The old-school ski resort is, for the most part, sadly a thing of the past. In an effort to progress and grow—mostly because our modern ethos prescribes never-ending “development”—most of the slow, antiquated, storied, powder-preserving double chairs throughout Canada have been struck from the record, replaced by high-speed quads, six-packs, or, at the very minimum, triple chairs.
There are, however, a handful of North American resorts still lollygagging their clients to tree stashes and backcountry skintracks. Nelson, B.C.’s Whitewater Winter Resort (WH2O, as it is affectionately acronymed) is the flagship holdout when it comes to slow-speed powder skiing in the Canadian West. But that’s all about to change… well, maybe. Change as in two old double chairs (one being Whistler’s old Olive Chair) possibly being replaced by two “recycled” triples.
For locals who haven’t seen a new lift or much in the way of terrain expansion since the resort opened in 1967, change might be long overdue. Consider the equation: Whitewater’s current Summit Chair, which rises a meager 400 meters, has only one brother in arms, the Silver King Chair, which is markedly smaller in elevation gain. The town of Nelson has a growing ski community thanks to reliable mega-dumps (even when it’s crap on the coast, it heaves at WH2O), resulting in the past few seasons seeing some truly heinous lineups. The resort’s 1,044 skiable acres pale in comparison to other Interior resorts in Revelstoke, Fernie, Golden and Rossland, all of which have seen noticeable recent lift improvements.
Regardless, Whitewater has long held a reputation as one of the continent’s best down-home ski resorts. Twelve metres of annual snowfall, consistently cold temperatures, aforementioned slow lifts, and huge, easily accessed backcountry virtually ensure fresh tracks. In-bounds terrain includes everything from declivitous tree shots to open bowls, with complicated tree stashes to keep the “Gorbalites” at bay. Three-hundred-metre lines on one of Whitewater’s primo out-of-bounds stashes—known infamously as the Backside— might take skiers a decade and hundreds of runs to master. Tree lines within the resort boundaries are intricate and dubious. Sprollers, Sleepers and Catch Basin all hold treasures that can take skiers years to fully dial. Throw in 45-minute walks on well established skin tracks heading off in almost every direction, leading to classics like the 45°, 2,500-foot Hummer Chutes or the steep glades of White Queen. Even Ymir Peak, an exposed hanging snowfield that drops right from the summit, is only a two-hour skin from the top of Summit Chair. Add to it the well-stocked, ski boot-printed Whitewater Lodge, where affordable gourmet food and locally brewed beer awaits, and you’ve got a true gem. Albeit an increasingly crowded one.
But the inevitable winds of change are blowing. After 25 years at the helm of Nelson’s Whitewater Winter Resort, Mike and Shelley Adams sold the popular mountain mainstay in September 2008, prompting a mix of regional reaction. Three investors from the Alberta-based company Knee Deep Development have assumed the reigns and are publicly acknowledging Whitewater’s unique culture and trying to allay fears there will be drastic changes.
The new owners are all avid skiers, having tracked up Whitewater for years. And, well, when the engine blows in the SR5 two seater, sometimes you have no choice but to get a new truck, or a new engine at least. According to Anne Pigeon, WH2O’s longtime inside operations and marketing manager, change is coming. The resort plans on installing two new lifts in the backside area, where it would glade extensively and cut a couple of new runs. There might even be some small hotels and a hostel up at the resort. Depending on government approval, it could all be live by winter 2011.
“We can guarantee they won’t be detachable quads,” she explains. “We’d be looking for recycled, reconditioned lifts. Development is going to be done in an environmentally friendly way.” And the locals’ take? “Feedback from the community is 95 per cent positive,” she continues. “The new owners really want to preserve the essence of Whitewater. All they want to do is give everyone a little more space.”
Location: Nelson, B.C.
Vertical : 396 m
Terrain: 30 runs
Snowfall : 1,200 cm
Lifts: Two double chairs, one handle tow