Skiing in British Columbia

Fly into Vancouver International Airport on any given day between November and April and you'll notice that a high proportion of your fellow travellers seem to be carrying ski or snowboard gear. If you've come here looking for a relaxed, uncrowded skiing experience this might induce a state of mild panic, but don't worry – there's no need to be alarmed.

The Province of British Columbia covers almost a million square kilometres, making it roughly ten times bigger than the United Kingdom. The population density in the UK is 246 people per square km; in BC it's just 4.7. Also, consider that around 75 percent of BC is covered in mountains, and thanks to the prevailing westerly winds blowing in off the Pacific, it snows hard here all winter long.

In the summer, the lake-strewn region of south-central BC known as the Okanagan is like one giant vineyard, producing vast quantities of grapes for the burgeoning local wine industry. In the winter, though, it is transformed into ski nut heaven, with several world-class resorts packed into a relatively small area. If you're happy to do most of your driving after dark, you can comfortably visit three different hills in a week without sacrificing any precious time on the snow.

Big White is the biggest and best-known resort in the area, and also a good place to start any Okanagan ski safari due to its proximity to Kelowna, the region's main transport hub.

The motto at Big White is "It's the snow!" and that slogan has as much to do with quality as it does with quantity. Over 7.5m of the white stuff falls here every year, and while that might be a little less than Whistler's average of 9.14m, the extra distance from the sea makes the air here colder and drier, so the snow is lighter and fluffier – real champagne powder, in other words. You don't have to be a ski anorak to notice the difference.

This is a resort that has almost everything: there's easy terrain to be found all over, which means beginners and intermediates don't have to confine themselves to one corner of the hill, yet there's still enough tough stuff to keep experts entertained, particularly around the Cliff Chair, which offers an abundance of steep and deep. For a unique Big White experience, head to the Sun Rype Bowl and pick your way through the famous "snow ghosts" – evergreens which have been encased in snow and then bent and twisted into surreal shapes.

With its brightly coloured, olde worlde buildings, Silver Star near the town of Vernon, just north of Kelowna, must be the most distinctive ski resort in North America. Even on overcast days, the locals wear shades.

The mountain is divided into two very different zones. Directly above and below the village is the Vance Creek area, which mostly caters to beginners and intermediates and features the gladed skiing mecca of Silver Woods. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Home Run T-bar, Putnam Creek is a scary, hairy carnival of gnar, with countless black and double-black runs served by the aptly named Powder Gulch Express chairlift. If you like your skiing spooky as well as extreme, check out the Spirit Bowl here – a steep double-black that drops through a stand of spindly, fire-ravaged pines.

Published Date: 04 January 2010
By Roger Cox

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