Panorama Passion | Experiencing Backcountry-Style Snowboarding In British Columbia

Home to two new, very different, snowcats, is this corner of Canada now the ultimate shred spot?

Dropping in to Never Never Land went as you might expect. The powder was light and fluffy, yet sticky enough to provide the requisite snow beard on each heelside turn. There were no people or tracks, even though the last time it snowed was over eight days ago. The pitch was steep enough to be fun but not intimidating, and where we found trees, they were kindly-spaced, inviting us to dart between their number.

Except, in this instance Never Never Land is not just some snowy paradise playing out inside my brain, it’s an actual piste, albeit a non-groomed one, in Panorama, British Columbia. A resort you probably haven’t heard of, living as it does in the shadow of big hitters such as Revelstoke, Fernie, and Kicking Horse, along the amazingly-named Powder Highway in the Kootenay Rockies.

“A resort you probably haven’t heard of, living as it does in the shadow of big hitters such as Revelstoke, Fernie, and Kicking Horse”

Even the marketing poster for the resort, which I gaze at with ambivalence during check-in, provides no clue as to the terrain Panorama has to offer. The picture suggests a sweet and gentle beginner-friendly resort. Which it really can be, if that’s what you’re here for; we, however, are not.

Pictured: Sam Haddad savouring the British Columbia goodness

We’ve come to ride the gnarly stuff, including Taynton Bowl, a relatively new section of the resort, which used to only be accessible through a private heli-skiing operation. This whole region is deep heli country, and many of Panorama’s wealthier guests mix up their week in the resort with heli days in the surrounding Purcell range of mountains. Which happen to include Jumbo Wild, a setting made famous by a Patagonia film about plans to build a controversial new ski resort there. A development that now, unsurprisingly after the movie, looks unlikely to go ahead.

“We’ve come to ride the gnarly stuff”

Taynton Bowl and its neighbouring Extreme Dream Zone boast over 30 double black diamond pistes, a staggering concentration of expert terrain, especially for those used to European resorts. None of the runs are pisted, and their names, including Devil’s Drop, Last Chance and Get Out, add to the hardcore vibe of the place. Though tough talk aside, what I like most about this inbounds area is how safe it is.

The seemingly endless vista of snowy peaks at the top, and lack of resort architecture or crowds, make you feel like you’re in some pristine backcountry wilderness, not unlike those seen in the Jumbo Wild film. But without all the avalanche worry that goes with that. We don’t have to carry transceivers or ABS backpacks, shovels and probes, or shell out loads of money for a local guide. As someone who loves riding fresh powder, especially of this superb, dry, light quality, but hates the constant fret of: “Is this slope going to slide?”, it really is a revelatory experience.

Pictured: The Monster X snowcat, and Sam Haddad

Of course, you can never entirely eradicate risk in the mountains, there are always freak accidents and occasionally you’ll even get an avalanche in or around a piste, as we’ve seen in Austria this winter. But to be in a resort-managed area with such a remote feel did feel special and not like anything I’d encountered in Europe, where riding off-piste runs close to resorts at your own risk is far more common. In North America, riding out of bounds will usually result in a lift pass ban.

“It has leather seats and seatbelts, and what I think is a soundtrack of Belgian techno to get us in the mood”

The other great thing about Taynton Bowl is whichever run you take, as long as you point your nose downhill, you’ll get naturally funnelled onto the exit piste, the Taynton Trail, which will lead you back to the chairlifts at the base of the resort. It would be very hard to get lost, navigation being another typical concern people have when riding off-piste or even on piste in a new resort. Google Maps having not yet caught up in the mountains.

The Taynton Bowl and Extreme Dream Zone are reached by first taking a chairlift up to Panorama’s summit. Two seasons ago, we’d have then needed to hike for half an hour to hit the furthest runs in the bowl, but today we’re being chauffeur-driven up and along the ridge in a bling snowcat called Monster X. It has leather seats and seatbelts, and what I think is a soundtrack of Belgian techno to get us in the mood.

Photo: Kari Medig

The snowcat only runs on weekends and busy holidays, busy being a relative term here, so later in the week I do the hike to reach the runs which is also fine, albeit slower and sweatier, but a small price to pay to keep lapping this awesome terrain.

I’m surprised when Clarissa Amaro, who works in marketing at Panorama, tells me: “Just a small proportion of guests, perhaps a third, come here for the black diamonds. But it’s an important part of the identity of the resort, and we’re looking to expand more in that direction in the future.”

“We don’t have to carry transceivers or ABS backpacks, shovels and probes, or shell out loads of money for a local guide”

People like to think they’re holidaying somewhere adventurous, even if they’re not that adventurous themselves. “And the Taynton Bowl certainly helps with staff recruitment,” Clarissa laughs, as we head off down one of her favourite runs called Jekyll & Hyde. She herself is from Australia. She tells me Panorama, and BC more generally, is really popular with Antipodeans doing ski and snowboard seasons.

