The big news out of British Columbia is the purchase of Whistler Mountain by Intrawest, owner of Blackcomb Mountain next door, and the largest ski operator on the continent.
In another interesting development, the sleeper ski area - Fernie Snow Valley - was bought by Alberta’s biggest ski resort, Ski Louise.
Old news, but still good news for American skiers, is the favorable exchange rate: The strong U.S. dollar cuts almost one-third off the price of everything from lifts and lodging to meals and entertainment.
Most of the British Columbian areas intend to be open early December, but conditions dictate openings.
Whistler Mountain/Blackcomb Mountain
Whistler and Blackcomb mirrored each other for years, and now they are joined at the financial hip of Intrawest. The new unity of resources, skill and vision will keep the two resorts’ skiers coming back at a phenomenal 1.7 million skier visits a year.
Truly world-class mountains, the full-service villages, international cuisine and annual snowfall counted in feet instead of inches show why Whistler and Blackcomb top the list of America’s favorite places to ski.
The Whistler/Blackcomb complex is comprised of two very vertical mountains in British Columbia’s Coastal Mountain Range. Snow hits these two mountains early, late and all winter long, leaving skiers with access to the highest vertical drops on the continent. Whistler’s 5,020 vertical feet and Blackcomb’s 5,280 drop skiers down chutes like the Couloir Extreme, as well as less intimidating runs for beginners and intermediates.
New at Whistler this year are two high-speed Doppelmayr lifts - Emerald Express and Big Red Express - to replace Redline and Green Chair. Over $1 million is being invested in snowmaking facilities for the World Cup Downhill and Super G course.
New at Blackcomb is an expanded terrain park with snowmaking, and new Pipe Dragon groomer and new sound system. Blackcomb also begins the season with 70 new acres in the Catskinner and Crystal zones.
Information: Whistler Village is 120k north of Vancouver, British Columbia. Tickets (all tickets this year are good at both mountains): adult $55 (all prices Canadian); youth and senior (65+) $47; child (6-12) $27. Day care: The Nanny Network charges $10 per hour; reservations necessary at (604) 938-2823. Lessons: group $40; private $72 per hour; (888) 588-3434. Nordic: Lost Lake Nordic grooms more than 28k; $10 adult, $5 juniors. Phone: (800) WHISTLER. Reservations: (800) 944-7853. Snow phone: (604) 932-4191. Web site: whistlerresort.com.
Silver Star Mountain
With a place that averages 18 feet of snowfall a winter comes plenty of skiing on what Silver Star says are its 480 hectares (1,200 acres) of skiable terrain. Silver Star, the third largest British Columbian ski area, stepped into the era of high-speed quads a couple years ago, and now offers two speedsters to transport skiers over the 2,500-foot vertical rise. Two other slower lifts access great skiing, as well. New at Silver Star is the Delta Hotel slated to open New Years; (800) 610-0805.
Silver Star skiers never ski on artificial snow, something the locals are proud of. Also, Silver Star is rarely burdened with fog. By mid-October, Silver Star had a two-foot base.
Information: 474k (285 miles) north of Spokane off Highway 97, 20k from Vernon. Tickets: adult $45 (Canadian); youth (13-18) $38; child (6-12) $23; senior (65-69) $31. Day care: 18 months-8 years, $7 per hour or $35 per day; reservations required, (250) 558-6028. Lessons: group $27; private $47 per hour. Nordic: Silver Star Mountain’s Cross Country Centre offers 35k of groomed and tracked trails; adult $10; child $6. Phone: (250) 542-0224. Reservations: (800) 663-4431. Snow phone: (250) 542-1745. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Web site silverstarmtn.com.
The Okanagan Valley is blessed with world-renown fruit harvests and some of the credit goes to the plentiful snow that begins falling in October. And in the lower Okanagan Valley, skiers at Apex Resort near Penticton expect and receive plenty of sunshine along with that snow.
New owners, a consortium of locals, took over operations of Apex in October and announced a $5 reduction in the price of an adult lift ticket.
Guests to Apex should join the Apex Mountain Hosts for a free tour of favorite trails. The Hosts leave the Village area at 10 a.m and 1 p.m. daily. After cruising the 56 trails of Apex’s 550 skiable acres, visitors find a nightly parade of activities such as sleigh rides, casino nights, back-country snowmobile treks and more. Or they go night-skiing on Apex’s slopes or groomed Nordic trails.
