The Deep, White Secret

Big White: Kelowna, British Columbia

Nov 1, 1998
Outside Magazine

Big White (800-663-2772) comes as close to a fully self-contained resort as any in central BC, making it the destination of choice for intermediates and families. Vancouverites have taken notice, especially in the eight years since the new Coquihalla Connector freeway made it a quick 250 miles to Kelowna. Express quads sprouted as fast as west-siders (and migratory northwestern Yanks) could fill them, and Big White grew into a contender.

Too much so, grouse some locals, who say Big White—which gets about one-fourth of Whistler-Blackcomb's throngs—is already too crowded, at least by Inner BC standards. Indeed, the resort's two mushrooming base areas (the lower-mountain Westridge area was built entirely from scratch two years ago, doubling the skiable acreage) seem so constantly under construction that Big White threatens to become Whistler East.
But the weather proves that this ain't Whistler. Big White sprouts dramatically from a high-desert plain (think northern Idaho), and the bald-headed mountain is consistently hit by the big stuff: 294 inches of it in an average year. Unlike its West Coast cousins, however, clearing almost always follows dumping here, exposing a grand palette of 100 maintained runs spread over 2,300 acres that face mostly south, into the winter sun. The upper elevation, 7,500 feet, is the highest lift-served area in the region, which means snow lingers longer. Many runs are lightly treed, and post-storm forays through the snow-ghost-studded Enchanted Forest are the stuff of BC skiing legend.

The upper-mountain terrain, reached by eight rarely jammed lifts, tends to be open and exposed, with a handful of extremely large boulder fields. The black runs are truly unnerving to most, though experts may wish for a little more variety after a day of ripping the Easter Chutes or the double-diamond Grizzly Playground Bowl. Intermediates, however, never seem to get enough of Big White. The best cruising runs—Cougar Alley and the other tree-cut trails off the Black Forest Express—are nicely sculpted with great sight lines and plenty of roaming space. The ski and snowboard school is big and notable, and boarders thrive here, both in the three halfpipes (one lighted) and on the mountain itself.

Accommodations are definitively not backwoods. Six thousand beds are found in 22 hotels, ranging from the utilitarian Whitefoot Lodge ($81; 800-663-2772) to the only slightly upper-crusted White Crystal Inn ($102; 250-765-4611). The newest digs are in the cleverly designed, 100-room Coast Resort ($89; 250-491-0221), added last season. Nightlife is loose, fun, and just raucous enough. Don't leave without partaking of the Gunbarrel Coffee (flaming Grand Marnier poured down the barrel of a shotgun at Snowshoe Sam's). Next day, you'll swear you saw Ogopogo, the legendary monster of nearby Okanagan Lake.