The allure of skiing can stem from many things: big mountains, big air and even big money. Nowadays, the term “bottom line” seems to refer to more than chairlift traffic jams. As developers convert western molehills into mega resorts, the connected industry towns have morphed into Disney-esque destinations that cater to real estate investors rather than skiers. Some say that small-town ski hills have all but disappeared, having forsaken character for condos. Even in strongholds like the West Kootenays, it seems like the proletariats who work for a living are being forced to leave so the Saskatchewan elite can buy homes and pursue ideals that really matter—such as empty lift lines.
Curiously enough, those en route from Saskatchewan this winter may drive right by Summit Lake Ski Area, located on Highway 6 between Nakusp and New Denver, a land of hot springs and cold smoke. If the sign is buried underneath a snowbank you might have to look around for a big frozen lake, and—you guessed it—you’re at the Summit. Bring oxygen.
Founded in the 1930s by loggers who discovered an alternative use for clearcuts, this community-run hill has slowly evolved to its present 1940’s charm under the auspices of Nakusp taxpayer support. At first glance, the place looks as appealing as a Slocan Valley hitchhiker, but this is one Kootenay fixture worth pulling over for. Although the main building looks more like an arena lobby than a ski lodge, huge rack of elk antlers hanging over the cafeteria window distinguishes it as genuine mountain infrastructure. The slopes themselves, including the possibly overstated “Suicide” run, are less imposing, offering a great place to stretch some car-cramped legs on the four-hour drive between Nelson and Revelstoke. Die-hard commuters have been known to detour for a few laps just so they could time the Arrow Lakes ferry right. Don’t rush the visit however, because Summit Lake deserves to be appreciated. Besides, the lifties need work, and without your business they’ll most likely just pound laps all day.
Elitists might scoff at the T-bar and rope-tow setup, the cliché hot chocolate machine or the handful of vertical feet, but consider this: the reason you can rip like a rock star is because in your youth, some ski resort somewhere altruistically catered to your development as a wobbly kneed foal, teaching you to prance down black diamond runs, even when they were far from true black diamonds. You are the skier you are because Summit Lake and other jewels hosted runs that were made for you.
“There are approximately 600 school-age children skiing at Summit Lake each year” says Alistair Skey, one of many volunteers who keep the resort rolling. Like anyone over-wintering in the Interior snowbelt, Skey acknowledges the importance of a youth program to help kids stay out of trouble by teaching them something that really matters, skiing. Students from Nakusp, Fauquier, Burton, Edgewood, New Denver and other unknown BC towns get three get-out-of-class-free passes each winter and spend their weekends either hitting home-made booters or bashing gates with the Nancy Greene program. And, of course, for every child there are always a couple of parents in tow to help justify the green runs, so the place is alive with activity during the five-day operating week. But it’s not only the locals who are lighting up the slopes. CMH heli-skiers use the area on down-days—and nights, on Wednesdays and Fridays—to increase their vertical. The best news is lift tickets at Summit are not exclusive to German millionaires—unless $8 (for a night pass) sounds über expensive.
So how come you’ve never heard of Summit Lake Ski Hill? Most likely because their marketing campaign is limited to a banner hanging from the lodge: “Welcome! Have a Good Day Skiing!” The banner speaks volumes of the true essence of winter. And if that’s not enough for you, check out the six-year-old in a one-piece straightlining Suicide. She’s having a great day skiing; not reading about real-estate booms and rising lift ticket prices.
Vertical: 152 m
Terrain: 50% beginner, 40% intermediate, 10% advanced
Lifts: One T-bar,
Snowfall: 380 cm
Season: Mid-December to late March
Lift ticket: $20