All Olympic eyes will be on Whistler Blackcomb next year as it hosts the 2010 Winter Games' alpine skiing events. But those in the know will be heading to British Columbia's vast, snowy interior for its cool old-school mountain towns and the best powder and terrain in North America.
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort
Serious skiers go to great lengths (and often out-of-bounds) to find steep, narrow chutes like the 70 at Kicking Horse, near Golden—all of which are within the resort's borders. For the less daring, there are plenty of intermediate options, such as the 700-acre Crystal Bowl—on its own as big as the average Vermont ski area. kickinghorseresort.com, lift tickets $67.
Revelstoke Mountain Resort
At 3 years old, B.C.'s newest ski destination is still largely a secret. It's so uncrowded you can park a stone's throw from the high-speed gondola that accesses the biggest vertical drop in North America: 5,620 feet. When Revelstoke's 15-year plan is completed (around 2022), the resort will encompass a whopping 10,000 skiable acres. revelstokemountainresort.com, lift tickets $68.
Panorama Mountain Village
Even with 4,000 feet of vertical rise (one of the highest in B.C.) and 2,847 acres of skiable terrain, Panorama, near Invermere, stands out most for its family-friendly amenities, like hot and cold soaking pools, and restaurants that double as entertainment. Our favorite: the old mining shack turned dining room in Paradise Basin that's accessible only by snowmobile. panoramaresort.com, lift tickets $68.
Whitewater Ski Resort
Once a gold boomtown, Nelson has a new claim to fame: its wealth of lakefront Victorian buildings, many housing art galleries, vegetarian restaurants, and tapas bars. Just outside of town, Whitewater's unpretentious ski area consists of a dirt parking lot, two lifts, a handle tow, and a small lodge. Its kitchen, the Fresh Tracks Café, has such a following that its cookbook (with recipes for dishes like whiskey smoked-salmon chowder) is a national best seller. skiwhitewater.com, lift tickets $52.
Fernie Alpine Resort
Fernie is what every manufactured ski town wishes it was: real. The former mining hamlet's streets are lined with century-old redbrick buildings, and the area is completely surrounded by glaciated Rocky Mountain peaks, creating a unique snowmaking microclimate that produces about 30 feet of powder each year. If a storm rolls in, consider splurging for a First Tracks pass to hit the slopes an hour before everyone else ($173 for up to five). skifernie.com, lift tickets $70.