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Car hire in Canada - powder highway road trip

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Hi, we're currently planning a bit of a powder highway road trip in January and wanted to ask advice on car hire. None of the major car rental companies offer winter tires as an option on their websites but I've read that if you call them you can often arrange... at a premium of course! We usually run winters on our Golf through the winter (NE Scotland) and know it makes a big difference compared to summer/standard tires.

A few questions:

Any advice on which rental company is best when it comes to organising winter tires?

Do you know if any companies fit mud& snow as standard - if so, how do they compare full winters? is it worth changing?

4x4 or 2wd? 2wd and winters have got me through some pretty hairy conditions in Scotland but Canada may be another league. I'm pretty confident driving in winter conditions.

We're planning to travel Calgary - Banff - Revelstoke - Red Mountain or White Mountain - Fernie - Panorama - Calgary.

Any tips on the route... Roads to take, to avoid, etc?

Thanks, Paul & Heather
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
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I'd drop Pano and go to Kicking Horse on the way back. Do Red and Wh2o1 - they are both classic non corporate hills with some insanely good and welcoming locals.

As for tyres - after many trips to N America my inly answer is to try to rent from the row i.e. pick a rental car outfit that lets you choose your own vehicle from what's available. Then choose based on the quality/ tread of the M+S tyres you find. Then buy some cable chains at the nearedt Walmart/ Canadian Tyre

The great majority of your driving will be on major highways (1 and 3) and these are pretty well ploughed 24/7 particularly the Trans Canada
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I would get a 4x4 . We did Calgary to Vancouver via Banff, LL, Big White, Silver Star Sun Peaks and Whistler, some interesting weather was encountered. We saw more snow plough in this one trip than in the previous 15yrs of Canadian ski trips, some years we have had no problems driving around.
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Ime and talking with others it seems like car rental companies are much of a muchness. I just go with the cheapest company that meet my requirements. I would definitely recommend snow tires over m+s. While plenty of people manage with m+s, snow tires are far superior. I guess it comes down to how much you value peace of mind (i.e knowing you will be fine should you be in a storm or need to drive up a resort access road which has not been cleared/gritted) Vs risking it with snow tires. Good tires are more important than 4wd.

When it comes to the powder highway less is often more. People feel like they need to "do it all". However, assuming you plan to make the most of the inbounds off piste, you need at least 3+ days to make the most out of each resort. You're better off spending more time at fewer resorts if you want quality skiing - plus it will save you lots of driving time and $ in lift tickets. The alternative would be to not book anything and just follow the storms.

I agree that it makes sense to add kicking horse as it's a great resort and on the way to revy. Also you could do a lot worse than stopping off at Rogers pass between kh and revy.
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Paul_Shanks, Done this a couple of times now, and planning it again in 2020. We've just hired a 4x4 from Calgary and been fine, driven in some bad conditions too. You can ring and book full snow tyres too, if you want to. Most of the companies are the same in terms of what you get - but a standard or full size tend to be better than the smaller 4x4 in our experience, IIRC they all can book you snow tyres in advance. We did similar to Dave, just went and picked a vehicle, scored an upgrade too Smile We didnt need the 7 seats but was nice.

As mentioned put in Kicking Horse, and from Fernie, you can spend a day at Castle, giving you shorter drive back to Calgary. Whitewater shouldn't be missed if going to Red Mtn.
Look at the Lake Louise card, gets you free days and $20 off paid days, but need to bought early. https://www.skilouise.com/louise_cards.php Theres also other deals that can be had too on lift tickets.

Its easy to get round, as there's not many road choice - so difficult to get lost. Driving distances can be interesting and you will see some of the true country. We did 18 days and skied all of them, moving on after skiing. It gets tiring but fun, and living out of a bag isn't for everyone - if you need any ideas for accommodation.
When there remember to keep an eye on weather and passes for closure, as it may stop you getting through for a day or so.

Last trip we did , - LL, Revelstoke, Sun Peaks, Silver Star, Big White, Red Mtn, Whitewater, Kimberley, Castle, - just under 2.5K miles Madeye-Smiley

You'll have a great experience, and fun planning it Toofy Grin
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Quote:
We're planning to travel Calgary - Banff - Revelstoke - Red Mountain or White Mountain - Fernie - Panorama - Calgary.

Add Kicking Horse between Banff and Revel, as you’re driving right by it.

