BC’s Resorts Suit Up for Another Season of Exceptional Snow

By Steven Threndyle   HelloBC

Last year it was all about the snow - and there was plenty of it.

Coming off an incredible season, with above-average, and in some cases near-record snowfalls across the province (including over 46 feet at Whistler Blackcomb), BC’s destinations are hoping for a repeat of last year’s epic snow. And with the Vancouver 2010 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games on the horizon, the province’s resorts are focusing on improvements and upgrades to ensure that all is in order when British Columbia welcomes the world in two and a half years.

In The Kootenay Rockies, access is everything. And with the recent installation of a new shuttle service along the region’s famed Powder Highway, making tracks at some of Canada’s finest downhill ski destinations just got a whole lot easier. The service, provided by Mountain Perks Destination Management, will link Fernie Alpine Resort, Kimberley Alpine Resort, Panorama Mountain Village and Kicking Horse Mountain Resort with a weekly shuttle throughout the ski season. Red Mountain Resort, Whitewater Ski Resort, Revelstoke Mountain Resort, and Fairmont Hot Springs Resort, along with 47 backcountry operators offering snow-cat skiing, heli skiing, backcountry touring and nordic adventures, can also be discovered along the Powder Highway’s scenic expanse.

More big news is brewing in the Kootenay Rockies, thanks to a new mountain destination resort setting up digs in the snow-rich region. Revelstoke Mountain Resort, currently under construction on the slopes of Mt. Mackenzie just south of town, promises a much-anticipated kick off to the 2007/2008 season. With an eight-passenger gondola and an express quad chairlift providing quick access to over 4,700 vertical feet of skiing and riding on over 1,500 acres of skiable terrain, skiers will carve tracks amid new territory with ease. Future plans call for over 100 runs and an added 1,000 feet of vertical to an even 6,000 vertical feet – the highest in North America.

East on the Trans-Canada, near Golden, two and a half hours west of Calgary, is much-lauded Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. Long known as one of British Columbia's premier destinations for expert powderhounds, this season they’re taming the 'wild side' of the 'Horse – but just a bit. New this year, the resort has fashioned a kid-friendly zone dubbed the Horse Play Corral, spanning over 10 acres and featuring contour grooming, a slow skiing and learning area, and kids’ play trails. At a more elevated locale on the mountain, Kicking Horse lends intermediate skiers a hand by providing improved access into Bowl Over. Skiers and riders can now descend a groomed intermediate trail to the lower mountain and access some of the longest cruising runs in North America.

South of Golden on Highway 93, and into the heart of the Kootenay Rockies, Panorama Mountain Village beckons. Making a return to the circuit this season, Panorama hosts two FIS Alpine World Cup ski races on its Hay Fever and Old Timer runs, November 24th and 25th (prior to the mountain’s official opening to the public on December 7th). To prep for the occasion, Hay Fever will boast a new snowmaking system to ensure increased snow coverage, and the run has been widened to meet FIS standards and accommodate the impending influx of racers.

Air access to the resorts in the Kootenay Rockies through Cranbrook will be greatly improved later this winter when the newly dubbed Canadian Rockies International Airport is completed. A longer runway – suitable for carrying larger aircraft from major cities – and a refurbished terminal building will await incoming passengers. A mere 20 minute shuttle from the Canadian Rockies International Airport, Kimberley Alpine Resort stakes its claim as the closest major ski resort to the new terminal. Last season, the resort experienced epic snowfall, and an off-season glading program has greatly expanded the tree skiing to ramp up the destination’s adventure terrain. On the real estate front, Kimberley is proving a hot winter destination with over $200 million in projects currently in the works both on the mountain and the surrounding area.

In the southeast corner of the province, Fernie Alpine Resort, an hour and fifteen minutes east of Cranbrook, is home to the legendary Griz Bar, a favourite among BC’s après ski watering holes. Recently named one of the top five ski resorts in America by Skiing magazine, Fernie is gearing up for the season with ongoing brush-clearing - ensuring outstanding tree skiing at the snow-packed haven. For a real mountaintop high, skiers can re-fuel at the Lost Boys Café, opened last December, before tackling the resort’s legendary terrain.