Information: located 30 minutes from Penticton. Tickets: adult $33 (Canadian); teen (13-18) $31; junior (8-12) $22; senior (65+0) $25; under 7 free. Multi-day discounts available. Day care: The KidSpree Vacation Club offers a full program of arts, crafts, movies and special evening excursions for kids age 18 months to 12 years for $35 per day. Lessons: group $27; private $44. Nordic: In Apex Village, 12k (1k of night skiing); free; another 40k nearby. Phone: (250) 492-2880 or (250) 292-8111. Reservations: (800) 387-APEX. Snow phone: (250) 492-292. E-mail: email@example.com; Web site apexresort.com
Big White is also among the few remaining ski areas that does not supplement slopes with snowmaking. No need, because at Big White, a 750cm snow depth is the average. That’s 24-1/2 feet! Locally they call it “hero snow” because it’s so easy to carve through the light and dry fluff.
The new Gem Lake Express takes skiers and riders to endless powder tree lines. This year, Big White offers its new Canadian Airlines Snowboard Academy with training programs for all levels of riders. Riders can try the new half pipe under the night-ski lights. Also new this winter and scheduled to open late December is the Coast Resort Hotel in the heart of the Big White village.
Information: Located 283 miles northwest of Spokane via Highway 395, Canada Highways 3 and 33 at Kelowna. Tickets: adult $46 (Canadian); youth (13-18) $38; junior (6-12) $24; senior (65-69) $33; multiday pass discounts available. Day care: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. for 18 months to 6 years; $8 per hour, $35 per day. Lessons: group $30; private $46 per hour. Nordic: 25k of Nordic trails: free. Phone: (250) 765-3101. Reservations: (800) 663-2772. Snow phone: (250) 765-SNOW. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Web site bigwhite.com
Red Mountain is one of the oldest and best know ski areas in British Columbia, and the site of the first World Cup race in Canada. Red’s skiers have the advantage of skiing two mountains - Red and Granite. Together they offer 400 acres of groomed terrain and 700 acres of tree skiing. It’s that tree skiing that Red is known for. Challenging and unrivaled, the off-trail stuff is where the locals go on powder days.
The longest run at Red is a 4-1/2 miler, groomed for beginner turns. Not much is new this year at Red Mountain; however, the resort expects to begin building new condo/hotel facilities next spring. New nearby in Trail is the Trail Aquatic and Leisure Centre, with a 70-foot water slide, 20-person hot tub, steam room, Tarzan rope and more.
Information: One mile north of Rossland, 125 miles north of Spokane. Tickets: adult $39 (Canadian); student (13-18) $32; junior (7-12) $20; child under 6 free; senior (65+) $28; Single ride $10; multi-day discounts available. Day care: last year’s rate was $3.50 per hour. Lessons: group $25; private $45 per hour. Nordic: Adjacent to Red is the Black Jack Cross Country Area with 50k of machine-groomed track; trail pass costs $6. Phone: (250) 362-7384. Reservations: (250) 362-7700. Snow phone: Spokane number (509) 459-6000 or (250) 362-5500. E-mail: email@example.com; web site ski-red.com.
In the Selkirk Range of southeastern British Columbia is Whitewater, 13 miles south of Nelson. The Selkirks are best known for the helicopter skiing and little known for the fine skiing at Whitewater, where the base elevation sits at 5,400 feet, and rises to 6,700 feet at Summit Peak. Average snowfall is 40 feet! The road from Nelson to the mountain gains some 3,000 feet. Drivers should be prepared for hazardous driving conditions. The most interesting skiing is in Ymir Bowl, where skiers don climbing skins to walk uphill before skiing downhill in the out-of-bounds region.
Information: About 160 north of Spokane. Tickets: adult $35 (Canadian); youth (13-18) $27; junior (7-12) $21; senior (65+) $27; 6 and under free. Day care: 18 months to 6 years, $4 per hour. Lessons: private lessons only $35; discover ski/snowboard packages for beginner $32.95. Nordic: at base of ski area road at the Nelson Nordic Touring Center; trail fee requested for the 30k system. Phone: (800) 666-9420. Reservations: (800) 666-9420. Snow phone: (250) 352-SNOW. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Web site www.skiwhitewater.com
Fernie Snow Valley
The Skiing Louise Group, owned by Charlie Locke, purchased Fernie Snow Valley Resort and changed the name to Fernie Alpine Resort. The new owner has big plans which include 50 residential lots currently for sale, new hotels in the future, a new guest reception area, and expansion of ski terrain on Silver Fox, Upper Meadow, Elk and access to North Ridge.
