Castle Mt., Alberta

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Published January 2000. This article does not reflect any lift upgrades or terrain expansions since then.

Terrain Ability






Castle Mt.






If you're the kind of skier who preferred Fernie when it was completely unknown and competition for powder was minimal, all is not lost. An hour and half across the Continental Divide from Fernie is Castle Mt., Alberta. At 2,800 vertical and 1,440 acres, Castle is currently similar in size, challenge and ambience to Fernie before its 1998-99 expansion. Only local skiers from the southern Alberta towns of Lethbridge and Pincher Creek patronized Castle, formerly known as Westcastle Park with 1,700 vertical and 400 acres prior to 1998-99. In its current configuration with the new Tamarack upper mountain lift, Castle is definitely worth the 2 1/2-hour day trip from Calgary, particularly for those skiers on their way to Fernie or other southern B.C. areas.

Lift Serviced














High Mths

Low Mths


Direction of Exposure





GE 90 in.

LT 30 in.

Base Depth





Castle Mt, Alb. 5,700











The topography and weather are quite different from Fernie on the Alberta side of the Divide. Quantity of snow is much less than Fernie but still greater than at the Banff areas. At 1,000 feet higher altitude than Fernie, snow quality is more consistent, with rain only occasionally at the base and rarely at the top. Castle's snow tends to fall in frequent storms of a few inches rather than in the big dumps more common west of the Divide.


There is a prevailing southwest wind, which tends to strip the snow from some aspects of the exposed terrain and accumulate 10-15 feet in other aspects. The top of Tamarack is situated in a leeward location so that it can remain open on most windy days. The east and south exposures are much less of a problem in Canada than in U.S. ski areas. A sustained warm spell in spring might limit the skiing on the steepest south-facing slopes, up to 20% of Castle's terrain.


Terrain Type:


Cruising: Most of the mountain has a consistent upper intermediate to advanced fall line. However, only North Run, South Run and Sundown on the lower half of the mountain are consistently groomed. With the open terrain and low skier density, you can cruise at relatively high speed in ungroomed snow over expansive upper mountain areas like Sheriff and Outlaw on the north side of Tamarack chair, or Drifter, a broad east facing fall line starting a few hundred feet south of the lift. Mid-fat skis can help make this an exhilarating experience.


Moguls: Some of the steeper areas near the lower lifts, such as Shotgun and The Burn, have good bumps. Most of the terrain does not get enough traffic to develop moguls.


Steeps: The steepest runs are the numerous double-blacks on the south side of the upper mountain. Stay high on the catwalk heading southwest (usually into the wind) to get there. While wind stripping may be evident on the traverse, once you drop in the runs will usually have plenty of blown-in snow.


Wide Open Spaces: The picture of the Tamarack upper chair area is representative of about 75% of Castle's terrain, mostly subalpine with occasional stunted and widely spaced trees. Huckleberry Ridge will have the best upper mountain visibility in cloudy or stormy weather.


Trees: Only the lower quarter of the mountain is forested. Most of the glade skiing drops to skier's right off the North Run trail. On the upper mountain, there are some short and steep but very widely spaced glades dropping to skier's left from Huckleberry Ridge.


Powder: With the wind deposits, frequent snow flurries and extremely low skier density, there is usually a powder surface somewhere if you know your way around. Snow host tours are offered at 1PM midweek and 3 times a day on weekends. Our hosts located a completely untracked shot of about 500 vertical at 1:45PM on a Sunday afternoon. With the wide open terrain, it is not very difficult for visiting skiers to observe where the deepest snow is after just a few runs.


Hiking and Backcountry: Skiers can traverse and hike a short distance north from Tamarack and ski nearly 3,000 vertical into an adjoining canyon if you can find a local guide to navigate and arrange shuttle pickup. While skiing the south expert runs, you can observe a few steep north facing chutes across the intervening canyon. The ridgeline above these cliffs is the possible future site of a new intermediate chairlift.


Crowds: Despite having just two fixed grip chairs plus one T-bar to service most of the runs, lift lines are minimal. Most visiting skiers will never have seen an area with skier density this low. Lift ticket sales rose from 60,000 to 80,000 for the 1998-99 season with the terrain expansion.


Intermediates: Castle has a continuous and consistent fall line similar to Sun Valley. Since much less of the mountain is groomed, upper intermediates will benefit greatly from mid-fat skis to handle the variable snow conditions. Lower intermediates may be out of their league on over half the terrain at Castle.


Novices: There is a tiny bunny slope with a 165 vertical T-bar: not an ideal place for beginners.


Children: Entirely dependent on ability. They should be comfortable on red rated runs and be willing to ski ungroomed snow.


There is a day lodge and rental shop at the base of the mountain. For lunch, don't miss the homemade crisp crust pizza at the Pub 'n Grub restaurant.


There are several private cabins at the base of Castle Mt., but most lodging for visiting skiers is in Pincher Creek, half an hour away. There are a few bed-and-breakfast lodges between Castle and Pincher Creek. With the lack of resort infrastructure, Castle is likely to remain quiet and unspoiled, with perhaps a modest increase in day skier visits from Calgary.