British Columbia’s big backyard inspires introspective personal journeys and unbridled adventures.
This post by Susan Reifer Ryan was originally published on the Destination British Columbia website.
At Apex Mountain Resort—a place I’ve never before skied—I suddenly find myself standing atop a hidden little bowl filled with untracked snow. How can this be? It’s the Sunday afternoon of a long weekend at the height of winter. At home in Whistler, weekends like this are rocking, particularly when either powder or sunshine are involved. Here at Apex, the day is both powdery and sunny—yet the only other people in sight are my husband and our ski buddy.
Moments ago the three of us were bounding, hearts pumping, down a long, steep chute. Then we slithered through a cluster of trees and popped onto this unexpectedly untracked scene. The bowl’s expanse of virgin snow fans away from the tips of our skis, an open invitation. I dive right in. The fresh powder is knee deep and feather light, like something in a ski dream. We all whoop with glee.
As a British Columbian, making this fun dream a reality requires just two key steps: Pack the car and open your mind to discovering new adventures in BC on snowboard or skis. There’s never been a better winter to do it (and we’ve got essential tips on how to successfully plan your on-snow adventures during this very different year.)
For this story, five other writers and I tried this snowy two-step. Each of us has a BC mountain that’s our go-to place to ski or board—the mountain where we live, have a season pass, or simply feel most at home. And each of us adventured somewhere new in our BC backyard—from Apex, Big White, and Kimberley to Mt. Washington, SilverStar, and Sun Peaks—to experience fresh ski destinations within ready reach of home. Here is what we found.
SKI A HIDDEN GEM: APEX MOUNTAIN RESORT
I first heard about Apex from other diehard skiers on Whistler’s chairlifts. “It’s great for families,” they said. “A little gem,” they said. “A real skier’s mountain.”
Located on the rim of the Okanagan, not far from Penticton, Apex is all that and more. The mountain’s 1,114 skiable acres and 2,000-foot vertical drop make it similar in size to Whitewater, the cult favorite near Nelson, BC. Its location delivers dry, light Okanagan powder, like SilverStar. Its upper mountain steeps pitch like Kicking Horse, with some 20 north-facing couloirs branching into countless long lines through well-spaced trees.
Of course, there also are broad boulevards perfect for groomed cruising, kid-friendly learner zones and plenty of terrain park action—plus fun weekend night skiing. Everything funnels back to a low-key mini base village with a Wild West theme, where there’s also an ice rink, a tube park, and an adventure skating loop through the woods. Snowshoe and Nordic trails are plentiful. And all lodgings are steps from the slopes (making it easy to vacation with your bubble yet never use the car).
Easygoing, athletic time together in the outdoors is an equation that works in my little family, and we’re relaxed and happy when we leave. Down in Penticton, we take a day to tour regional vineyards that are open in winter—a fun and entirely uncrowded way to experience wine country. Back at home, I quickly become the one talking up Apex on the chairlifts: “It’s great for families it’s a total skier’s mountain. We loved it! What a little gem.”
– Susan Reifer Ryan
HOOT AND HOLLER LIKE KIDS: BIG WHITE SKI RESORT
As a Mount Washington skier, I’ve seen plenty of snow-covered trees before, but nothing like the snow ghosts a group of Vancouver Island dads and I find at Big White Ski Resort. But they’re not scary: Cloaked in white and bent in peculiar poses, Big White’s snow ghosts are more Dr. Seuss than haunted house. They beckon us off an immaculate, groomed run and into an expansive playground of wind lips, jumps, and powder pockets. We weave through the whimsical shapes, hooting and hollering like kids.
Big White encourages this kind of childlike exuberance, both on and off the slopes. Last night, we rode a gondola over the resort’s ski-in, ski-out village to play on the ice-climbing tower. When we saw the Happy Valley Adventure Park’s kid-sized snowmobiles and sleigh rides, we vowed to come back with our families.
We’ve spent most of today chasing each other down swooping pitches, banked gullies, and smooth groomers. Next we want to find Narnia, a fabled tree run hidden off the map. It promises knee-deep powder and more fantastical adventures. When our legs give out this afternoon, we’ll indulge in pink donuts at The Bull Wheel then go back to being dads, drinking beer in our boots on the lounge chairs outside The Woods.
Throughout we find plenty of room for our Mount Washington pod to bond, particularly over our newest passion: Hunting snow-ghosts.
– Ryan Stuart
SWOOP, WHOOP, AND ENJOY: SILVERSTAR MOUNTAIN RESORT
I cut my adult ski teeth on the snowy flanks of the Lizard Range, whooping it up in Fernie’s five powder-filled bowls. When our family moved west to the Okanagan Valley after a decade of being Califernians (Calgarians who ski Fernie), it was time to find a ski resort closer to our new home.
The first winter, we skied around, trying out the local Okanagan powder. But we knew we’d found our go-to ski hill, with terrain and snow quality as epic as its mountain and lake views, after a weekend at SilverStar Mountain Resort.
