Skiing in British ColumbiaBritish Columbia’s ski resorts offer unmatched variety of terrain, uncrowded slopes and friendly service. Few places in the world can compare to Canada’s most western province, where you can experience some of the best skiing and boarding on the planet including the highest concentration of cat-skiing and heli-skiing operators in the world.
Big White is renowned for snow quality and sunny skies. Awarded ‘Best Powder’ by Ski Magazine in 2008 and rated one of the Top 5 Family Ski Resorts in the World by the Sunday Times, Big White is situated in BC’s picturesque Okanagan region. The snow crusted trees (locally known as ‘snow ghosts’) have become a symbol for the resort and create an extraordinary backdrop to the slopes. The resort is conveniently located less than an hour’s drive from Kelowna International Airport. Big White is Canada’s largest ski-in ski-out resort, with all accommodation at slope side. A variety of options are available for your stay, from luxurious self contained homes with hot tubs to condominiums and hotel suites. An excellent choice for families, Big White’s terrain is over 70% beginner and intermediate with more challenging runs in The Cliff zone. Many of the blue and black groomed runs have snow-filled glades to the side, allowing mixed ability groups to ski together.
In the south eastern corner of British Columbia, nestled on the doorstep of the Rocky Mountains lies the town and resort of Fernie. Like other resorts in the Rockies, Fernie receives less snow than coastal and interior BC but it always falls as light, dry powder. Add to that the extensive expert terrain in five alpine bowls, all accessed with minimal traversing and you have a tasty recipe for advanced skiers and snowboarders. The base of the mountain has an extensive learning area with wide, easy rolling groomers that are fun for those on their first few days on skis. For those not looking for extreme descents but wishing to sample the alpine bowls, the Lizard and Cedar bowls have many intermediate routes. With a good selection of ski-in, ski-out accommodation at competitive rates, Fernie represents excellent value for money. While being somewhat removed from major cities, the drive to Fernie is one of the most picturesque in the province.
Nestled at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, the industrial town of Golden has in the last few years begun to take on a new identity. The development of Kicking Horse Mountain Resort has helped Golden become an all-year-round destination. While there has been much residential and commercial development at the base of the mountain, the most exciting expansion has taken place in the high alpine. New for the 2010/2011 season (after years as a backcountry zone) the fabled Super Bowl is now within the expanded resort boundary. Over 15 advanced and expert chutes now compliment the steep and technical lines on CPR Ridge as well as the open bowl skiing of Redemption Ridge and Feuz bowl. While drawing a big crowd of advanced/expert skiers, Kicking Horse also has terrain for intermediates and beginners, a terrain park and plenty of steep rolling groomers.
Some of the best tree skiing in the world exists in British Columba, and nowhere in the province is the snow as deep as in the trees of Mt Washington. The storms rolling in from the Pacific Ocean hit Vancouver Island first before moving east to Whistler and the rest of the province. As a result Mt Washington consistently receives the largest annual snowfall of anywhere in Canada, an average of over 10.5m. When the storms clear you are greeted with views of Strathcona Provincial Park and the Pacific Ocean. Almost all of Mt Washington’s hillside accommodation is ski-in, ski-out, something not as common in North America as in Europe. The two terrain parks (as well two groomed runs) are open for night skiing several nights a week. While all the terrain at Mt Washington is at tree line, there are plenty of challenging chutes and cliffs in the Outback zone, accessed from the Boomerang Chair.
Panorama sits between the Rockies and the Purcell Range near Invermere, a 3½ hour drive from Calgary International Airport. With over 4,000 feet of vertical, Panorama reveals its true character once you reach the top of the Summit Quad chair. Taynton Bowl and the Extreme Dream zone have challenging chutes and steep descents for experts. The grand view of the surrounding Bugaboo mountain ranges makes skiing these bowls all the more exhilarating. RK Heliski opens up the surrounding Bugaboo Range at a competitive price per day and helisksiers staying at Panorama will always have the option of skiing resort terrain if the weather is unsuitable for flying. On hill accommodation is available at Panorama Village with many units being ski in ski out.
