There aren't many great undiscovered ski resorts left in the world, but Big White ski resort is one them.
A purpose built ski village in the heart of Canada's British Columbia province, Big White is a totally ski-in/ski-out wintersports destination. In addition to the doorstep skiing all facilities of the modern resort are within walking distance. As with many North American ski resorts the vertical drops are relatively short, but the efficient lift system gets you up the mountain quickly.
Big White is located in the Monashee mountain range in Canada's Okanagan. This area of lakes and rolling hills is famous locally for mild temperatures, ice wine and champagne powder. Snowfall is plentiful with historical records showing an average of 24 feet (7 metres) each winter.
Thanks to the sunny, dry climate the area typically enjoys the snow is fine and light and responsible for creating the resort's world famous 'snow ghosts'. When to go? February is a good choice. While European ski resorts are in the grip of school half term fever, Big White is relatively quiet: the March spring break is the resort's peak holiday period.
Challenging tree skiing, kilometres of pristine corduroy pistes and five powder bowls, make up the 2,765 acre ski area. Big White's attractive mix of gladed and open terrain offers every type of skiing for every level of skier. The predominantly west-facing slopes are snow certain: the absence of snow-making facilities, other than for the TELUS terrain park, is testament to the resort's reliable snowfall record. For cross-country enthusiasts the Nordic ski trails, running through pretty pine forests, measure a total 25kms.
Temperatures are rarely as cold as those associated with ski resorts in the Canadian Rockies and the area is blessed with more sunny days than coastal ski resorts such as Whistler. Like most Canadian ski resorts Big White closes in early April, whatever the conditions, when thoughts turn to mountain biking and golf.
Discover the Big White ski area with a complimentary orientation tour from a Big White Snow Host. Tours meet near the Village Centre Mall at 9:30am and 1:30pm daily (001 250 491 6111). Ask the hosts to show you the Big White 'snow ghosts', a local phenomenon created when the area's light and dry snow falls and settles on the trees high up in the ski area freezing to form a stunning forest of frozen spectres.
Intermountain shuttle buses run a day trip every Tuesday and Thursday between Big White and the nearby ski resort of Silver Star, a popular choice for local snowboarders. Departures are at 7am, returning at 4pm.
Ski lifts run in logical vertical lines up the mountain, in a snakes and ladders formation from Gem Lake at the western end to the Black Forest Express. Big White's lift system is one of North America's most modern. The Snow Ghost Express 6-man chairlift was added in late 2006 and runs alongside the Ridge Rocket Express on the left edge of the ski village. Together they guarantee almost no lift lines to get up the mountain from the village.
As with most North American ski resorts the skiing day ends early and the last lift closes around 3:30pm. There's night skiing from 5-8pm every Tuesday and Sunday from the Bullet Express chairlift and 3:30-8pm Tuesday to Saturday on the Plaza chairlift adds on more ski time.
Lift passes can be bought at four points: the Village Centre Mall, the Happy Valley Day Lodge, the Ridge Day Lodge and the Gem Lake Warming Hut (001 250 491 6121). Children aged 5 and under ski for free and there are discounts for children aged 6 to 12 years old, teenagers up to 18 years and seniors over 65 years. The lift pass also includes a day's skiing in Silver Star. Lift pass discounts are also available when booked with resort accommodation through the Central Reservations.
Absolute beginners should head to Happy Valley, below the main resort, where two Magic Carpets take away the pain of getting on and off ski lifts. Nearer the resort the easy greens of Hummingbird and Woodcutter are the ideal slopes for first tentative turns. Beyond the nursery slopes, every lift offers the option of an easy (green) run so beginners wanting to get a few miles under their ski belts can fully explore the ski area.
The terrain off the T-Bar near the summit of the resort is popular with beginners because it is above tree line and provides tremendous views of the valley below.
Big White prides itself on well-groomed pistes and the velvet corduroy on offer is ideal for intermediates. Cross the entire ski area to reach gladed runs above Gem Lake, longer and often quieter than the trails directly above the resort. The Gem Lake lift offers the largest single-lift vertical drop in the area: the 710 metres long Kalina's Rainbow ends at the Westridge Warming Hut, where you can stop for a restorative coffee and chocolate bar.
Follow-up with a few runs down the blue trails of Snowy, Blue Ribbon and Blue Sapphire before taking on the challenge of the diamond black trails. Join the monthly 'Cruz the Blues' event during which skiers are challenged to ski all of Big White's intermediate runs during two days.
The Cliff is an entirely ungroomed section of the ski area. Expert skiers can pick a line, any line, down the curving bowl reached from the top of the Cliff chair. The gradient is double diamond black from top to bottom and there are few trees or natural obstacles to interrupt your descent.
Once you've exhausted the options at the Cliff head to Gem Lake, at the far side of Big White, to reach the ski area's longest trails. The Playground trail from the top of the Gem Lake Express is the only double diamond black away from the Cliff area. The ungroomed Sun-Rype bowl is another option, though conditions can be testing and the snow a little crusty when it lives up to its name.
Off-piste enthusiasts will enjoy skiing in the fine, dry powder that falls on the Monashee mountains and nicknamed 'Hero Snow' by the locals.