At Fernie, you also have the choice of going to Castle then back to Calgary, or just straight back to Calgary. Either way, there’s no mountain passes in between. Going back to Panorama involves more driving and a mountain pass. So need to keep you eye on the weather. Or you risk missing your flight!
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Erm the Crowsnest is a pass. Not as high maybe but a pass nevertheless.
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Dave of the Marmottes wrote:
Erm the Crowsnest is a pass. Not as high maybe but a pass nevertheless.


Very true, and can have problems due to wind drifted snow. However the Rum Runner does do a tasty meal Madeye-Smiley
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Paul_Shanks wrote:
...
Any advice on which rental company is best when it comes to organising winter tires?

Do you know if any companies fit mud& snow as standard - if so, how do they compare full winters? is it worth changing?

4x4 or 2wd? 2wd and winters have got me through some pretty hairy conditions in Scotland but Canada may be another league. I'm pretty confident driving in winter conditions.

We're planning to travel Calgary - Banff - Revelstoke - Red Mountain or White Mountain - Fernie - Panorama - Calgary.

Any tips on the route... Roads to take, to avoid, etc?
Rental companies are much of a muchness - some of them are owned by each other anyway. I use the cheapest company for each trip.

All rental companies must fit at least M&S by law. You can't even drive to Whistler from Vancouver without that.
M&S work great on all BC roads, which I've been regularly driving in winter for the last 30 years.
Rental company staff will aggressively try to "upgrade" you to winter tyres if they have any, but it is not worth paying for the difference in my experience.

Here's the government's information on this:
https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/transportation/driving-and-cycling/traveller-information/seasonal/winter-driving
And here are the higway cams (more reliable than ski resorts for snow reports):
http://images.drivebc.ca/bchighwaycam/pub/html/www/index-Northern.html


The last time I rented in Canada was April 2018 in Calgary, where they obviously thought I was a stupid tourist.
Even when I told them how many times I'd driven the Coquihalla that season they still insisted I'd die if I didn't pay them extra.
I just continually repeated "no upgrades, it's already paid for" until they gave me the keys. I hate that, it's dishonest and rude.

4wd vehicles in BC are a rip off, aimed at tourists I think. Some which look like 4wd aren't.
If you're planning on driving up cat roads (been there, done that), then perhaps those will work better, but on real BC highways including "tough" places like the Duffy Lake and Coquihalla, it's not needed.
In very rare cases the road will simply be closed, irrespective of your vehicle (In 30 seasons of regular driving I've never encountered this for more than an hour or so).
If it's open then the ploughs keep it easier to drive on than the Dales usually is.

I would wait and see where the good snow is then go there. Revelstoke is very different to Banff. It depends what you like.
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Thanks everyone, lots of great advice there!

On the route, we have been debating whether or not to include Pano as it is a bit out of the way, will take a look at Castle. We thought Pano might be a nice chilled end as it's supposed to be pretty quiet - anyone skied/boarded there?

On Kicking Horse, what's it like for a less confident intermediate boarder? We do fancy it, I'm very keen to include, but the missus is worried that it will be to steep/extreme for her.
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Kicking horse is all about the steeps and chutes. From the gondola there's only 1 groomed run (into crystal bowl), I mean you have options once you get a bit lower but it's going to take away the other 3 bowls up top. Although they are expanding into patrolled area into rudis for next season which is mellow but I assume it's going to be skin up as not heard anything about a lift. Even the bottom half of the mountain is steep in places. The grooming can be a little iffy, and they often groom just the top half or bottom half of a run which isn't great for people looking to avoid ungroomed. So I would agree it's probably not the place for a less confident intermediate (although means different things to different people). Also I wouldn't recommend it unless you have already 2 days as it's the kind of place that you need some time to work out where the good stuff is and huge vert means you don't get many laps.

If your wife is less confident and intermediate I would really consider which resorts are going to be good for her. Also, staying at a place for a few days where she can practice and repeat some runs is going to help her confidence a lot more than throwing her on a different mountain each day where neither of you know the terrain. Unless she is happy in trees (which I wouldn't expect for a "less confident intermediate") revelstoke may not be such a great choice. Kimberley on the other hand is probably going to be better for her (quiet, lots of mellow runs). Panorama is also quiet, and has a mix of terrain.

How long do you have for your trip? What kind of terrain/resorts are you looking for?
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In KH there is a run down from the top which is labelled as 'the easiest way down'.
I hope I am not exaggerating when I say that this would be a black in some European resorts.
This gives you some idea of the general level of difficulty/steepness.
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philwig wrote:
Paul_Shanks wrote:
...
Any advice on which rental company is best when it comes to organising winter tires?

