Castle Dave

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Unofficial Guide to Castle Mountain Resort

By: @Castle Dave
Posted 5/16/14 • Last updated 5/16/14


Overview

Castle is located in the very southwest corner of Alberta barely on the east side of the North American Continental Divide. It has a top elevation of 7462 feet, vertical of 2833 feet and covers 3592 acres. For comparison, well known Fernie Resort is 1000 feet lower and a 1000 acres smaller. So Castle is large but largely unknown. It receives the most snow and has the only cat ski operation in Alberta. Unusually it is community owned rather than part of a huge corporation and this is reflected both in the amenities (or lack of) and on hill ‘vibe’. In the interests of full disclosure I have passes for both Castle and Fernie and prefer Castle.

Castle is not for everyone because it is not a resort. It does not have a day spa, Starbucks, or condominiums. It does have decent day lodge, restaurant, T Bar Pizza bar and a nice selection of powder skis for rent. The nearest mall is 2 ½ hours away. You will see ranchers in their coveralls, hunters in camo, sledders in their Klim outfits but not a Bogner or Prada in sight.

There are no high speed lifts but there are definitely slow speed lifts. To get to the top of the big mountain you must first take a very old triple then an older double chair. Even if the community could afford a high speed quad the mountain top winds would derail anything larger than a double. The lift is stopped when gusts reach 50 mph which is not unusual this high in the Canadian Rockies. This Youtube clip gives an idea of the Castle vibe. Note that it is taken late in the season so the snow is not at its best and there are usually more people especially weekends. Also some of the more extreme shots required climbing out of bounds.


Castle is a place for people who love to ski and board no matter what their level. Gravenstafel is the big mountain and has a well deserved reputation for steep and deep. As indicated on the sign at the bottom of the Tamarack Chair, the top half is ‘Experts Only’. The addition of the Huckleberry Chair has opened an entirely separate hill for beginners to middle intermediates with gentle groomed runs and intermediate glades.

How, When and Where to ski Castle


Please read the Resort Guide for photos and links to specifics like lift prices, accommodation options, etc. or go to http://www.skicastle.ca

How to get to Castle


Most ski tourists will have Fernie as their destination resort. Castle is a 2 hour drive east then south of Fernie starting on the Crowsnest Highway (Hwy 3). For a day or two trip rent a car or van the night before from the car rental in the Fernie Best Western then leave at 7:00 am if you want to be there at lift opening. The pass is not very high nor demanding so the drive is usually straightforward but watch out for large herds of elk especially if it is dark. They do not bounce. Also be very careful of the mountain sheep herd right at the Pass lakes. Don’t be discouraged by the epic winds at the lakes, just drive at a comfortable pace. After leaving the Pass communities look for the Castle turn off sign past the Burmis Tree and turn right to go south for 43 Km. If you see a sign for Hwy 22 you have gone too far. Drive south 18 km to Beaver Mines and do not speed in town as you are guaranteed a ticket especially Saturday or Sunday. Keep going through rolling ranch land then the last 12 kms are gravel usually in good condition. Don’t be surprised if it’s blue sky until the last few km then starts to snow as the box canyon traps moisture at the very end.

If you are coming south from Calgary you take Hwy 2 south and can either turn west at Nanton and go over to Hwy 22 or continue south to Fort Mcleod then west. Hwy 22 is shorter but twisty and windy. It is not uncommon for semi trailers to blow over. If you stay on Hwy 2 go west from Fort Mcleod on Hwy 3, turn into Pincher Creek and follow the sign for the Castle turn off. Calgary airport to Castle is 2 ½ to 3 hours depending on Calgary traffic and winter road conditions.

When to ski Castle

We usually have a dry spell from the beginning of the last week of January for about four weeks. Also there are many holidays and school breaks the middle two weeks of February. No guarantees but before and after that period there tends to be more fresh snow.

Midweek is best especially if you want powder. Unless Fernie is rained out or the Pass is closed typically mid week on the Tamarack Chair (top of the big mountain) will have 30 to 50 skiers shredding 2000 acres. Combined with wind sift grooming and you have fresh tracks almost every run. All that wind means wind closures from time to time and for truly expert skiers Castle is not worth skiing unless the upper chair is running. Snow-forcast.com tends to be fairly accurate – look for the mountain top wind forcast and avoid days with really high winds.

http://www.snow-forecast.com/resorts/Castle-Mountain-Resort/6day/top

Weekends can be crowded especially holidays or sunny days with more crowds on the beginner and intermediate slopes. Expert runs are never crowded but you may not get fresh tracks.