Three new bowls will have lift service in the 1998-99 season, which will double skiable terrain at Fernie. This year, skiers can preview the runs via snow-cat trips for $195 a day or $135 half day.
Information: 3 miles from Fernie, B.C. Tickets: adult $36 (Canadian); junior (13-18) and senior (65+) $29; child (6-12) $15. Day care: Infant to 35 months $5 per hour; 3 years and up $4 per hour; sibling discount; reservations suggested. Lessons: group $25; private $40 per hour. Nordic: 15k of trails open in nearby forest; free. Phone: (250) 423-4655. Reservations: (888) SKI-REAL or e-mail email@example.com. Snow phone: Spokane (509) 747-7495 or (250) 423-3555.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Web site elkvalley.net/far.
Kimberly Ski and Summer Resort
A step into Kimberly Ski and Summer Resort is like a step into Europe. Kimberly is a Bavarian village with warm, hospitable locals eager to show skiers their favorite of the 47 runs.
Major trail expansion is in the works to increase skiable terrain by 35 percent into the North Bowl next year. Two new lifts and a new warming hut and cafeteria will be added to the mountain’s facilities beginning April 1998.
At Kimberly, the resort is so confident that the snow conditions will be satisfactory, they guarantee them. If skiers don’t feel the conditions meet their expectations, they can return the lift ticket within one hour of purchase for a snow check.
Much of the mountain is designated intermediate terrain, although the North Bowl offers advanced runs. Information: 1 mile north of Kimberly, 210 miles from Spokane. Tickets: adult $35 (Canadian); college student $30; junior (13-18) and senior (60+) $27; child (9-12) $15; kids under 9 ski free. Day care: 18 months to 6 years; rates start at $4 per hour, to maximum $28 per day per child; reservations recommended; (250) 427-4881. Lessons: group $24; private $22 per hour. Nordic: 26k of groomed trails, 3.8k of trail lit for night skiing; trail fee is $3. Phone: (250) 427-4881. Reservations: (800) 667-0871. Snow phone: (250) 427-7332. Internet: kimberleyskiresort.bc.ca.
With a 4,300-foot vertical, Panorama near Invermer, British Columbia, offers steeps and deeps for advanced powder hogs. Other skiers find a variety of tamer terrain; however, Panorama is certainly known for its vertical and for its scenery.
Nighttime temperatures have been low enough since October for snowmaking on the hill. Meanwhile, paving crews finished the new access road to the Ski Tip Lodge and Tamarack Lodges.
Panorama opens Dec. 12.
One of the most exciting aspects to skiing at Panorama, high in the Purcell Mountains, is the close proximity to heli-ski operations. After a few days on Panorama’s challenging terrain or well-groomed intermediate slopes, skiers have the opportunity to step next door to R.K. Heli-Ski. This heli-ski company specializes in making powder skiers out of intermediate and advanced skiers. A day package which includes three heli-ski descents, guide service, lunch and souvenirs is only $328 U.S. Info: (800) 661-6060.
Information: A six-hour drive from Spokane, 18k from Invermere. Tickets: adult $42.06 (Canadian); teen (13-18) and senior (65+) $33.65; junior (7- 12) $21.50; child (6 and under) $8.41 (rates do not include tax). Day care: 18 months an older; $5 per hour, $35 per day. Lessons: group $79 for 2 days. Nordic: 22k trail system. Phone: (250) 342-6941. Reservations: (800) 663-2929. Snow phone: (250) 342-6941. E-mail: email@example.com; Web site Panoramaresort.com
Fairmont Ski Area
Fairmont Ski Area is a family favorite with mostly beginner and intermediate slopes. Fairmont is just above the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort where skiers can stay and soak - their lift ticket is good for entry into the public hot springs. Swim and Ski Packages begin at $109 per person 2 nights 2 days skiing and unlimited use of pool.
Fairmont’s original bathhouse was built in 1926. Today, the resort includes a 140-room lodge, Canada’s largest odorless mineral hot pool, spa and year-round activities. In the spring, Fairmont is one of the few places where guests can ski and golf the same day.
Information: a six-hour drive from Spokane at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort. Tickets: adult $26 (Canadian); junior (7-14) $17; senior $12; 6 and under free. Day care: none. Lessons: group $19; private $35. Nordic: 20k of tracked skiing; free. Phone: (250) 345-6311. Reservations: (800) 663-4979. Snow phone: (250) 345-6311, ex. 7003. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Web site fairmontresort.com.