Do you know if any companies fit mud& snow as standard - if so, how do they compare full winters? is it worth changing?

4x4 or 2wd? 2wd and winters have got me through some pretty hairy conditions in Scotland but Canada may be another league. I'm pretty confident driving in winter conditions.

We're planning to travel Calgary - Banff - Revelstoke - Red Mountain or White Mountain - Fernie - Panorama - Calgary.

Any tips on the route... Roads to take, to avoid, etc?
Rental companies are much of a muchness - some of them are owned by each other anyway. I use the cheapest company for each trip.

All rental companies must fit at least M&S by law. You can't even drive to Whistler from Vancouver without that.
M&S work great on all BC roads, which I've been regularly driving in winter for the last 30 years.
Rental company staff will aggressively try to "upgrade" you to winter tyres if they have any, but it is not worth paying for the difference in my experience.

Here's the government's information on this:
https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/transportation/driving-and-cycling/traveller-information/seasonal/winter-driving
And here are the higway cams (more reliable than ski resorts for snow reports):
http://images.drivebc.ca/bchighwaycam/pub/html/www/index-Northern.html


The last time I rented in Canada was April 2018 in Calgary, where they obviously thought I was a stupid tourist.
Even when I told them how many times I'd driven the Coquihalla that season they still insisted I'd die if I didn't pay them extra.
I just continually repeated "no upgrades, it's already paid for" until they gave me the keys. I hate that, it's dishonest and rude.

4wd vehicles in BC are a rip off, aimed at tourists I think. Some which look like 4wd aren't.
If you're planning on driving up cat roads (been there, done that), then perhaps those will work better, but on real BC highways including "tough" places like the Duffy Lake and Coquihalla, it's not needed.
In very rare cases the road will simply be closed, irrespective of your vehicle (In 30 seasons of regular driving I've never encountered this for more than an hour or so).
If it's open then the ploughs keep it easier to drive on than the Dales usually is.

I would wait and see where the good snow is then go there. Revelstoke is very different to Banff. It depends what you like.



Not quite so sure about that. Not sure about the rules in Alberta, but in Vancouver you can probably rent a car in winter without M+S because it is _not_ a requirement in the lower mainland most of the time (in fact probably all the time, but if you crash in the snow/ice without them, icbc will look upon you dimly). Before BC lowered the requirement to M+S, a rental company in Kelowna tried to give me a car once with no winter tires despite requesting them; I pointed out to the rental desk that this meant I couldn't legally leave Kelowna! rolling eyes
To drive on a mountain highway in BC you need M+S - they are not necessarily winter (mountain and snowflake) rated tires and are imho not as good - I have my M+S marked tires on my truck right now, in November I'll swap them for my proper winter tires. 4WD is handy once you are off the highway - I've needed my 4wd with locking diff and low-range to get in/out of parking lots a few times last season after big dumps - saves digging! snowHead
Coquihalla is a serious road in bad conditions, people do die on it. paul shanks, you will have gone the wrong way if you are there, but there are roads at least as tough on the powder highway.


Last edited by So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much on Mon 18-06-18 6:41; edited 1 time in total
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
@boarder2020,
Revelstoke is probably fine for intermediates, for a few days quite a lot of cruisy stuff there. Even Red Mountain. But these places are definitely better the better you are
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Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
stuarth wrote:
...Not quite so sure about that. Not sure about the rules in Alberta, but in Vancouver you can probably rent a car in winter without M+S because it is _not_ a requirement in the lower mainland most of the time... .

You can't rent cars which aren't legal on *all* BC highways, at least not from a major. This describes YVR, but in my personal experience YYC is similar.
Smaller airports in BC (Kelowna, Terrace, Kamloops) are in my personal direct experience similar except you're more likely to find cars equipped with winter tyres (which you get without payment because they have nothing else).
The links I posted earlier explain which highways have which rules at which times of year.

"...Alamo, Enterprise, and National told us all rental vehicles in BC meet the requirements. [of the highways which require M&S tyres for cars in winter in BC]

Budget/Avis said its cars are equipped too...

Hertz, which owns Dollar and Thrifty, says its cars have All Season M+S, as well as snow tires on 20 per cent of the cars at YVR."


That matches my personal experience which includes all the groups (not brands) listed. This changed when they switched the highway laws two or three seasons back.