Where to ski at Castle

On weekends Castle has mountain hosts that will show you around the two hills and they are the fastest way to become comfortable with the many choices.

Beginner/intermediate skiers

Go to the Huckleberry Chair which is easy cruising. The runs become more challenging as you go from skier’s left to right. The terrain park is located on Huckleberry and you will see it going up the lift. For more challenge or if the upper big mountain is closed by wind try the glades on the skier’s right at the top of the lift and the sides of the first three runs down that right side. Remember to keep looking left for out of control beginners and crazy teenagers as you exit on the ski out.

If you want to try part of the big hill go up the Sundance Chair (blue) and ski the North or South Runs but they tend to be boring cat tracks.

Strong intermediate and better skiers

Warning – You are entering serious terrain with the potential for very serious consequences. The area is vast and other skiers can be few and far between. This means never ski alone, always carry a whistle and wear a helmet. With the exception of Bandito and Sendero, nothing is groomed on the upper mountain so remember powder hides many hazards. My wife is a true expert but broke her leg February 2014 when skiing deep powder on High Plains. She hit a stump hidden two feet under the snow.

If the Tamarack (red) Chair is running go up the Sundance (blue) chair then the Tamarack to the very top of the mountain. Duck your head when you pull down the bar on the blue chair. Speaking of heads, if you have a hood that fits over your helmet pull it up at the bottom of the red chair. Trust me, you will find out why about half way up. This is a video my wife and I did in 2010 for the view from the top. The entire video represents only about 1/6 of the area on Gravenstafel. That year was very poor for mid season snow from January to March with one snowfall of 14 cm mid February. Note the wind sift, crowds (locals expect better conditions) and wind.


Turn right at the top of the lift if conditions are good or turn left if conditions are not optimal. Going left again in about 50 feet brings you to a sharp left turn and cat track under the lift for an easy ride across the Skyline Traverse to the bowls and further to the runs on Siwash and North where the trees are perfectly spaced for charging powder on low visibility days. Once past Bandito you are committed to skiing to the bottom of the hill.

If you turn left off the lift you can continue south on the traverse to access Tamarack bowl or a little further to Huckleberry Bowl which accesses Tamarack bowl on the skiers left and Drifter, Showdown and OK Corral on the skiers right. Drop off the track carefully as there are lots of groomer chunks for the first few turns. Once past Tamarack you are committed to skiing to the bottom of the hill.

Continuing south on the traverse you will come to a gate leading to the Chutes. CAUTION – once past this gate there is no easy way down and you are committed unless you walk back up the traverse. The Chutes start at 38 degrees and are up to 2000 vertical feet high. If you are unsure of your ability to ski this terrain go up the Huckleberry chair on the easy hill and look to your right across the valley. Awesome!

The Sundance (blue) Chair offers trees, bumps, and bumps in trees options. Goat Glades, Duke, The Q all provide lots of challenge. North and South Shotgun are a ‘Y’ shaped natural half pipe and are a different sort of run. The exit at the bottom is a pain and don’t go down the creek bed. Personally I like skiing bigger, more open terrain but if the top is closed these runs are a fun alternative.

Cat skiing

Castle has the only cat ski operation in Alberta. Compared to other cat operations it is relatively small, less expensive (2013/14 rates $375 + tax including avy gear and lunch ) and has a couple of unique features. Cat skiers board the Huckleberry Chair to gain the first 1000 feet of elevation then board the cat for the last 1000 feet of elevation. This allows one cat to service two groups. The other unique feature is that the area is considered ‘in bounds/not lift served’. This means it is avalanche controlled. You still carry beacons, probes and shovels and will do drills at the beginning of the day but knowing the area has AC every morning provides some extra reassurance. In this Youtube slide show the avalanche hazard was truly off the scale but we were able to cat ski thanks to this unique feature. If you look carefully a couple of the slides show bomb craters.


The terrain is intermediate pitch and a great introduction to catskiing but you should have at least rudimentary powder skills before hand so as to not delay your group. No friends on a powder day! Reservations are a good idea.

