January 12, 2011

Winter play: Beyond the Sea to Sky

Life Overtaking Law

The tendency of most of the Lower Mainland’s ‘sometimes ski bums’ is to presume that Whistler is the end all and be all of winter resorts.  Serious casual ski bums inevitably see Grouse, Cypress and Seymour’s offerings as little more than tobogganing hills for the North Shore’s youth—tobogganing hills with tediously length wait lines no less. In terms of proximity and quality, it’s true that Whistler is hard to beat. If you already have ambitions of making a getaway out of your next winter escapade, however, I would like to offer two alternatives found somewhat further afield. If you want a truly memorable winter excursion, look no further than… well, the other end of the province, the Kootenays!

Revelstoke is the most obvious place to hype here. Long considered one of the province’s best kept secrets as a gateway to unforgettable heli- and cat-skiing experiences, Revelstoke is quickly gaining legendary status as a more accessible winter sport destination as well with the work-in-progress that is Revelstoke Mountain Resort. For those not yet in the know, this is the El Dorado of powder. Their number one claim to fame is North America’s highest lift-serviced vertical at 1,713 m (5620 ft) and a total of 515,000 acres of terrain, when all the lift, cat-, heli- and backcountry skiing options offered from the village are tallied up. They’re a super project in the works with more than 20 lifts and over 100 ski and snowboard runs to be available upon completion. As a result, the once sleepy town of Revelstoke has become overrun with extreme sport enthusiasts, and even in the middle of August conversations at the local pub, decked out in winter sport paraphernalia, inevitably centre on the subject of the coming season.

And at the other end of what was once the Canadian stretch of the Columbia River, the city of Nelson has a commendable offering with Whitewater Ski Resort. In their promotional materials they boast receiving some 40 feet or more of light, dry, white powder snow on over 2045 feet of pleasure-skiing pistes every season. The terrain and the snow quality are what the Kootenays boast best, and Whitewater is no exception. Arguably the best part about Whitewater though is how close it is to Nelson. For those who’ve never been, it would probably be best described as Kitsilano circa the early 1980’s: heritage houses and cafes galore, lots of great options in the way of restaurants and boutique shopping, and an eclectic population mix of aging draft dodgers, latte-sipping wood yuppies, and other assorted flora and fauna of the Kootenays for the people-watchers among us.

For the truly adventurous, grab a map of the Kootenays, close your eyes and take a stab at it with your pencil. Chances are you’ve landed within a few inches of a backcountry skiing outfit, some pristine snowmobiling terrain, a silver rush ghost town or some some equally weird and woolly community worth discovering . Oh, did I forget to mention all the hot springs?