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Nelson Backcountry Skiing

Nestled in the southern Selkirk Mountains on the shore of Kootenay Lake, Nelson, British Columbia, is a mecca for backcountry skiing enthusiasts seeking an unparalleled blend of Kootenay Coldsmoke Powder skiing and vibrant cultural experiences. Formerly a bustling silver-mining hub, Nelson has evolved into a magnet for ski aficionados, artists, and musicians drawn to its remote allure and diverse community.

Embark on an adventure just an hour north of the U.S. border, where untouched powder and eclectic charm converge. Whether you’re carving through pristine snow or immersing yourself in Nelson’s vibrant arts scene, this mountain-town gem promises an unforgettable backcountry skiing escapade unlike any other.

Arctos Guides runs regular guided backcountry ski programs around Nelson and the Kootenays .  Our experienced ACMG certified guides, will make your Kootenay ski touring experience a memorable one.  Client safety is our number one priority

Gather your family or friends for an unforgettable journey into the heart the Columbia Mountains. A ski tour with a private guide is the best way to maximize your backcountry adventure in Nelson.nelson backcountry skiing, ski touring, wh20, kootenays

Nelson’s Favourite Backcountry Skiing

Kootenay Pass

Skiing at Kootenay Pass, British Columbia’s highest highway pass, is a quintessential Nelson backcountry ski and splitboard experience.  With peaks reaching up to 2200m (7500ft) and easy highway-side access, its diverse range of runs, Kootenay Pass offers adventure seekers of all levels the perfect backcountry playground.

Located just an hour and change from the vibrant nightlife and restaurant scene of Nelson, Kootenay Pass provides exhilarating vertical drops of up to 400m (1200ft). Whether you’re an intermediate looking for shorter tours or an expert craving steep couloirs, Kootenay Pass has something to satisfy every backcountry enthusiast.

Reliable snowfall, averaging 250cm (100 inches) by mid-February, ensures optimal conditions for unforgettable ski experiences.  The Kootenay Pass map is a great reference for those who want to plan their backcountry ski trip ahead of time.kootenay pass, skiing, backcountry, nelson, splitboarding

Whitewater Backcountry Skiing

The Whitewater ski resort, is nestled in the Selkirk Mountains and known for its legendary powder and unbeatable access to backcountry ski touring. Just a quick 20-minute drive from downtown Nelson, this little slice of paradise offers up some serious backcountryadventure.

What sets Whitewater apart? Accessibility. With the resort acting as your gateway to West Arm Provincial Park or other backcountry zones, you’ll find yourself with easy access to a diverse range of backcountry skiing and splitboarding. Whether you’re craving open tree skiing, alpine bowls, or incredible ski traverses through multiple drainages, you’ll find it all right here.

The road to the resort and the ski lifts serve as your launchpad for exploration, providing speedy access to four different valleys and a plethora of day touring options. So whether you’re a seasoned veteran or just dipping your toes into backcountry skiing, the backcountry Whitewater has something for everyone.

If you’re looking for a place to park your can for ski-in ski-out accommodations, check out the Humming Bird Lodge RV camping zone.

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Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park Ski Tours

North of Nelson, Kokanee Glacier Park beckons skiers and splitboarders with its pristine backcountry terrain and stunning natural beauty.  The Kokanee and Woodbury glaciers are some of the biggest in the Southern Selkirks, and offer exceptional alpine ski descents.

Access to the Kokanee Range is challenging and is best accessed by snowmobile on Resource Roads.  One of our favourite trips is the Kokanee Traverse.  It can be done as a speed traverse or as a five day tent based trip through the park.

The Alpine Club of Canada operates the Kokanee Glacier Chalet for hut based ski touring.  The luxury chalet is an opulent way to spend a week ski touring in the mountains.Kokanee glacier, skiing, Kokanee glacier cabin

Snowmobile Accessed Ski Touring

The challenge of backcountry skiing around Nelson is access.  However the extensive Resource Road network makes for incredible access to a multitude of backcountry skiing and spiltboarding zones if a snowmobile is employed for access.  Arctos Guides offers small group snowmobile accessed backcountry skiing for those who want to explore Nelson’s lesser-known backcountry zones.   skiing, ski touring, nelson , kootenays

When is the best time to backcountry ski around Nelson

The best time for backcountry skiing in Nelson, BC, typically falls between December and April. During this period, the Kootenays typically experience consistent snowfall, creating optimal conditions for backcountry skiing and splitboarding.