--
They didn't precisely "lower the requirement" - they did that, but at the same time they extended the areas covered by restrictions, so in some cases it was an increase rather than a decrease in the rules. Working only from memory, I think years ago Whistler did not have mandatory tyre rules other than when the highway was closed for snow by the RCMP. In other words if the highway was clear in winter you could drive there. In those days you *could* rent badly equipped cars, and it was not uncommon to find that was all that was available. You could also take a cab from Vancouver directly to Whistler with garbage tyres.
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 Poster: A snowHead
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Quote:
In KH there is a run down from the top which is labelled as 'the easiest way down'. I hope I am not exaggerating when I say that this would be a black in some European resorts.


You are massively exaggerating. The easiest route down is the green run "its a 10" which switchbacks its way down the mountain so is pretty flat the entire way. I would agree though that some of the other runs would be graded differently, for example the blue "show off" could be black in some places.

Quote:
Revelstoke is probably fine for intermediates, for a few days quite a lot of cruisy stuff there. Even Red Mountain. But these places are definitely better the better you are


You are right in that an intermediate can have a good time at places like revelstoke. Are there better resorts for an intermediate? Almost certainly. Is it worth driving the extra distance from Banff for a nervous intermediate to visit revelstoke? Probably not. Is throwing a non confident person on a different mountain each day where nobody in their group knows the terrain a good way to improve their skiing an confidence? Not really.

Again it comes down to if you want quality skiing or to drive a lot and "tick off" a bunch of mountains. Imagine if someone wanted to come to Europe and spend 1 day in chamonix, then drive to say Anton for one day, then drive to tignes for a day. People would say it was crazy as there's more than enough skiing to keep you busy at each place without all the moving around. Yet in Canada, where the distances are far bigger it's considered normal. I realise the canadian resorts are smaller in size, but the in bounds off piste means they ski a lot bigger - so I don't buy the idea you will be bored in a day or 2 as an excuse.
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Rather surprised that the legal requirement is M+S - which doesn't always mean "winter" tyres rather than 3PMSF - which does.

Non-winter M+S usually don't perform any better than summers.
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When I say 'less confident intermediate' I should probably have put some context as it's so subjective. She has plenty year's experience riding in Scotland and the Alps and can handle European black pisted runs, plus ride inbound off-piste around red runs - we had a blast in Tignes earlier this year riding lots of off piste but the steep black unpisted were a bit beyond her comfort zone. We've ridden Banff and LL many moons ago but want to try a range of resorts to see where we might go back to again in the future... plus we love a road trip holiday... have done 4 & 5K km road trips in the US and NZ on other (summer) trips.

I think we will probably skip KH to let us get our snow legs back on easier terrain but happy with trying all the others.
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I think the key point about tyres is that in the absence of any formal process around them you can make a fuss and pay extra to rent snow tyres etc and you'll still just end up with whatever is ready to go when you get there i.e. in between checking cars have a working windscreen, wipers, 4 wheels and are fuelled, ensuring that a specifica vehicle has snow tyres is very low on their priorities (if the depot staff even know how to check). You give yourself more leverage to make a fuss if they don't have any snows and possibly make it easier to snag an upgrade but ultimately if all the cars only have M+S do you wait around indefinitely for one with snows to be returned or not?
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Paul_Shanks wrote:
When I say 'less confident intermediate' I should probably have put some context as it's so subjective. She has plenty year's experience riding in Scotland and the Alps and can handle European black pisted runs, plus ride inbound off-piste around red runs

She'll do fine in Kicking Horse.

And depending on how well she "handles" European black, she'll "handle" Kicking Horse fine, or have a blast.

The basic issue with Kicking Horse is its reds (blue for Canada) are really blacks in terms of steepness! Other than that, it's a fine place. There's a green, which is really a blue, down the top of the gondola that access a nice shallow bowl. Scenery on top is fantastic.

If you're prone to vertigo, don't go there when it's snowing.
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Pay special attention to the road just east of Field
Between Lake Louise and Kicking Horse

51.419589, -116.441534

In January it will probably a sloping black ice skating rink over the bridge.
This is not a super dual carriageway, as the road from Calgary to Lake Louise.
You can't really expect a logging truck to be able to pull up on that surface when they are coming down the hill, as you do a pirouette into the wall of the bridge.


I've only been through there a few times and twice I've seen bad crashes where pickups and cars have been mangled. We normally do the trip in a rear wheel drive van with winter tyres.

This is just the most dangerous section of road I know.

But ... I'm sure there are plenty of other dodgy spots.