@Castle Dave
 
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noncrazycanuck

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you will like the chutes, impressive fall line skiing
heads up if your going, last year it was part of the "Louise Card" . You might save a bit of money
1,4,7 days free -about $20 off other days plus a few other perks.
last year the card was good at Silver Star, Revy, Louise, Panorama, Castle, Schwietzer and Red,
sales this year are yet to start.
 
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Castle Dave

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Right now I'm worried about the nearby wildfire.
 

DanoT

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I posted the following in another thread and I think that it fits here also:

I have just got to mention Castle Mountain again as it is even more anti Whistler than Whitewater (WH20 last year replaced the Summit double chair with a fixed grip quad and built a new lodge for ski school and admin offices}. The nearby town for WH20 is Nelson, the hippie capital of Canada.

Castle`s nearby town of Pincer Creek is a farming/ranching town. No ski bums and a hardware store that looks like something out of the 1950s. There is a Best Western hotel.

Pincer Creek is the windmill capital of Canada so sometimes at Castle the wind moves things around at night and you are skiing fresh wind sift and the moguls have disappeared, or there just aren`t enough skiers to create moguls. On upper mountain chairlift wind hold days...Fernie is 2 hours away.

I have been there skiing boot top to shin deep, 3 feet away from an exposed rock ridge and the pow I was skiing used to cover the ridge. The wind can do some scouring so sometimes stumps and bushes that should be well covered can instead be lurking only a few inches from the surface. For this reason I do not recommend skiing Castle if the snow coverage is only adequate or less.

I like to tell people that Castle Mt. is the greatest mountain in North America that you have never heard of. It should be on every serious skier`s bucket list and here is why:

There are 4 chairlifts, one for beginners, one for intermediates and and 2 stacked chairs of 1400 vert. each, a lower mountain triple, upper mountain double.. Off the top chair it is a lot like Snowbird`s Road to Provo where can drop in off a cat track to a number of runs, except at Castle the cat track goes in both directions. As you go farther out you loose vert but the cat track at the end of the runs is a fast return to the lower lift. The upper lift has one blue square run, the rest are black and double black. Castle relies a lot on mid week day visits from school groups, mostly from Lethbridge 1.5 hours away. The grade school kids are not allowed on the upper chairlift.

Castle needs just over 100k annual skier visits to break even and some years they don`t get it. However the mountain owns the sewer and water system for the collection of RVs, townhomes, cabins, and hostel (dorm and private rooms) and that revenue make up the shortfall.

There is a cat skiing operation adjacent to the mountain offering mostly intermediate type terrain whereas skiing the resort itself with its lack of skiers is more like cat skiing.
I once showed up at Castle on a Sunday evening after a 3 week no new snow cold snap just ended. It snowed 8" overnight and there was all of a dozen people lined at the lift on Monday morning.

All of the former overnight RV plug in spots are now rented out by the season. Non plug-in overnight parking is allowed for a fee and you get access to the staff washroom/shower building. The last time that I was there I just drove back down the access road and stayed at a snowmobile staging area, complete with outhouse for dumping my truck camper`s porta-potti.

Some of the above info was obtained a few years ago from the guy plowing the parking lot who is one of 125 associate owners. The owners like Castle just the way it is an have no major development plans.

Edit: Lift tickets are $95CDN or about $70+/- US.
 
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Crudmaster

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Notice how most the shots of skiing reveal wind-packed snow. Still fun, but not high quality powder.
 

DanoT

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Notice how most the shots of skiing reveal wind-packed snow. Still fun, but not high quality powder.
While you can for sure get wind packed crud at Castle, you can also get some very ski-able wind sift.

@Crudmaster, the snow at Crystal, your home mountain in the PNW, is likely never dry enough for the wind to ever produce wind sift and my guess is that you have never skied at Castle, otherwise you would not have posted the above about a lack of quality snow.
 
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Castle Dave

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For the record if Crudmaster is referring to the video of my wife skiing the boot top wind sift those conditions were after three weeks with no snow whatsoever and I would consider those conditions not too shabby all things considered. If he is referring to the first video it is worth noting that was filmed in Spring and those are Spring conditions at Castle. Again not too shabby. Every season at Castle my wife and I had three or four days of face shot, over your shoulder every turn powder. Never had that anywhere else.
 

fosphenytoin

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Question: Is early April too late to visit Castle? I will be in Banff the first week of April next season and am contemplating a day trip to Castle. In terms of terrain difficulty, how does it compare to Revy?
 