Designed with progression in mind the park has a series of increasingly more challenging features from "small" through to "x-large" including a Boarder and Skier Cross track, a 44ft half-pipe and an Olympic-sized Super Pipe. The park has its own access lift and is floodlit for night-time sessions on the snow.
Big White offers cafeterias in the Ridge Day Lodge and Happy Valley Day lodge. The food is standard ski lodge fare. However, the bulk of the more upscale dining options are located in the village core. Menus tend to be weighted towards traditional Canadian fare - local beef and seafood.
Modern and thoughtfully developed the Big White village deserves its status as Canada's most family friendly resort. Though the resort will never rival more traditional mountain villages for authentic charm the purpose built lodges and holiday facilities are attractive. Still relatively new, the gaps in between existing developments will be filled in over the coming years to give the resort a more wholesome feel. Expect a Southern hemisphere feel: Big White is Australian owned and a sizeable proportion of the resort staff hail from 'down under'.
The Village Centre Mall in the centre of the resort is the resort's main hub and the place to head for all your holiday essentials. Home to the Central Reservations for accommodation, you can also buy lift passes, book ski and board lessons, rent equipment, shop for wintersports gear or stop for a bite to eat. Families are the visible majority in Big White and the resort's off-slope attractions are visibly biased towards them. The resort runs a series of organised events throughout the week, including movie and carnival nights for the young and young-at-heart. Pick up a copy of the weekly programme in the Village Day Centre.
Big White apres-ski has a strong family focus with daily activities in the Village Centre Mall. For something a little stronger don't miss the famous 'gunbarrel coffee' served daily at Snowshoe Sam's, the main apres-ski bar.
Best known for its lively evenings, Sam's Pub has regularly been voted No. 1 Ski Bar in North America. An adult-only venue, there are twenty beers on tap, live bands or DJ and late snacks are also available. The restaurant above the pub serves full and continental breakfasts, lunch and dinner. Open from 11am until 1am daily. Tel: +1 250 765 5959 (Pub).
The ideal place to grab a coffee while you sort out equipment hire and lift passes, Beano's in the Village Centre Mall does a roaring trade in breakfast muffins, sandwiches and soup, all available to take-away. Open daily 7am-9pm. Tel: +1 250 491 3558.
On the lower level of the Village Centre Mall and open 8am-5pm a canteen style bakery serving a selection of cold patisseries and cakes and hot pies with bread baked fresh daily. Tel: +1 205 491 3575.
Carvers in The Inn at Big White, is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner from 7am-10pm daily. The south-facing terrace is a popular spot for watching the sun set on the Monashee mountain range. Tel: +1 250 491 2009.
A slope-side restaurant in the White Crystal Inn, head to the Copper Kettle Grille for Canadian and international cuisine. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Tel: +1 250 491 8122.
Chinese food has been served here for over 19 years, with a buffet on Friday and Saturday nights and a take-away service available all day. Tel: +1 250 765 7866.
Located in Happy Valley, excellent steak, fish and vegetarian dishes are complimented by local Okanagan wines. Tel: +1 250 491 0130.
A casual, family-friendly bistro by day with a menu of snacks, cake and coffees, the Loose Moose in the Happy Valley Day Lodge runs a full restaurant service in the evenings. Tel: +1 250 491 6154.
Fire-grilled food is the speciality at Pappas Roasters in the Whitefoot Lodge. Open from 11am daily. A take-away service is also available. Tel: +1 250 807 2407.
For weekend entertainment head to the Snow Ghost lounge next door to the Copper Kettle Grille in the White Crystal Inn.
Best known for its lively evenings, Sam's Dining Room (above the Pub) serves full and continental breakfasts, lunch and dinner. Finish off your meal with a flaming "Gunbarrel" coffee, before moving downstairs to the Pub, regularly voted No. 1 Ski Bar in North America. Open from 11am daily. Tel: +1 250 765 1416 (Dining).
Diners are greeted by a life-size Grizzly in the Chateau Big White, in the resort centre. European cuisine and Swiss-fondues are on offer for evening diners, while breakfast and lunch are also available. Open 8am to 10pm daily. Tel: +1 250 491 7750.
On the lower level of the Village Centre Mall, next to the bakery, gourmet pizzas are cooked fresh to order eat-in or take-away from 5pm to 11pm daily. Tel: +1 250 491 3575.
Happy Valley is the base for many of Big White's other activities. The Mega Snow Coaster, by Lara's Gondola, is North America's largest ski resort tubing park. The guided snowmobiling tours are a great way to see the forest trails and back country of the ski area, with 'Mini-Z' snowmobiles available for children. Big White's ice-rink is Canada's largest natural skating rink, with a beautiful setting among the pine forest. Husky-dog sledding offers a real Canadian experience, or for something under your speed snowshoeing tours are also available. Non-skiers can also experience the ski area with a ride in a Sno-Limo. Book all activities at the Activities and Information Centre in the Village Centre Mall. Tel: +1 250 491 6111.
The Beyond Wrapture Day Spa & Retreat in the Chateau at Big White offers a variety of different massage and beauty treatments for those in need of some TLC. Tel: +1250 448 8899. Web: www.beyondwrapture.com.
For more information contact the Tourist Office in Big White:
Big White Tourist Office
Tel: +1 250 765 3101