With the countdown to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games well underway, BC ski resorts have spent millions of dollars in the off-season ramping up improvements to infrastructure and facilities, building new lifts, opening new terrain, unveiling luxurious lodges, and introducing new programs that will cement the province’s reputation as a world leader in winter vacations. Whether you’re blasting down mile-long cruising runs at Whistler, slaloming through the snow ghosts at Big White, taking air at Kicking Horse, or revelling in hip-deep powder at Fernie, you’ll notice major improvements at virtually every resort in the province this winter.
To get to the summit, most skiers and boarders ride the lifts, and record-breaking visitation at BC resorts last winter gave the green light to some very exciting new lift plans at several resorts. Whistler Blackcomb (two hours north of Vancouver) is introducing a new high-speed detachable quad that will open up 1,000 acres of high alpine bowls and glades on Whistler Mountain. Known as the Symphony Amphitheatre, this lift will provide access to two of three peaks dubbed the Musical Bumps – Flute and Piccolo. The new Symphony Express quad will run to the Piccolo peak from the bottom of Flute Bowl – over 509 metres (1,670 feet) of vertical. Once the domain of boot-hikers and backcountry skiers, guests will now have high-speed lift access to this incredible area filled with vast bowls, deep snow, and gladed sub-alpine skiing.
Skiers and riders at Sun Peaks Resort (45 minutes northeast of Kamloops) will enjoy improved access with a new fixed grip quad chairlift servicing popular runs like Chute, Spillway, Green Door, Cariboo, Bluff, and others. Sun Peaks has also added a new East Village handle tow to link the new Umbrella Café in the East Village to the base of the Mt. Morrisey Express.
The next several years will see increased terrain and activity as Sun Peaks develops its new East Village hub. For 2007, four new intermediate runs on the lower part of Orient Ridge will facilitate access to East Village lodging that’s already in place. Similar to Mt. Morrisey, these runs will feature numerous tree islands to enhance the beauty of the ski experience and to keep the snow dry and fluffy.
A record-breaking year last season at Big White (45 minutes east of Kelowna) has resulted in construction of Canada’s longest six-passenger express chairlift. Starting just below Big White’s bustling ski-in/ski-out village, the $7 million CAD Snow Ghost Express will drastically reduce lift lines and whisk skiers and riders right to the powder-encrusted “snow ghosts” which have made Big White famous. This lift will augment the high-speed four passenger Ridge Rocket quad that’s already there, and virtually eliminate lineups during peak periods as skiers and riders fan out across the mountain.
This season, novices and beginners are sure to experience the red carpet treatment at several resorts. First-timers at Big White will appreciate the new Magic Carpet lift at the Happy Valley learning centre. This modern lift takes the fear out of riding a chair and helps make skiing and snowboarding for the newly enthused a breeze. This, coupled with an increased beginner area, will allow one to learn in a safe zone without having more advanced skiers whizzing by. Apex Mountain Resort (45 minutes west of Penticton) has renovated their beginner area; installing a new Magic Carpet lift and enlarging its Learning Centre. Beginners and families will bask in special attention at Sun Peaks as well – the new Kids Ranch animated theme park has dedicated terrain and fun features specially designed for kids three to 12 years old. Not to be outdone, Red Resort (approximately 30 minutes from Castlegar) has rolled out the “Red Carpet” lift for beginner skiers and riders as part of its new terrain expansion project.
The real-estate market has been on fire at resorts throughout BC. At Silver Star Mountain Resort (20 minutes east of Vernon), the instant sell-out of 49 homesites in the Alpine Meadows neighbourhood last year resulted in a new chairlift being installed to give skiers and snowboarders quick and easy access to their favourite terrain (including ‘local’s secret’ runs that were underutilized in the past). The Doppelmayr fixed-grip quad chairlift covers a vertical of 229 metres (750 feet) and is 743 metres (2,400 feet) in length. This new lift follows the destination’s Silver Woods expansion last year, which included a new high-speed detachable quad lift and opened up 10 brand new runs – hugely adding to the resort’s gladed terrain. Guests may also wish to check out the luxurious new Snowbird Lodge. Located right in Silver Star’s picturesque Victorian village, the lodge features “Club Snowbird” – several common area amenities such as a fitness room, private theatre, family lounge and kid’s playroom. And for those not necessarily in the market – but up for experiencing a touch of luxury – Kicking Horse Mountain Resort will open their 48-unit Palliser Lodge in time for the new season. This lavish locale is but a mere walk from Gondola Plaza, offering convenient ski-in/ski-out access for guests.
