The Deep, White Secret

And It's Even Good in the Margins: Skiing Down BC's Still Less Well Beaten Paths

Nov 1, 1998
Outside Magazine

Powder tends to collect in the fringes. As do BC skiers. The same stuff that blankets the destination resorts of Big White, Silver Star, and Sun Peaks is also floated upon and inhaled daily at a handful of local day-tripper ski haunts—not to mention visited in deus ex machina style via the world's biggest heli-ski air force. Pick, choose, and drop in.

Red Mountain (800-663-0105) is barebones, backwoods skiing at its butt-busting best. Red, as it's known in the northland, doesn't qualify as a well-kept secret anymore, but its home base, the frontier mining town of Rossland, is still Starbucks-free. Clinging beneath two peaks that trap caches of Rockies-like powder, Red delivers dozens of terror-inducing black-diamond chutes and a grand assortment of lift-served powder glades. Even without the exchange rate, Red's mostly utilitarian lodgings would be dirt cheap. Try the Uplander Hotel ($54; 800-667-8741) or the closer-to-the-mountain Ram's Head Inn ($77; 250-362-9577), where a big wooden hot tub allows for plenty of aprˆs-ski northern exposure.
Veteran BC skiers rate 400-acre Whitewater (800-666-9420), just outside Nelson, one of Canada's best powder mountains. And the numbers—388 annual inches—back it up. Most locals skip the tired old lifts and head straight out of bounds, skiing trackless backcountry glades down to the cars they parked on the highway below. Lodging is all down the hill in Nelson, an absolute Christmas ornament of a mountain town that served as the small-town setting for Steve Martin's Roxanne. Try the centrally located Best Western Baker Street Inn ($50; 250-352-3525) or call the above number for a list of turn-of-the-century B&Bs.

Tucked under the Rockies' left shoulder, Fernie Alpine Resort (800-258-7669) is a longtime provincial wallflower, but new owner Charles Locke, who also owns Lake Louise Ski Area, is speculating that Fernie's best attributes—including a hefty 350-inch average annual snowfall—will turn a few heads. Two lifts scheduled to open in December will open three new bowls and nearly double the skiable acreage to 1,900, with a respectable 2,800-foot vertical drop. Crash at the comfy slopeside Griz Inn ($48; 800-661-9170) or find even less expensive lodging five minutes away in Fernie. Be forewarned, however, that the only apris-ski action to be found is at the mountain.

For pure, chopper-powered steeps, Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing (250-673-8381), based near the town of Blue River, is still the place. Wiegele's 22,000-square-foot spruce-log lodge is where all good skiers should go when—or hopefully well before—they die, with gourmet grub, professional ski waxers and shoulder rubbers, and as much vertical as you can do in a day without heading for the great beyond. Wiegele's crews fly to otherwise-untouchable spots in the Cariboos and Monashees, side-by-side ranges that share about 360 inches of annual snowfall. Five- to seven-day packages cost from $2,550 to $3,830 per person, but look at it this way: Every serious skier owes it to himself once in a lifetime. The exchange rate—and your knees—won't ever be better.