Can people really be this nice? A cynical American takes a ski trip to Big White Ski Resort to see what gives.

I came in biased, as is my south-of-the-border birthright. Everyone I talked to had been extremely pleasant on my previous trip up north, but I figured Canadians’ friendliness was some kind of cover for toughness. Even the counter people at Tim Hortons—seemed too sweet.

So I had my guard up when I flew from Seattle direct into Kelowna and took the hour-long drive up to Big White. Flakes skittered across the windshield. They flew all night. And in the morning when I woke up and clicked into my skis just outside my door, the clouds still swirled, and there was more than a dusting of fluffy, dry snow.

I cinched my hood tight to prepare for a mid-morning powder day at Big White. We took a warmup cruiser off of the Snow Ghost Express, and then headed to the Powder Chair.

The amount of snow at the bottom belied the deepness up high. We dropped into the trees off the top of the lift—untracked, perfectly pitched. So nice that I was giggling. This had to be a trap.

Photo: Geoff Holman

But I soon learned and then learned again as I explored as many powdery crevices as possible of Big White’s 2,550 vertical feet and 1,147 patrolled skiable acres [though the controlled boundary contains 3,052], that the niceness wasn’t a front for anything. The skiing here is just that good. This—Canada’s largest ski-in, ski-out area—is the mecca of hero skiing. It has the second largest lift capacity (read: basically no lines, ever), everything is skiable, nothing is out of bounds, and the majority of it is cushy blue runs, perfectly spaced glades, and perfect powdery bowls.

Maybe it’s a bootstrapping American thing or maybe I’d been conditioned by crowded mountains and sub-par snow packs, but I had forgotten that skiing didn’t have to be brutal.

Big White felt gentle; things came to me. The snow was good and I didn’t even have to pray for it. There was no schlepping of gear or fighting through crowds. And as I slowly explored the mountain’s many pockets, the lack of people and the rambling terrain meant that there were always stashes to be found.

When the clouds cleared, later in the week, I took laps off the steep ridges of the Cliff Chair. Big White often gets labeled as a mellow, family-friendly place, but standing on top of this zone, I find myself taking a few deep breaths to help me focus. Off the top of the T-Bar, both the views and the snow ghosts came out. I cruised my way through otherworldly terrain, linking between wide-open glades and just-steep-enough steeps.

I started to understand the lay of the land. The radius of the place began to feel smaller, but never tight. When you’re up there, you’re way up there, in an old-school ski resort kind of way. Big White isn’t attached to anything else, it’s its own snowy little planet, so it’s easy to catch the rhythm of the place and learn the ins and out of the village. A surprising number of very good coffee spots are there to greet you each morning. Really, this place offers all the things you might want. Or at least all the things I might want: namely beer and coffee (and the skiing, of course).

Photo: Grant Gunderson

It’s not the kind of place you drop into for a day or two and then bust out of. It’s not exactly on the way to anywhere, either. But that’s the charm of it: You have to commit to get the benefit. 

When it came time to leave, I felt just the right amount of sore, slightly windburned, and breathing easier, despite the altitude. I’ll probably always be cynical, but Big White taught me that genuine friendliness—dare I say happiness?—does exist, and its source is the pure, easy joy of sliding downhill. 

Getting There

Big White is perfectly situated as a southern British Columbia territory, ready for exploration and adventure.

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