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We’re spoiled with selection.
Whistler, you magnificent behemoth, what is up? Are you still three times the size of Jackson Hole? Four times the size of Sun Valley? Did you just eat Deer Valley’s lunch—again—inSKI Magazine’s annual survey of best resorts in North America? Good, thought so. But what we really want to know is this: do you still have any secrets for us tucked away in those 8,171 acres of yours? We chatted with a few locals who grudgingly gave up the goods.
Distance from Vancouver: 2 hoursElevation: 2,182 mRuns: 200+Average snowfall: 1,192 cm
First thing in morning: Springboard on Blackcomb. Always impeccably groomed and seems to stretch on forever.When everything is skied out: Ridge Runner on Blackcomb. It’s a long, wide blue slope on the far side of the mountain with tree-run options for even more freedom from the crowds.Best Nordic run: The Pooch Loop at Whistler Olympic Park—10 kilometres of dog-friendly trailsNew this year: The Whistler Blackcomb Wonder Routes—six unique route options that take skiers and boarders to some of the best areas including the Powder Stashes, Top of the World, and Gold Medal routes.
The Four Seasons is awesome, the Fairmont is sublime, butHorstman House (from $260/night. Horstmanhouse.com), tucked up above Blackcomb in the Benchlands neighbourhood, nestled amongst multimillion-dollar homes, allows you to play house (full kitchens, up to three bedrooms) in this rarefied air while still having the hotel experience (wi-fi, front desk, free shuttles).
Between the heights of fine dining (Araxi and Bearfoot Bistro) and cheap local haunts (burgers at Splitz), Creekbread(2021 Karen Cres., 604-905-6666. Creekbread.com) has staked a claim. The place is always hopping, perhaps because the beer is a few bucks cheaper and the excellent pizza is priced for local families.
Apex is the Falstaff of Okanagan ski resorts. Its former Prince Hal drinking buddies—Tod, Silver Star, and Big White—have gone all Henry V, cleaning up their acts with fancy accommodation, pricey lift tickets, and solid, responsible corporate ownership. Don’t get us wrong—they’ve become really nice places to ski. But they lost a little soul in the transformation. Not Apex. There’s a difference between old and old school, and Apex, with its untracked snow, smaller crowds, and $65 lift tickets, is decidedly the latter. It still has a general store. Families actually pack their lunch. It’s Hot Tub Time Machine come to life.
Distance from Vancouver: 4.5 hoursElevation: 2,191 mRuns: 68Average snowfall: 600 cm
First thing in morning: Pea-ShooterWhen everything is skied out: Dirty HarryBest Nordic run: Nickel PlateNew this year: The skier and boardercross course with 12- to 15-foot-high berms, starting at the top of Spruce Hollow.
If you came for swank accommodation you’ve taken a wrong turn. At Apex you want an A-Frame, those functional beauties that used to be the lodging of choice at all B.C. mountains but have since been replaced with faux mountain condos. Not here. Not at the awesomely retro Lions Den (from $380/night. Stayatapex.com) with 2 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, full kitchen, hot tub, and barbecue.
Old school? Great for skiing, not so much for dinner. It’s worth a 30-minute trip to Bogner’s (302 W. Eckhardt Ave., 250-493-2711. Bogners.ca) in Penticton—its alpine-haus vibe perfectly channels Zermatt. And while it might seem retro, the cooking of chef Darin Paterson—think house-smoked organic lamb liver with gastric onion crisps—is easily among the best in the Okanagan.
A few years back I spent a morning skiing with Red Mountain’s most famous daughter, Nancy Greene. Though she was 67 and a sitting senator, she wore no helmet and skied the first run of the day—fast—with a cup of coffee in her hand, which is to say you can take the senator out of Red Mountain, but you can’t take the Red out of the senator. Hardcores have been skiing Red since the early 1900s, but it stayed a secret until San Diego millionaire Howard Katkov bought the place in 2004 and determined to pull it into the 21st century. The resort has had a serious face-lift but despite all the niceties, at its heart Red is a place of prodigious powder and scary steeps—and the sort of place where you might ski the first run of the day with a full cup of coffee in hand.
Distance from Vancouver: 8 hoursElevation: 2,075 mRuns: 88Average snowfall: 750 cm
First thing in morning: Southern Belle or Powder Fields if it has been snowing.When everything is skied out: For $10 a Cat will take you to untracked stuff on the Grey Mountain expansion.Best Nordic run: Whatever the Black Jack Ski Club (Skiblackjack.ca) says is skiing well.New this year: Grey Mountain, an area the size of Mt. Baker that’s now part of Red.
There are some cool-ish places in Rossland (The Flying Steamshovel, from $85/night, is worth it for the name alone), but you come here to ski so it’s on to mountain lodging. That means you’ll want to stay at Slalom Creek (from $213/night.Redreservations.com/slalom-creek): fancy and new and all a powder hound could hope for.
These days even Rossland has an izakaya joint, but we stick with the earnest offerings of Idgie’s (1999 Second Ave., 250-362-0078. Idgiesrestaurant.com). It’s not fancy, but it’s not pretentious either. They’re Ocean Wise, the prices are low, and the food is honest and well executed.