Red Mountain began as a mining community in the 1890’s when gold-seeking Scandinavians brought their love of skiing to town and formed the Rossland Ski Club and the town of Rossland remains one of the hidden gems of BC ski towns. Red Mountain is all about the tree skiing. While the snowpack may not exceed that of Mt Washington, the snow quality is light and dry. The Motherlode is an old school fixed double chair and while taking its time to reach the top, it accesses almost every run (groomed and off-piste) on Granite Mountain. The treed terrain varies from rolling and flowing to steep and technical. Nearby Mt Roberts is accessible by hiking but is beyond boundary meaning you need to be equipped for self rescue. The infrastructure is on its way up at this humble resort. Slope side accommodation is expanding and the new Mountain Project snow sports center offers instructing and guidance for both the mountain and backcountry.
For years Revelstoke was strictly a cat and heli-ski destination. Selkirk Tangiers Heli Skiing has long had a reputation for delivering a first class mechanised backcountry experience, but since 2008 the legendary terrain of Mt Mackenzie has been open to resort skiers. Big mountain skiing is what they’re about at Revelstoke. No terrain parks, very few beginner runs and seemingly endless off piste areas. The North Bowl is the venue for the Freeskiing World Tour and has some of the most challenging terrain in BC. Get up there early if you want to get fresh tracks with the locals though. The town of Revelstoke is low key much like most towns in British Columbia’s interior, but Revelstoke Mountain Resort has plans to develop the resort base into a full functioning village centre. Hotels, condominiums, shops and pedestrian walkways are on the list, as is the infrastructure to accommodate cat, heli and lift services all from the one base.
Another of the Okanagan family favourites, Silverstar has plenty of intermediate terrain and exciting tree skiing. What makes Silverstar so unique is the colourful Victorian village at the base of the resort. All the lodges, accommodations and restaurants are painted in bright pastel colors adding to the visual character of the village. The closest town is Vernon and Kelowna airport is less than an hour away. Silverstar has excellent lift service with a six-pack and two high speed quad lifts. While the intermediates will enjoy the rolling groomers off the summit, on deeper days the advanced/expert skiers will enjoy the veritable playground around the Powder Gulch Express. There is a well designed terrain park for snowboarders and freestylers, as well as an excellent Nordic trail network for those looking for cross country skiing.
With the third largest skiing acreage in Canada, Sun Peaks is known affectionately as ‘Little Whistler’. The resort stretches over three mountains (Tod, Morrissey and Sundance) all with distinct character. Much of the advanced terrain is accessed by the Sunburst Express and Burfield quad on Tod Mountain. Sundance is suitable for the beginner crowd and Morrissey is perfect for the intermediates. The picturesque village can be skied through and all developments are being undertaken to remain sustainable. Sun Peaks prides itself on Environmentally Responsible Tourism, for which it has received an award. There are currently only 6000 beds available at the resort but the shortage is being addressed with over 18,000 beds being added in future developments. Sunpeaks is easily accessed from Kamloops with a 45 minute drive. The closest major airport is Kelowna 2.5 hours drive away.
Whistler is arguably now the world’s capital of skiing. Nowhere else in the world can you find a winter resort that compares in size, grandeur and infra structure. Whistler is where records are broken and standards are set. The sheer size of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains dwarfs any other ski area in North America. The new Peak 2 Peak Gondola now links both mountains allowing unobstructed access to both alpine areas. The formidable alpine terrain on these mountains is complimented by gladed tree runs, immaculately groomed slopes and plenty of space for beginners and intermediates. The other side of Whistler’s identity is the town itself. With a bustling nightlife of literally hundreds of bars, there is no shortage of après skis long into the night. There are also dozens of retailers, restaurants, spas; anything you need in a ski town is in Whistler.
Like nearby Rossland, the town of Nelson has a strong mining history and a distinct ski culture influenced by decades of dedicated local skiers. Whitewater sits on the old Silverking mine site and is serviced by just two ageing double chairs. The attraction of Whitewater is its snowfall; the storms that hit this area of the Selkirk Mountains can bring up to 1200cm per year! There is an abundance of tree skiing at this tiny resort. If you are backcountry equipped you can access the high alpine of Ymir peak, considered to be some of the most challenging terrain in the region. The Silverking Chair accesses the more intermediate runs while the Summit Chair gets you into the steep and technical zones. The infrastructure at Whitewater reflects the community’s desire to keep its rustic charm. The new owners of the resort, Knee Deep Development are planning to expand the terrain and facilities but will work with the community to retain Whitewater’s identity – Pure, Simple and Real…Deep!