Also be aware that a storm or avalanche can easily close these roads or passes.
And if conditions look doubtful its much better to spend an extra night in Banff or any town than risk getting stuck in what is a wilderness.

But have a great trip!
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We just have a trip from YYC to Fernie, Kimberley, Kicking horse, YYC last Feb. We rental a suv from Alamo, maybe cheapest one, with M+S tires and AWD, but haven't made a request for such specs.

(I have checked tripadvisor, someone said, she send email or make phonecall, neally all companies with M+S at winter)

As snow tires, sure, it's better. But, if needed, I would stay, wait, or, leave at least 6 hours earlier before a white out storm.
Same thinking even at the resort, they would close some lifts, close maybe half of skiing area, you have to line up a long time for the low speed chair. Rest, relax, recover, save and keep energy, better, fight for the second day, Laughing
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Sounds like a good trip. IMHO the difference between M&S tires and winter tires is that the compounds are different and winter tires not only have better grip in the snow but also in the cold, even on bare roads the stopping distance will be better with winter tires as they are made from materials that are more flexible in the cold . Pano gets a bad rap here. I really like it.

generally the roads are well ploughed
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We've done two road trips of three or four ski areas from Calgary, plus one from Kelowna. Also done a couple of car hire trips to Banff and its ski areas from Calgary; and Calgary to Fernie, with a day at each of Castle Mountain and Pass Powderkeg. Also once drove Calgary to Golden for a cat skiing trip nearby.

For the two road trips (Kelowna to Silver Star, Big White, Revelstoke and Castle Mountain, plus cat skiing near Revelstoke); and Calgary to Fairmont Hot Springs, Fernie, cat skiing near Fernie, Kimberley and Castle Mtn, I checked out car hire prices then just rang the operators' airport counters directly. No problems in guaranteeing cars with snow tyres with Avis and Dollar as a result - and at reasonable cost.

Have usually had clear roads and ok conditions but:

- Once got stuck in Golden with the Trans-Canada Highway closed for 24 hrs (avalanche danger) after a huge snowfall.
- Had some very tricky road conditions once the highway re-opened.
- Distances and the sheer emptiness and wilderness of British Columbia can come as a shock on your first visit. Think miles and miles of...nothing.
- Driving in the dark can be challenging - unlit roads with the muck thrown up affecting headlights and obliterating carriageway markings - making it sometimes hard to see (and follow) the nearside of the road. This can make for challenging drives that feel very long and require maximum concentration.

We enjoyed Panorama when we were there on a day trip from Banff a few years back now. Very big vertical and empty slopes. Some challenging terrain too.

Also enjoyed Kimberley a couple of years ago. Regarded as a families area but seriously underrated in my view - some decent steeps and challenging terrain.

Castle Mountain is definitely worth a look on the way from or to Calgary. Something of a cult, locals' mountain - slow lifts but a fun area with some good steeps.Cheap tickets if I recall correctly.

We had a disappointing time at Kicking Horse - there three days with the gondola closed due to wind. So saw practicallt nothing of the ski area - we just had to ride low level lifts before evacuating back towards Calgary as the Trans-Canada Highway was liable to close (again - see above ) due to heavy snow.

If in Fernie, there's a great daytours cat skiing operator nearby - ie Fernie Wilderness Adventures. We've done five days with them on two separate trips to Fernie and always had a brilliant time - fresh tracks on every run and some great terrain.

We've also skied Nakiska a couple of times. Not the biggest but a fun little area and great because it's only about an hour from Calgary Airport.

Finally...we've twice skied Canada Olympic Park - a tiny area of two lifts and man made snow (on a small, man made hill!) on the outskirts of Calgary. We're very easily pleased and will ski anywhere - so loved it as a result. Interesting Winter Olympics museum right next to the slopes - and you can also ski right next to the ski jump where Eddie the Eagle soared to fame and glory Very Happy.
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@mountainaddict, Ski jump is going to be dismantled this year. Pretty sad but its unusable for ski jumping now and costs too much to maintain. Sports Hall of Fame has been redone in a fab building and its pretty good now.

@Paul_Shanks, the road to golden does close a few times each winter. Ideally the 93 stays open, but not always.
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The black ice thing is apparently somewhat serious irrespective of vehicle and accessories and reputed to lurk around bridges like trolls. Mmm human burgers!

Apparently they have a TV programme about the Coquihalla: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highway_Thru_Hell
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And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
philwig, have seen some of that - good at times Madeye-Smiley
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