BC’s fourth-largest ski resort receives 275 inches of light snow each season. The white fluff settles enticingly across four mountain faces that offer up huge variety, from the front side’s bowls, tree runs, and wide, swooping cruisers to the backside’s expert steeps.
SilverStar’s size means you often find yourself gliding through marshmallow glades and floating down forgiving mogul fall lines with only those in your bubble group. And it’s not uncommon to ski right onto the chairlift, even on a weekend.
On the lower mountain, the alpine runs intersect with multi-use trails, so you’ll ski right by fat bikers and snowshoers—and can even try those pursuits yourself.
The resort’s expansiveness is offset by a compact village, located mid-mountain, where Victorian-style buildings are painted in cheery shades of orange, purple, red, and blue. Caught in its friendly embrace of après-ski hot chocolate (kids) and BC wine (adults) after a day of fresh air and exercise, you’ll vow to return. We did.
– Lisa Kadane
SUNSHINE AND POWDER: SUN PEAKS
I’ve had my fair share of epic days at Whistler Blackcomb, but Sun Peaks is special, with particular charms that keep drawing me back.
For one thing, there’s the snow. Sometimes referred to as “champagne powder” or “cold smoke,” it’s dry, plentiful, and dependable. Snowfalls of 4-6 inches result in epic powder days, with the resort’s gladed forests providing plenty of advanced and intermediate terrain for those looking to get off the beaten path. Sun Peaks also consistently wins praise for its grooming, with fall-line runs covered in fresh corduroy you can carve like butter.
And, of course, there’s the thing that truly sets Canada’s second largest resort apart: The crowds (or, more specifically, the lack thereof). With over 4,270 acres of terrain and seven chairlifts, lines remain small (even on those epic powder days) and slopes are spacious (particularly appealing now).
While skiing remains the central draw, Sun Peaks offers plenty of other activities, including 23 miles of impeccably groomed and track-set Nordic trails and dog sledding through snowy forests with Mountain Man Dog Sled Adventures.
But perhaps the thing I like most about Sun Peaks is its friendly, family-fun vibe. You’ll see it on the slopes or when you grab a coffee at Bolacco Café (a family-owned and -operated institution adored by locals and visitors alike) or a bite to eat at Bottoms Bar & Grill (a quintessential ski bar with a shot ski hanging from the roof). And it’s reason enough to come back.
– Joel Barde
MINE FOR SKI GOLD: KIMBERLEY ALPINE RESORT
As a BC skier, I have a soft spot for old mining communities—after all, some of BC’s best ski towns have histories as rich as gold—but until now, I had never made it to Kimberley, prompting me to make the cross-province pilgrimage from Vancouver Island with my wife and daughters.
Here, the historic downtown core—with its fusion of old and new—is fun to explore, and up at the ski area we find room to roam. Slopes at Kimberley Alpine Resort are dusted with fresh powder so light you could stuff pillows with it. The mountain is tucked in the trees, but what Kimberley lacks in high-alpine terrain it makes up for with 2,460 feet of vertical, fall-line groomers, bumps, and glades, and long runs (such as 4 mile-long Ridgeway). It’s an all-you-can eat buffet of terrain that has fueled a bumper crop of elite athletes. I’m hoping our kids are inspired. We test their skills and ours on Vortex, a black diamond slicing through the pines before funneling into a natural half-pipe. It goes well!
Later a local’s tip sends us to “Kootenay House,” a bring-your-own bag lunch warm-up shelter with a pay-by-donation coffee pot, a set-up that is altogether perfect for social distancing. The sweeping Columbia Valley view makes us want to linger for sunset, but there’s more of that cool mountain town to explore. We chase each other down Mascot Trail (a bumpy bobsled track meant for pliable young knees) before trading ski duds for town casual—and thick celebratory slices at Stonefire Pizzeria.
– Andrew Findlay
EMBRACE COASTAL SKIING: MOUNT WASHINGTON ALPINE RESORT
As a long-time Whistler resident, I love coastal skiing’s mood and metric: The smell of moss in the trees is as intoxicating to me as the prodigious snows of the stormy Pacific. So it’s no surprise I’ve grown a fondness for a less-hectic neighbor that exudes coastal charm—Mount Washington, Vancouver Island’s only full-service alpine resort.
With an 36 foot annual snowfall, powder’s still the thing here, though blue sky delivers spectacular views: West to the rugged peaks of the Forbidden Plateau, east across the Salish Sea, north over the Comox Valley, south to the Beaufort Range. If every chairlift ride ends in breathtaking overlooks, fall-line runs offer equal inspiration: Exquisite cruising, backside double-blacks, hidden glades unfolding like a Russian Doll. And in these days of “space—the final frontier,” this mountain is an uncrowded gem.
Mount Washington also is the coast, literally. Named for Rear Admiral John W. Washington, official hydrographer to the British Royal Navy, the only way to ski closer to the ocean would be in it. And if the occasional fogbound day on the hill makes you feel out to sea? Switch to cross-country gear to enjoy 34 miles of world-class Nordic trails heralded as some of Canada’s best.
– Leslie Anthony