couldn’t hold it all and massive avalanches brought heaps of snow into the valley - halting any traffic on that brand new road. However, the storm moved on, the road was ploughed and the races were successfully held a few days later.

The thrill of hosting the Winter Games was quickly shattered. The following New Year’s Eve, saw the main lodge go up in smoke. By February, the resort reopened but the strain was too much on the ownership so the Town and Municipal District of Pincher Creek took over. Sadly, the perfect storm of bad weather - as in warm weather - budget constraints and taxpayers not wanting to pay for a sinking ship, forced the For Sale sign to go up again.

Back in business

But this is where the story gets good. A group of skiers called The Westcastle Supporters Association created a trust fund and took over the operations. It wasn’t easy, but they were a tough industrious lot. In the summer of 1996, the newly named Castle Mountain Resort Inc., was incorporated. They immediately went to work on upgrades. A new snow cat and a triple chair was added. When Sunshine Ski Resort was looking to upgrade, Castle purchased the double “Red Chair” and opened the top of Gravenstafel Mountain to those skiers yearning for the steeps. If they looked over their shoulders they looked into British Columbia.

Castle Mountain has had incredible skiing since day one.
Photo provided by Castle Mountain.

The lack of intermediate terrain was eliminated in 2006 with the opening of Haig Mountain. It also opened the gate for cat skiing. Castle’s Powder Stagecoach takes people to wide glades, with 2,000 vertical feet to enjoy.

Retains its humble roots

The best part? The resort is still humble. The parking lot is a stone’s throw from the main lodge where good food and hot coffee are always available. The lifts are never busy and they are manned by the friendliest locals you have ever met.

Today the resort averages 910 cms of snow. Because it’s on the eastern shoulder of the Continental Divide, there’s usually a fresh blanket of powder every morning. Using two mountains, there are 78 trails, eight alpine bowls, six lifts, three terrain parks and endless delicious glades. The Powder Stagecoach adds another 26 runs. The whole family can enjoy the resort with 15 per cent beginner, 40 per cent intermediate and 45 per cent listed as advanced and expert.

Castle Mountain remains humble.
Photo provided by Castle Mountain.

Just 2.5 hours from Calgary, Castle can easily be a day trip. But there are many private rentals at the resourt and the Castle Mountain Ski Lodge and Hostel offers hotel and hostel-style accommodations. A mere 182 steps from the lodge is the T Bar Pub and Grill where pizza and heaps of nachos leave the kitchen non-stop. Hanging out there for the evening, and you’re bound to bump into people who humbly will tell you that, yes, they are part of the conglomerate who make this place happen.

For more information, head to the official Castle Mountain Resort website.

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