If someone handed me a pencil and a blank sheet of paper, and then told me to sketch my dream ski resort, it would look a lot like Whitewater. But “resort” is perhaps too rich a word—let’s try “winter dream” instead. Close your eyes for a moment and imagine a steep mountain road flanked by overhead-high snowbanks. The road terminates near the head of a forested valley in the southern Selkirk Mountains. City drivers need not apply. So far, so good.
Fat flakes fall. You step into the parking lot. Fresh powder dusts your boot tops. Even better. Stoke is high. You head into the two-storey day lodge. Its weathered walls, if they could speak, would share generations of après powder skiing tales and antics. The lodge has all the essentials. There’s a parent room downstairs—Kootenay couples with toddlers also love to shred. Upstairs is Coal Oil Johnny’s Pub and the Fresh Tracks Cafe. I blame the latter for my family’s addiction to Glory Bowl sauce. The pub’s decor is all snow and ski, adorned with photos of local legends—this hill has spawned too many to mention. You make a mental note to yourself: “Hey lodge, I’ll be seeing you later for a Jackpot burger and a pint.”
One thing newbies can’t get over is the near absence of any lift lines at Whitewater. But don’t worry, you’ll get used to it very quickly. Photo: Steve Ogle.
You haven’t even shoehorned your feet into ski boots yet and already something feels just right. It’s as if you’ve stumbled across a paradise where winter spirit dwells. You recall looking at the Facts and Stats page of the Whitewater website; next to cell service and wi-fi are the words “none” and “none.”
Could it get any better?
You look out the lodge windows. Ymir Bowl rises steeply toward its namesake peak, partially obscured in a whipping cream of mist. In Norse mythology, they say Ymir is the father of all giants.
And then there’s the snow—metres of the white stuff, all soft and fluffy. This is a resort smack in the middle of heliskiing territory and it shows. Photo: Steve Ogle.
Condos and chain hotels are conspicuously absent. It would seem an unnecessary intrusion, especially when Nelson, a town full of restaurants, funky cafés and craft breweries, is a mere half-hour’s drive away on the west arm of Kootenay Lake.
It has stopped snowing. The sun punches blue holes in the clouds. Geared up, you walk outside. It takes a moment to relocate your skis on the racks jammed full of fat boards with touring bindings. You click in and skate to the Summit Chair. Eager powder hounds, goggled and ready, have assembled, anxiously awaiting the moment when the little hand hits nine. An equally boisterous line has formed for the opening of the Silver King Lift. There’s plenty of familiar chatter, like the early morning gathering of a clan before it disperses into the Selkirk highlands with swords drawn. A bomb goes off. Its dull, percussive thud is quickly absorbed by fresh snow. The avalanche control team is busy. Suddenly, the lift line surges forward. Hoots and hollers fill the air.
Your chair floats above the upper steeps of Blast, the first wave of riders is already shredding the powder into ribbons. Like magic, after offloading, a ski patroller is there, about to flip the “Open” sign. So you traverse Powder Keg Bowl and drop into Enchanted Forest, mining glades of untracked snow to where the run meets Motherlode, the only groomed piste on this side of the mountain.
Is this an average run at Whitewater? No. Is it a pipe dream? No, again. One of the resort’s strengths is that with a bit of hiking you can get as far away as you like. Photo: Steve Ogle.
Change comes slowly to a place where “change” doesn’t necessarily mean better. Around a decade ago, the owners built Glory Ridge Chair, bringing a formerly off-piste playground of steep tree skiing and glades into the controlled in-bounds area. There were naysayers, of course. But, after a few laps, you give it a thumbs-up. Sometimes more of a good thing actually is a good thing. Later that day, your thighs are smashed. You know it when you ascend the day lodge stairs to meet your destiny with a pint of Nelson Brewing Company’s Faceplant Winter Ale at Oil Can Johnny’s.
Originally published in Western Living magazine, Jan/Feb 2022