Feel worlds away when you're skiing at Whitewater
It’s easy to settle into the Kootenays unhurried vibe
For many stateside skiers, Whitewater Resort is the first attraction on the Powder Highway, southeast of British Columbia’s celebrated collection of eight ski resorts and dozens of heli- and cat-skiing operations and luxury lodges.
But even though it’s less than three hours to the resort from the Spokane metropolitan area, it’s a world away.
That’s because, for all its big-mountain bona fides, Whitewater retains the same funky, low-key vibe as when the resort opened, in 1976.
“I think we’re different. And I think that’s by design,” says Ross Lake, a Whitewater mountain host.
Lake has been part of that design since the resort’s first season. He helped get the resort built, and he’s been part of the close-knit community guiding Whitewater ever since.
That community has overseen the most visible change at Whitewater in recent memory: replacing the iconic two-seater Summit Chair with a new fixed-grip quad. It’s the sort of subtle evolution that, along with the resort’s other upgrades – opening up the lower lodge floorplan, moving rentals and repairs to a new building, relocating guest services to its own outbuilding – keep the focus on skiing big lines, rather than standing in them.
And the skiing is superlative.
Lake and other regulars rave about the consistent, and consistently good, quality of the snow that falls on Whitewater every year – some 40 feet of it altogether. Thanks to the resort’s location, it tends to milk more out of passing storms than nearby peaks. And the snow that falls stays protected from the elements.
That makes it easy for out-of-area skiers to plan a trip in advance and be confident in the quality of skiing when they get there.
Capped by Ymir Peak – a name aptly reflecting the peak’s fierce, primeval face – Whitewater offers steep, snowghost-framed terrain and expansive backcountry access. Perfectly spaced glades make for some of the best steep tree skiing in the region. On a powder day, pick an untracked shot down the Sleepers Glades, off the top of the quad, for fast alleys and pillow lines.
A testament to the quality of the skiing here is that the locals, from toddlers to old-timers, all shred, but in a low-key, friendly fashion. That’s the Kootenays community.
One of the best places to get caught up in the community spirit: Coal Oil Johnny’s Pub. In keeping with the season’s theme of “evolution, not revolution”, the pub features some new menu items this year, such as the aptly named Faceplant Blue Burger. But regulars shouldn’t fret; menu classics like the poutine with yam fries remain. Grab a pint of Nelson Brewing Company beer and a seat on of the deck’s picnic tables for apres-ski people watching in the bustling base area.
The vibe extends to the nearby community of Nelson, the cultural capital of the Kootenays. Scaling a steep hillside on the fjord-like shores of Kootenay Lake, Nelson possesses an open-air mysticism that has drawn artists and adventure-seekers for decades. It’s the sort of town where, on a powder day, “Sorry, we’re closed” signs hang on most of the boutiques on Baker Street.
But there’s plenty of life downtown once the lifts stop spinning. And the historic Hume Hotel & Spa is the place to stay to ski and be in the middle of it all. Guests should take advantage of the Shred and Bed package, which includes a lift ticket, breakfast in the General Store Restaurant in the hotel, and a $10 voucher to Mike’s Place Pub for apres.
If the vibe inspires you to stay a few days, embrace it. There’s no rush hour on the Powder Highway.