December and January generally offer deep powder conditions, making it an excellent time for those seeking fresh tracks and untouched snow.  The Columbia mountains are a humid place, typically several surface hoar layers or other types of persistent weak layers develop over the course of a winter.  The snowpack is not straightforward and paying close attention to the avalanche forecast and the evolution of the snowpack are fundamental to a safe backcountry ski trip in Nelson.  Hiring a guide is a great way to increase your margin of safety and maximize your powder skiing.

February and March often see stable snowpacks, providing ideal conditions for exploring more challenging terrain and higher elevations.  Longer days allow groups to do bigger tours and explore deeper Kootenay backcountry zones.

April brings longer days and warmer temperatures, creating prime conditions for ski traverses and enjoying spring skiing in the backcountry.

Ultimately, the best time for backcountry skiing in Nelson depends on personal preferences, snow conditions, and avalanche safety considerations. It’s always a good idea to check the weather forecast and avalanche conditions before heading out and to stay informed about current conditions throughout the season.

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Tips for Nelson Backcountry Skiing


  • Know the Terrain: Familiarize yourself with the backcountry terrain around Nelson, understanding the varying degrees of difficulty and potential hazards. Research routes and areas of interest before heading out.
  • Safety First: Prioritize safety by staying informed about current avalanche conditions. Check avalanche forecasts and weather reports before embarking on your adventure. Always carry essential avalanche safety gear, including a beacon, shovel, and probe, and ensure everyone in your group knows how to use it.  Consider taking one of our companion rescue courses.
  • Plan and Prepare: Plan your backcountry excursions meticulously. Make sure to inform someone of your plans, including your intended route and expected return time. Pack enough food, water, and emergency supplies for unexpected situations.
  • Check Equipment: Inspect your skiing equipment before heading out to ensure it’s in good working condition. This includes checking bindings, skins, poles, and any other gear you’ll be using.  Here’s a list of backcountry ski gear we recommend.
  • Stay Informed: Keep up-to-date with local conditions and any changes in weather or terrain that may affect your skiing plans. Utilize online resources, local ski clubs, or guidebooks for valuable information.
  • Travel in Groups: Whenever possible, ski with a partner or group. Not only does this enhance safety by providing assistance in case of emergencies, but it also adds to the enjoyment of the experience.
  • Respect Nature and Others: Practice Leave No Trace principles by minimizing your impact on the environment. Respect wildlife and other backcountry users.whitewater, nelson , kootenays, ski touring

How to Nelson

Getting to Nelson, BC, largely depends on your starting point. Here are some common ways to reach Nelson:

By Car: Nelson is accessible by road, primarily via Highway 3 from the west and east, and Highway 6 from the north and south. If you’re coming from major cities like Vancouver or Calgary, you’ll likely take Highway 1 to connect to these routes. The drive is sinuous and long- about eight hours from Calgary, and four and a half from Revelstoke.  It offers scenic views of the surrounding mountains and lakes. Check DriveBC for current road conditions.

By Air: Fy into larger airports like Kelowna International Airport (YLW) or Spokane International Airport (GEG) and then drive to Nelson.  There are numerous car rental agencies at both airports.  West Kootenay Adventure Tours offers shuttle service from both airports.

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Where to stay in Nelson

In Nelson, BC, you’ll find a range of accommodation options to suit various preferences and budgets:

Hotels and Inns: Nelson boasts several hotels and lodges, offering comfortable rooms and convenient amenities. Look for options in the downtown area for easy access to shops, restaurants, and attractions.

Hostels: Budget-conscious travellers can opt for hostels in Nelson, offering affordable dormitory-style accommodation and communal facilities. Some hostels also offer private rooms for those seeking a bit more privacy.

Regardless of your accommodation choice, booking in advance, especially during peak season, is advisable to secure your preferred option.

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Where to rent Backcountry Ski in Nelson

Sacred Ride


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