While Red Mountain Resort, 30 minutes from Castlegar, may be western Canada’s oldest alpine destination, its new owners are ensuring that Red is on the cutting edge of innovative resort development. For the 2007/08 season, a fixed-grip quad chairlift replaces the current Silverlode chair on Granite Mountain, and the chair has been realigned to open up beginner and intermediate terrain, which spans one hundred acres. Further improvements include an upgraded terrain park which features a sound system and skier/boarder cross track, while the magic carpet beginner lift has been moved to improve access to beginner terrain.

Less than 30 minutes from scenic Nelson is where you'll find Whitewater, a powder skier's dream. With over 40 feet of snow annually and a 5,400 foot base elevation, Whitewater attracts a certain breed of skier. And in February, the resort plays host to the 2nd annual Kootenay Cold Smoke Festival focusing on backcountry skill improvement and safety, plus the chance to demo next year's powder gear.

Heading west into the Thompson Okanagan, one discovers Mount Baldy (one hour east of Osoyoos). Here, new ownership has the industry abuzz with their work on a pioneering plan that could see up to eight lifts and 2,000 acres of terrain opened up in the future. This season, the new Sugar Lump chair will provide access to nine new runs. And for those interested in winter fun outside of the box, here’s a quirky fact: Baldy is the only destination in Canada where one can tee up for Frisbee golf in the winter months.

Though the Olympics are still two years away, Apex Mountain Resort, 20 minutes west of Penticton, is home to the Canadian Aerial Team, who utilize Apex as their primary training ground. For the 2007/2008 season, Apex has tripled its snowmaking output to help accommodate early-season training and, of course, local skiers and riders love it, too.

In the heart of the Okanagan, just an hour east of Kelowna, the motto at Big White Ski Resort is 'it's the snow' – thanks to over 24 feet of champagne powder which falls annually. This season, a permanent recreational racing course on Lower Speculation is sure to prove popular. And for those looking for a bit of action off the slopes, ask about the Big White VIP card that offers discounts at a wide variety of shops and restaurants when booking through Big White Central Reservations.

North of Big White, Silver Star Ski Resort, 20 minutes east of Vernon, celebrates a big milestone this season, as it turns the big 5-0. While merriment is sure to be the focus on the slopes, Silver Star ensures that the improvements keep coming. Slope maintenance has always been top-notch at Silver Star, and it’s sure to be even better this winter with a new Pisten-Bully machine to tame the resort’s wild backside. In addition, the Silver Queen chairlift has been replaced by a new fixed-grip quad that will improve access from the Ridge neighbourhood.

The snow is so reliable at Sun Peaks Resort, 45 minutes northeast of Kamloops, that the legendary Austrian ski team heads there each year for early season training. Set to open its doors this season, the Delta Residences at Sun Peaks Resort is a 41-suite hotel featuring fully-furnished one and two bedroom luxury condominiums. This new development will add to the already extensive services in Sun Peaks village with the opening of new restaurants and cafes, expanded shopping options including a grocery store, a cold beer and wine store, and a high-performance rental shop.

Aside from the upcoming Olympics, the big buzz at Whistler Blackcomb, two hours north of Vancouver, is the construction of the Peak to Peak Gondola that will unite the two mountains. Set to open December 2008, and supported by only four towers, the gondola will travel 4.4 kilometres (2.73 miles) in just 11 minutes - reaching a highest vertical point of 415 metres (1,361 feet) above Fitzsimmons Creek. The footings for the terminal sites and two of the four towers were poured this fall. On slope, this season will see plenty of competition February 18 – 24, 2008, as Whistler plays host to two World Cup races on the very slopes that will be utilized for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Over on Vancouver Island at Mount Washington (30 minutes from Courtenay), it’s all about illumination – thanks to their newly expanded night skiing. With two runs fully lit from the top of Whiskey Jack down to the base area, skiers and snowboarders will revel in the action once the sun goes down. Plus, newly-created glades near the Hawk 6-pack chairlift will prove a “must ski” on those legendary Mount Washington powder days.

With the countdown to 2010 ticking away, BC’s winter resorts continue to do their part to step up levels of service and ensure the ultimate guest experience, year after year. And guess what? In the time that it took you to read this story, the clock just moved twenty minutes closer to the February, 2010 opening of the Games.

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