'Snowy' Joey brings a vibrant pulse back to Baldy
OSOYOOS, B.C. - Its not every day you meet a guy named Snowy Joey and ski perfect glades wearing a personalised scarf deeming you to be a Babe. But over the Family Day weekend, my family and I did just that.
Nestled between Oliver and Osoyoos, B.C., Mt. Baldy is an extinct volcano that looks like a bald guy without a comb over. At 1,722 metres ( 5,650 feet) above sea level, Baldy has the highest base altitude of any ski resort in Canada. With three lifts serving 395 metres (1,293 feet) of vertical, a new racing team, terrain park, snow cross course and robust social event calendar, Baldy is the name being whispered in conversations across the ski community.
Joey OBrien, now general manager of the resort, was dubbed Snowy since 1982 when a popular radio host from Q104 in his own hometown of Halifax gave him the nickname. His five kids endearingly call him Snowpaw.
Their sense of humour must be similar to O'Brien's wife, who once sent him to hike the West Coast Trail with a bunch of rocks at the bottom of his pack that went undiscovered for three days.
Rather famous in the ski industry for developing world-class athletes, he is also well known for applying a brilliant business mind to flailing ski resorts and growing them exponentially. When a struggling Mt. Baldy needed a reboot, O'Brien swooped in for the task.
The hill was established in 1968 but three years ago, its lifts stopped turning. With only 9,000 guests per year on the hill during the few weekdays it was open, the accounting simply didnt work. There were no formal skier development programs or marketing strategies.
Fast forward to December 2016 and Baldy re-opened with a stunning classic logo, cheers from the locals, and an infectious vibe. Now open daily, Baldy topped the 9,000 guest mark in its first month alone.
OBrien continued to break records as he implemented a $5 Tuesday and Wednesday lift pass deal. He glowed when telling me about the guests who came in jeans to discover skiing for the first time. Affordable pricing on rentals, $60 discover ski and snowboard packages and $199 adult season passes means that the hill has become highly accessible.
Some ski resorts sprawl so far that you lose track of people easily. Not here. All runs end up near the Hub a fab restaurant in the centre of it all. Despite the expansive downhill terrain, all runs end up near the Hub and nostalgic day lodge. The buildings are like a beehive of smiles and news. Staff and visitors are so friendly that you may miss a few runs in favour of engaging in conversation over a craft beer.
Approaching the resort, I instantly noted a magic carpet packed with little ones. Good ski resorts realize the importance of learning and know that its never too late for a lesson, even for experts. Skiing all morning with the ebullient Angie, I could see why the new learning program has been such a hit. Kids would yell down to her from the lift and we stopped a few times in the middle of runs to chat with the locals.
Angie uses her magic to create family-focused programming. During Mondays Family Day, the magic carpet transformed the learning area into a toboggan party, and parents delighted in kids barrelling down on every type of possible sled. She has huge plans for March Break camps, and on Valentines Day there was a chairlift speed-dating event. I almost wished I was single just to experience it.
Statistically, there is a bell curve of skiers based on ability. The beauty of Mt. Baldy is that the terrain mimics this curve. From green to black, each rider can find a challenge. My 9 and 10 year-old sons certainly found a few for me. Asking what they thought of the terrain, they raved about the extensive glades, terrain park, ample side hits and excellent grooming. Next time we need to check out the miles of groomed Nordic trails and try the unique snow-based frisbee golf course.
The Baldy Babes
Established in 2004, the Baldy Babes is a group of vivacious women who meet weekly for coffee, a snowshoe or ski lesson, lunch and wine. And amazing conversation. With the motto Ordinary Women Doing Extraordinary Things, Monday is their day. An unstoppable bunch, when Baldy closed three years ago, these feisty women were not so easily shut down. Continuing the tradition, they met at cabins on the hill every week for health and heart to hearts.
Once part of the gang, each regular participant receives a bandana embroidered with BB. I havent seen people so excited about an article of clothing since I got my university jacket or sorority pin. But when one member moved away, so did her sewing machine with its embroidering function. That didn't deter. Margaret Giltrap. She now hand-embroiders initials on each scarf to ensure everyone feels included. I was invited to an extra dinner with the Babes last March and will never forget it.
I skied the morning with 84-year-old former ski patroller Susan Webster, who left me in her dust. Dining on the elevated cuisine specifically made every Monday for the Babes, she dazzled me with stories of the close-knit community and memories of her perfect hill.
Like the ski packages, the Baldy Babes programming is also affordable. For $40 on any given Monday, you get coffee and muffins, two hours of lessons and a beautiful gourmet lunch. With wine. Because thats when the conversations get really good.
The Future of Mt. Baldy
I have no doubt that Baldy wont remain a hidden gem for long. Those cabins on the hill started to pop up in 1970, and now there is a community of 106 ski-in and out chalets.
All the new on-hill land offerings being snatched up four at a time by Vancouverites and nearly selling out in two days is bound to change things at Mt. Baldy.
Snowy Joey knows this too, and his aim is to develop Mt. Baldy with the idea of a community as its pulse. Hes not selling skiing. He wants to create memories that are so compelling guests wish to repeat them.
Seems to be working. Driving away I was already wanting a BB kerchief as my kids asked when we could return.
Osoyoos, Did You Know?
Osoyoos is home to Nk'Mip Cellars, the first Aboriginal-owned winery in North America. This award-winning winery is perched overlooking Osoyoos Lake, under an hour from Baldy Mountain Resort.
In town, you'll also find the Desert Model Railway, ranked as one of the Top 20 Things to do in all of B.C. (on TripAdvisor). It's home to the biggest little European railroad in Canada, filling 4,000 square feet of space.
Make sure to check out the Ski Baldy and Stay Osoyoos website to find more unique attractions.
Call Baldy Mountain Resort at (250) 485-7593
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