Two Canadian families go head-to-head with skis and bingo cards at beautiful Big White.
By Andrew Findlay
One of the realities of being a skier is grasping onto a tiny nugget of gold in a stingy weather forecast, then dreaming big. As my family and I drive the winding road ascending into the mountains from bustling Kelowna, my wife scans the weather forecast, which calls for an overnight snowfall of one measly inch. We, the Findlays—Lisa, Zola, Sabine, and I—are bound for a four-day summit with our friends the Ogles—Steve, Amy, Casey, and Fletch—on the slopes and outdoor rinks of Big White, neutral southern British Columbia territory situated between our respective coastal and Kootenay home bases.
The goal: to coax our collective crew of under-9-year-olds down as many Big White black-diamonds as possible. It was to be a full celebration of all things Canuck—skiing and the occasional beer.
A brilliant sunset casts the Monashee Mountains north of Big White in gold leaf as we shuttle four days’ worth of food, hockey bags, and ski gear into our two-story Towering Pines condo. Fully installed, we dip into the hot tub—four adults, four kids—and plot out the days ahead. Fluffy snowflakes drift temptingly from the darkening sky.
The next morning, I wake early and peer out the window. The railing around the hot tub is stacked with 10 centimetres of fresh powder, as light as Okanagan Valley bubbly. It’s a timely refresh for the 50 that fell on the mountain last week. Bundled for the brisk temps and light gusting wind, our crew shuffles out of the condo, across Big White Road toward the Bullet Express.
“What do you kids want to do first?” I ask rhetorically as we click into bindings and glide to the chair.
“Ogopogo,” comes a chorus of four replies.
First things first. Last night as we perused the trail map, the youngsters had quickly spotted this made-for-kids masterpiece of a pump track that winds down among trees from Black Forest Chair. Around these parts, some people believe in the existence of a Loch Ness Monster–like creature named Ogopogo that lives in Okanagan Lake. The lake stretches from Vernon to Penticton, arming the storms with the moisture responsible for pounding Big White with legendary Okanagan powder.
From the top of the Bullet Chair, the kids are in charge. We rip en masse down Sundance to the arched entranceway to Ogopogo, then drop in one by one.
After three more Ogopogo laps, Steve marshals the crew for a new plan. The clouds have lifted to reveal Big White’s domed 7,608-foot summit, and apparently it’s time to step up our game. A man with a dubious mission, Steve leads a descending traverse from the top of the Bullet Chair into a mogul-filled bowl toward the fixed grip double Cliff Chair. The kids follow, all oblivious, except for my oldest, Zola, naturally suspicious, who has noticed a proliferation of signage bearing black-diamonds.
Chatter stops as we ride up the vertiginous Cliff Chair. After off-loading, Steve optimistically double poles toward Pegasus, a double-black accessed via a spicy traverse above exposed rocks. Casey and Fletch fall in line unquestioningly, fully committed. Zola slides to a stop, then forms an X with her arms—the universal sign for “You have as much of a chance of getting me to follow as you do of spotting Ogopogo in Lake Okanagan.” Lisa and I retreat with our girls, and plan to meet the Ogles at the top of the Black Forest Chair in 20 minutes.
We bang off a couple of runs down immaculately groomed blue-square cruisers, topped with cold smoke snow so low in density that it offers zero resistance even to the littlest in our group. Dry clouds billow behind Fletch and Sabine. If I were a poker player, these two cruisy runs would be my attempt to sucker my opponent—my oldest daughter—into my next bluff. After our third trip up the Black Forest, I usher the gang skier’s right into the trees, quickly spiriting them past the black-diamond sign indicating Easter Chutes, before Zola has a chance to nix it.
“Wow, do you see where those kids are going?” I hear a man talking to his wife as they watch Fletch, Sabine, Casey, and Zola dive into the benign glades above the chutes.
Snow-blanketed spruce and fir take the sting out of the steepness. The kids manage the chutes beautifully, scraping the sides of the deeply carved troughs to control their speed. Minutes later we’re sailing down Cougar Alley, which still offers up mid-afternoon untracked powder.
Zola and Casey are emboldened after Easter Chutes. They decide to join the dads to explore farther afield, while the littles exhaust their moms on Ogopogo. After a multiple-lift cross-mountain journey, we’re in a new zone, riding the Falcon Chair above a playground of steep trees and cliffs. The sun pokes between cotton clouds as Steve, Zola, Casey and I cut swooping turns in the natural half-pipe feature at the top of Grizzly. We have the Falcon to ourselves, and to my pleasure Zola calls for another crack at Grizzly.
Time has flown. We barely catch last ride on the Powder Chair for the return journey to the village. A late dinner awaits at the Kettle Valley Steakhouse, upstairs at Happy Valley Lodge.
And just like that, a glorious Big White winter day ends. We already can't wait for tomorrow.
Big White is perfectly situated as a southern British Columbia territory, ready for exploration and adventure.