DanoT

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Question: Is early April too late to visit Castle? I will be in Banff the first week of April next season and am contemplating a day trip to Castle. In terms of terrain difficulty, how does it compare to Revy?
I am not sure of Castle's closing date but early to mid April is likely, but mostly due to lack of skiers, not lack of snow. My suggestion is to check out both Castle and Fernie at the last minute from Banf and then go to whichever one sounds best or is still open.

Castle has a lot more runs than Revy and more variety.
 

Nathanvg

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For a day or two trip rent a car or van the night before from the car rental in the Fernie Best Western
@Castle Dave
Looks like the car rental in Fernie might be no more based on various web searches. Can anyone confirm? I'd like to ski castle but I suspect the rest of the group may be a bit intimidated by it so I'd like to rent a car and go solo one day.
 
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Castle Dave

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No need for your friends to be intimidated. The Guide text only briefly mentions the Hucklberry chair and no videos. It is a separate hill with an easy triple chair. The slopes vary from 'I've never been on skis before' to swoopy, wide cruisers.
16 to 20 seconds on this video (not mine)shows the easiest pitch.
 

Mike Rogers

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Question: Is early April too late to visit Castle? I will be in Banff the first week of April next season and am contemplating a day trip to Castle. In terms of terrain difficulty, how does it compare to Revy?
Castle closed on April 7 last year. They have closed the last weekend in March in prior years.

It doesn't seem like they want to commit to a date this year, but I would be surprised if they are open past mid April.

You could call them up, but I would stay flexible.

Late season at Castle can be a bit hit or miss. On the plus side, Southern Alberta often gets slammed by upslope storms in the spring. These hit mountains that are close to the praries...like Castle really hard, while more western resorts, like Sunshine, Lake Louise etc. are missed.

On the downside, Castle gets more warm weather in the spring than the Banff region (or kicking horse). It should be cooler than Fernie though. Because a lot of the premier terrain faces south or southeast, it can get an earlier spring than Banff. Plus, it's much lower than Banff.

I have had great spring days at Castle, and some not so great days. When I was a student nearby, I skied Castle from December to late March, and then tried to get to Banff for the late spring.

The last couple of springs at Castle have been really nice. Although I don't ski Castle as often these days, I am always sad when it closes.

So, be optimistic, but flexible.
 

fosphenytoin

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It doesn't seem like they want to commit to a date this year, but I would be surprised if they are open past mid April.

You could call them up, but I would stay flexible.
Thanks for the info. I did email Castle in Oct. and below is the response:

"We hope to extend our season to April 12 this year with our snow making project now in place. So there is a good chance we will be open. We haven’t publicly release this information but to give you a heads up so you can make a sound decision on you purchase I am happy to let you know. We look forward to see you out at castle mountain this spring."

In addition to Ikon, I also bought Indy pass and plan to spend a day (or 2) there, will check out beginner & intermediate chair.
Still looking into lodging, I may consider either hotel on Banff Avenue or Storm Mountain Lodge since it is close to SSV.
 

fosphenytoin

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I mistaken Castle Mountain in Banff National Park as the Castle Mtn resort. Originally I was going to make day trip from Banff to Castle, just realized it is actually a 3.5 hours drive, now I need to replan my route. Will be in Banff from 4th - 11th April, 2020.

I have Ikon base and Indy pass, so 5 days to ski the SkiBig 3 mtns and 2 days from Indy pass to ski Castle.

Question: being an intermediate, debating whether to spend 1 or 2 days there. Will 2 days be too long for Castle? I may only ride the beginner and intermediate chair, won't be able to ride the Tamarack chair for sure.

Also, any recommendation on lodging in Pincher Creek?
 
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Castle Dave

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Pincher has Ramada, Super 8 and Travelodge. The strip on the East side of town has several smaller, older motels if you are after 'atmosphere'. You could also stay at the Hostel at the base. So late in the season there is unlikely to be powder so one day would probably be enough if you are only skiing the easy chairs. On the other hand Castle can be hard to predict late season. Enjoy.
 