Backcountry and ungroomed, wild terrain proves a staple of several BC resorts. Red Mountain Resort will introduce The Mountain Project, a funky on-mountain facility that will be the hub of endless guiding options from in-bound day tours to overnight backcountry expeditions. Housed in a log cabin and furnished with a plasma TV, comfy couches, and a warm Tulikivi soapstone stove, the cabin will also host a “T-Bar” serving exotic tea blends. Mount Washington Alpine Resort (25 minutes from Courtenay/Comox, on Vancouver Island) successfully opened its Outback terrain last winter. Magnificent glade skiing, deep alpine bowls and steep drops are trademarks of this 400-acre riding paradise. Selective glading done this past summer has created more space between the Outback’s tree lines.
If you’re tempted to ski deep powder but don’t know where to begin, then head to Whitewater Resort for the first annual Kootenay Cold Smoke Powder Festival (February 23 – 26, 2007). Co-sponsored by Arc’teryx and Mountain Gear, this grass roots gathering is targeted to both experienced and debutante backcountry skiers and snowboarders. A variety of ‘safe skiing’ events will be held to celebrate backcountry skiing and culture.
In the Kootenay Rockies, the big news this year is a major expansion to the Cranbrook airport that will significantly increase access to Fernie, Kimberley, and Panorama. The airport’s runway will be extended to 8,000 feet to accommodate larger planes, including transcontinental and some European flights. To be renamed the Canadian Rockies International Airport, the terminal will also be expanded to 2,100 square metres.
Every skier and snowboarder yearns to discover a few local secrets. At Fernie Alpine Resort, the summer maintenance crews have been opening up new glades and cleaning up trails like Lynda’s Run, Steep and Deep, Cedar Ridge, Cedar Bowl, Easter Bowl, Currie Glades, Surprise Trees, Timber Bowl, Mitchy Chutes, and Morning Glory. Perfect for re-fueling during a day on the slopes, Fernie’s new Lost Boys Café, located at the top of the Timber Express Quad Chair, will provide nourishment amid a scenic setting. At Kimberley, extensive summer work took place on over 15 runs in the Easter (North Bowl) area. Both mountains will also have some new (yet un-named) glades. Befriend some locals and find some new stashes.
As the countdown to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games continues, even more improvements and upgrades to facilities will be taking place at BC resorts. Regional, national, and international competitions will be staged throughout the province, not just at Whistler-Blackcomb. At Sun Peaks, the Nancy Greene International Race Centre will host the legendary Austrian Ski Team for early season race training. Pre-season race training is also important to Panorama Mountain Village, located three hours south-west of Calgary. Innovative computer software for snowmaking has been installed, and a new Bombardier BR 350 grooming machine has been purchased, which will create more snow and better ski conditions. Big White Ski Resort has hosted many national-calibre snowboarding events, and will introduce a new freeride team to develop some of Canada’s hottest riders in the future. At Silver Star, the cross country centre for Nordic racing and biathlon will again host many national and international athletes, while the Air Style ramps and moguls course are due for upgrades over the next two seasons.
Whistler/Blackcomb: General Info: www.whistlerblackcomb.com
Sun Peaks Resort: General Info: www.sunpeaksresort.com
Big White Ski Resort: General Info: www.bigwhite.com
Silver Star Mountain Resort: General Info: www.skisilverstar.com
Apex Mountain Resort: General Info: www.apexresort.com
Red Mountain Resort: General Info: www.redresort.com
Mount Washington Alpine Resort: General Info: www.mountwashington.ca
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort: General Info: www.kickinghorseresort.com
Kimberley Alpine Resort: General Info: 250-427-4881, www.skikimberley.com
Fernie Alpine Resort: General Info: www.skifernie.com
Panorama Mountain Village: General Info: www.panoramaresort.com
Whitewater Winter Resort: General Info: www.skiwhitewater.com
Steven Threndyle is a freelance writer based in Kelowna, BC. Photographs courtesy of Tourism BC: Downhill Skiing Whistler by Randy Lincks (top), Sun Peaks Resort by Don Weixl (bottom)