The Monster X isn’t the only new snowcat we encounter in Panorama, there is also Snowlicious, a slopeside street food truck, the first of its kind in Canada. I’m used to eating street food in concrete settings, such as car parks, the scent of diesel ever-present. But this is an altogether different experience.

The truck, which is essentially a customised snowcat designed and shipped over from Italy, is parked beside a white forest of subalpine larch trees. Someone points out a grey jay hopping in the snow nearby. Or is it a chickadee, someone else says. Mountain restaurants are often in dreamy settings, but this is something else. People are sitting around drinking prosecco, pale ale, and Jager. Not in a combo thankfully. And the food is really good. I have a super-tasty jackfruit taco, while the meat-eaters go for pulled pork.

“We wanted something people could hold in their mittens. Grab and go food,” Panorama’s Executive Chef Steve Doucet tells me. Steve is in charge of all the restaurants in Panorama, having moved here this winter from Whistler. He tells me he came here for the quality of life. “It’s way less busy and folk are friendlier,” he says. “In Whistler, it’s like: ‘Don’t follow my tracks,’ said with a snarl. Whereas in Panorama, people say: ‘Welcome to the valley, let me show you where is good!’”

“Kicking Horse is renowned for its champagne powder… It rode just as magically as it sounds”

I ask him how running a street food truck on a mountain is going. “Snowlicious was one of the major reasons I took the job,” he says, “Where you can go with it, what you can do… Our dreams rubbed up against reality in some ways, as you need to think about signal so the card machines work, and what to do with the waste water, as all the resort drinking water comes from the mountain, so you have to dispose of it properly. But we’ve found a handful of spots where we can put the truck, and people love the concept. We have a sound system and in spring it’ll really come into its own.”

Steve says all his staff want to work in Snowlicious, which advertises its weekly position on social media, so they can be up the mountain and ski to and from work. As a mountain lover himself, he gets that. “I’m mindful of why they’re here. You have a different management style in a ski resort kitchen than you would in a city. Here they want to work hard but they also want to have a good experience. I try and ride the Monster X terrain at least once a week with my team. It’s important they know I love it and I get it; that their motivations are the same as mine.”

Photo: Steve Ogle

Food in North American ski resorts used to have a low reputation compared to the traditional fare and fine dining you can get in the European Alps, but things have definitely been shifting over the last decade. Steve says: “The foodie scene in Canada has exploded in recent years and we’re starting to see that more and more in ski resorts. Guests want that elevated experience they’re getting on the mountains reflected in restaurants.”

That’s very much my experience in Panorama, where aside from the jackfruit tacos, I have some standout dishes including a prawn curry bowl, blackened salmon and Toberlone mousse. In the Elkhorn Cabin up the mountain one day, I also learnt the proper procedure for eating raclette, despite having had the dish many times in France and Switzerland. It turns out if you mash your potatoes on your wedge first, then add your pickle, and cheese layer, you get the best taste combo. Game-changing advice.

Panorama runs day trips by bus along the Powder Highway to Kicking Horse, another awesome resort, with five epic bowls, containing more double black diamonds than we’ve ever seen in one place, and definitely more than we knew what to do with. Again, all ungroomed but in-bounds and therefore managed for safety by the resort.

Photo: Ryan Creary

Kicking Horse is renowned for its champagne powder, which we were lucky enough to experience. It rode just as magically as it sounds. The resort even has its own bear, called Boo, who lives in an on-slope refuge. Though we didn’t get to see him as he was hibernating during our visit.

Kicking Horse was more crowded than Panorama, and that crowd was more hardcore, but people were just as friendly as they were in Panorama. Affability really does abound in these parts. In France this winter, I saw a saw a sign by a chairlift telling skiers not to talk to the lift workers while they’re doing their job. The kind of command you see in London buses, which I’m sure makes sense from a legal point of view, but, in a ski resort at least, feels like a bit of a downer. In the Kootenay Rockies, the lifties write funny quotes and draw smiley emojis on whiteboards. They seem genuine when they tell you to: “Have a great day!” Which sounds like it could be annoying but never is.

“Mountains shall bring peace to the people”

There’s been a lot of chat this winter in North America about multi-resort passes, such as Vail’s Epic Pass or the Ikon Pass, either killing or saving skiing depending on your persuasion. Panorama, like Red Mountain is “fiercely independent” Clarissa Amaro tells me. And it really doesn’t seem to suffer from the overcrowding some of the resorts on the multi-passes are experiencing.

For those of us who go snowboarding to immerse ourselves in nature and get away from the blights of modern life, that really feels important. Factory farm skiing and snowboarding this isn’t. I saw a sign near Panorama on the Powder Highway that read: “The mountains shall bring peace to the people.” And for me, they certainly did that.

Do it Yourself

We flew to Calgary with Air Canada, then took a short transfer to Cranbrook with Westjet.

For more info on planning a trip along the Powder Highway visit &

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