Tony

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Woke up this morning in a hotel room at Castle. Rack rate including tax appears to be C$149 and discounts on lift tickets are available when booking room. This is for room with private bath and two queens or a queen and single over double bunk bed. They also have hostel rooms and last time here two years ago three or us shared a hostel room with three single bunks and shared bath. No hot tub, but there’s a wood-fired sauna.

If you are coming for at least two nights, staying here makes some sense. We had early dinner last night in Fernie and drove 90 min to here. The hotel provides coffee and milk and Raisin Bran. The only place for dinner is the T-bar, which is slopeside, about 120 steps across parking lot from hotel. Base lodge cafeteria has breakfast, lunch and a bar and is reasonable.

My very opinionated friend who raves about Castle says you should go to Marmot near Jasper instead as it’s closer to Lake Louise via very scenic Icefields Parkway, has a real town nearby that is busier in summer so room rates should be good and ski area has better balance of terrain.

I skied Castle as an intermediate today due to straining my right lower back between Kicking Horse (ski day 6 of trip) and Fernie (days 7 & 10 and last of trip assuming I’m still standing and bending). Due to injury, I mostly skied groomed runs at Castle today (day 8 of trip) although I suffered through ungroomed Showboat, Tamarack Bowl and Tamarack, making partially stemmed turns and a lot of traversing as I was not comfortable with unweighting and fast turns on uneven snow.

You would not want to come to Castle to only ski Huckleberry chair (which I did for my first run and last 3 runs - where I still found untouched corduroy). I’ve seen you ski easier black runs at Alta with my wife and think you could do runs from Tamarack. Bandito (blue) is always groomed and today blues Harkers Highway and High Noon into black and steeper but something you could do Lower Siwash were all groomed and very smooth. Blue Centre run under lower triple Sundance chair was at least as challenging. I’ll post more pictures when I get home. Below is view from our room. Lift line is backup T-bar 1730’ vertical! EBE47908-5BEC-430F-8EA7-4941E63B2B7E.jpeg
 
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fosphenytoin

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Thanks @Tony for stopping by. Much appreciated your input. Marmot Basin is the opposite direction. I bought Indy Pass this year because of Castle, so I will stick with it. Tell your opinionated friend that I appreciate his/her recommendation, Marmot Basin has been on my radar for few years and it is on my list. Reason I have not gone is because it is not as conveniently accessible compare to the SkiBig 3 mountains.

Also, thanks for your vote of confidence. To be on the safe side, I may take a lesson and ask instructor to take me to the Tamarack chair. I may have the ability / skills to ski it, but may not have the confidence to actually do it. This may or may not be a solo trip. If I have someone to go w/ me, I'd be less fearful.

I checked hotel rates in Pincher creek and price is very reasonable in early April. Do you mind sharing w/ me (via PM?) the lodge you are staying at Castle?

I return home on April 11th at 7 pm red eye. If I only ski April 11th at Castle, it will only be 5 hours max. Still debating if I should do 1 or 2 days. If I can check out terrains off the Tamarack chair, 2 days may be worth it.
 

Tony

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Lodge we stayed at is the 2nd thru 5th picture at http://www.staycastle.ca/home/properties/

My back and the snow improved a lot today. I skied some great windsift many times on black runs, Sheriff and Outlaw, and skied the following once: High Plains/Drifter (2,000’ vertical black, our last run), High Rustler and Lone Star (both double-black). I had over 25K vertical skiing 9:20-2:30. It was unusually warm at base for Feb. Adding a few more pictures. Detailed report with more pictures will be posted at https://www.firsttracksonline.com/boards/viewforum.php?f=3

Steep part of Lower Siwash is steeper than it looks in this picture from yesterday and got affected by sun and warm temps today.
E4096B93-5903-4709-B98A-2BFA7AB6F36A.jpeg

Bandito is to left of center. Other groomed blue runs to right of center. All on Tamarack chair.
5CEFCE00-B004-4D0C-A56B-F3C377B28FAC.jpeg

Smooth windsift from Sheriff to Outlaw near top of Tamarack chair.
DD0E8C03-F271-4B65-B187-A97F4E6D840C.jpeg
 

Tony

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Trip report from Castle Feb. 27-28 with more photos now posted including this one of Tony Crocker in the windsift on High Rustler.
2337TonyCrockerWindsift.JPG
 
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