Big White in The Province
Published on The Province by Kristin Jackson
British Columbia’s Big White ski resort can be delightfully uncrowded
I never thought I’d want a lift line. Yet on a perfect spring day at British Columbia’s Big White ski resort — sparkling sun, fresh snow and only a handful of skiers on each run — I almost yearned for a lineup so I’d have more time to catch my breath.
Instead, I zipped up and down like a yo-yo on high-speed chairs and empty runs until I was exhausted. It was a delightful problem to have, especially after skiing the often crowded and soggy slopes of southwest B.C. and western Washington.
Big White is on the other side of the coastal mountains, in southeast B.C. where it’s colder and drier — think powder and lots of it.
It’s one of a string of destination ski resorts that dot the province’s interior from Sun Peaks near Kamloops south through the Okanagan area to Silver Star and Big White.
After the giant Whistler-Blackcomb, Big White is one of British Columbia’s biggest ski areas, with 118 runs plus off-the-beaten-track skiing spread over 1,117 hectares. A dozen main lifts carry skiers and boarders as high as 2,316 metres (and give a vertical drop of 777 metres); there also are “magic carpets” for beginners and two snowtubing lifts. A $2.5 million terrain park, lighted at night, has rails, pipes and more for the adventurous.
While Whistler mixes glitz and partying with world-class skiing, Big White caters to families and a quieter crowd. Its good snow and long straight runs are ideal for intermediate skiers and boarders; more than half of Big White’s runs are designated intermediate. Powder hounds head to black-diamond bowls off the appropriately-named Cliff Chair.
Beginner runs are spread across the mountain, and some runs will be specially patrolled daily this coming season to keep things safe and slow for families and seniors.
At the end of the day, skiers can glide into the heart of the Big White village that centers on a block-long pedestrian “main street” at about 1,700 metres at the base of some main lifts. Many hotels, condos and vacation houses are ski-in, ski-out. And apres-ski fun ranges from snowtubing and ice-skating to horse-drawn sleigh rides.
Big White can get busy, especially on weekends and holidays when locals from Kelowna, about 40 miles north, flock to the slopes. They’re joined by skiers from across Canada, the Pacific Northwest and even Europe and Japan who come for the open terrain, reliable powder and, compared to Europe, good deals.
But ski on weekdays early or late in the season, as I did in March, and you’ll practically have the slopes to yourself.
“No people; it’s lovely,” said a jolly Englishman who joined me on a chair for a bit of company. He zoomed away on Blue Sapphire, an intermediate run off the Gem Lake chair that was so straight-down-the-fall-line and smoothly groomed that it made everyone look expert.
But it’s Australians who rule Big White. They’re ski-school teachers, hotel staff, waiters, lift operators — and the resort’s owners. And they all ski madly when not working. “G’day” and “No worries” were the constant refrain, in a lilting Aussie accent, in town and on the slopes.
Big White was bought years ago by an Australian family (who also own nearby Silver Star resort). They revived it financially, expanded the skiing — the ski area began in 1963 with one T-bar — and built up the ski village. That Australia connection and “working holiday permits” (which permit young Australian visitors to work in Canada) have brought legions of travel-loving Aussies to Big White and other B.C. ski resorts.
In a two-day blitz I roamed across the mountain, swooping down dozens of runs and veering off into the trees for some glade skiing. I wove dreamily among the mountaintop “snow ghosts,” the stunted alpine firs, found near the summits of the highest chairs, that are caked in wind-whipped snow without a needle of green showing.
During my spring visit, I had days of lovely sun and miles-wide views of the surrounding Monashee Mountains, rolling mountains that lack the dramatic crags and glaciers of the coastal peaks but have a calm beauty.
In winter, however, the temperatures and visibility can plummet. Big White can get cold snaps , but the average is -5C, according to the resort. And low-hanging clouds, typically in December, can envelop the slopes.
If you need a break from skiing or evening fun, head to Happy Valley in the lower village. Walk down or ride the free, short gondola. Take a sleigh ride. Go snowtubing — slide down a hill on truck-sized inner tubes and ride the special lift back up. Play hockey or skate on the outdoor rink. Watch kids zip around on mini-snowmobiles. And, new this season, try the 60-foot-tall ice-climbing tower.
I watched the few, but happy, people play, then warmed my hands at an outdoor firepit by the shimmering ice rink. The last light was fading from the surrounding Monashee summits, a name derived from a Gaelic phrase for “mountain of peace.” In the offseason, I’d found it peaceful everywhere at Big White.