Golden Rules

A major new resort opens in the affordable Great White North, where they apparently didn't get the word that skiing is dead

 

UP UNTIL A FEW months ago, if you asked for a pair of boards in the hardscrabble mill town of Golden, British Columbia, you might well have gone home with a couple of two-by-fours strapped to your car. But "planks" will take on an entirely new meaning here come December 8, when the gondola doors open on one of the largest North American ski resort expansion projects in decades.

In the coming six years, Golden's Whitetooth Ski Area, a 1,000-acre, 14-year-oldmom-and-pop hill in the Dog Tooth Range of the Purcell Mountains, will, for better or worse, morph into a Canadian- outback version of Whistler and Blackcomb. Leading the $130 million Kicking Horse Mountain Resort project is 57-year-old Canadian architect Oberto Oberti, with funding from the Dutch engineering firm Ballast Nedam and the Columbia Basin Trust—a Canadian government group set up to revitalize communities displaced by the damming of the Columbia River. Starting this month, powder seekers will take the ten-minute Golden Eagle Express gondola to the 7,705-foot summit, and by the time the project is finished, six lifts will bring a projected 225,000 skiers a day to the brink of a 4,133-foot vertical drop—the fourth-highest on the continent and just a few feet shy of the vertical at Wyoming's Jackson Hole. Kicking Horse, 165 miles west of Calgary, will boast 4,005 acres of terrain, which is just one-quarter fewer than Vail Mountain, the largest single-mountain operation in the United States.

But it's not the size of Kicking Horse that's extraordinary; it's the fact that the resort is going up at all—and so quickly. "The only way you can ever afford to build like that is with some kind of government support," says Roger McCarthy, the chief operating officer of Breckenridge Ski Resort in Colorado. "It would take us 15 years to get any kind of critical mass. In Canada, they can get government funds to make it happen in five." On this side of the border, resort developers face a very different regulatory and environmental climate: In an October 1998 effort intended to draw attention to the plight of the Canada lynx, activists set fires that destroyed or damaged some $12 million worth of Vail Mountain facilities, including four chairlifts and a new lodge. Further, legal wrangling between the Forest Service and enviro groups has stalled a proposed 581-acre expansion at Loon Mountain Resort in Lincoln, New Hampshire, since 1986.

More to the point, on this side of the line, alpine skiing seems cursed with a nationwide case of ennui. Aside from a five-year, $500 million expansion under way at The Canyons in Park City, Utah, it's been almost two decades since the last major ski resort was built, and the annual number of visits to U.S. ski areas has remained relatively static at 52 million for the last 15 years. This is a fact that a National Ski Areas Association representative blames on industry consolidation, but one that may more realistically be attributed to aging baby boomers who would rather hit the golf course than freeze their butts off on some chairlift. And a depressed Canadian currency is helping to bleed the domestic industry—at press time, the dollar had dipped to US $0.67. Roger Beck, a senior vice-president for Vail Resorts Development Company, guesses that Breckenridge, one of the firm's properties, lost 150,000 visitors over the last four years. Though he doesn't know exactly how many of them headed for Canada, Beck confirms the country's weak dollar is "luring American skiers North."

KICKING HORSE won't be the first high-alpine attraction to draw adventurers to Golden. In the early 1900s, the Canadian Pacific Railway hired Swiss guides to lead clients into the surrounding mountains. In 1965, the world's first heli-ski operation began ferrying clients up to the ridges of the Purcell Range—a service now offered in the region by three chopper companies and a snowcat service. The celebrated Rogers Pass backcountry touring area sits a mere 34 miles west of town, and the whole region is surrounded by six national parks—Banff, Glacier, Yoho, Kootenay, Mount Revelstoke, and Jasper—that collectively comprise the world's largest mountain playground. Golden's peaks receive an average of 275 inches of Alta-light snow annually—not exactly massive accumulation compared to places like Colorado's Wolf Creek Ski Area (which in a typical year is blessed with more than 400 inches), but snowfall is extremely consistent thanks to the nearby Continental Divide, while cold Arctic wind currents keep the white stuff fresh.

Capitalizing on the region's near-mythical status among off-piste aficionados, Kicking Horse will open up a pair of 1,500-foot ridges over Golden —known in the Whitetooth days simply as Middle Ridge and North Ridge—for the price of a gondola ticket ($27). Once on top, skiers and snowboarders will take in mountain vistas looming in all directions, and then push off into a series of west-facing bowls, cutting powder turns down 1,000 feet to the tree line. Or maybe they'll duck under the ropes up top and enter an unpatrolled backcountry area on the far side of the mountain known as Canyon Creek.

Terrain such as this is at least part of the reason why, while annual U.S. resort visits remain on ice, visits to British Columbia ski areas are actually increasing. Last season, British Columbia's resorts hit the 5.6 million mark, up from 3.3 million a decade ago. Aside from the automatic exchange-rate discount that American visitors enjoy at the cash registers, the province has heaps of snow (372 inches landed on Whistler last winter) and mountains of skiable terrain (72 commercial operations do business there). It's also got Intrawest, the $1.4 billion developer that masterminded Whistler-Blackcomb and the "village-centered" ski resort, where lifts leave directly from the town square. In the past two seasons, Whistler and Blackcomb together surpassed two million skier visits per year—a feat unduplicated in the United States.

And those visitors are hungry for new thrills. "All the French shredders have been waiting for a high-speed lift in Golden for years," says Ptor Spricenieks, a North Face­sponsored skier who spent last winter in Golden. "B.C. is the hot spot for skiing in the world." But it hasn't been a totally smooth ride. Since 1996, former Olympic skier Nancy Greene-Raine and her husband Al have been battling with the St'at'imc First Nations people over their $360 million, 14,000-bed Cayoosh Resort, planned near the town of Lillooet some 40 miles northof Whistler. The St'at'imc have blocked access roads to protest what they fear will be an increase in pollution and a decrease in game.

Though Kicking Horse is being billed as a brand-new resort, technically it is an expansion project—a distinction that allowed Oberti's proposal to sail through the province's environmental impact assessment process. There were no nearby aboriginal claims and few objections from environmentalists—due largely to the fact that the operation is situated a stone's throw from the Trans-Canada Highway, and not within pristine wilderness.

Kicking Horse also benefitted from the close ties that British Columbian ski operations share with public land authorities. As part of the Commercial Alpine Ski Policy, a government plan, the province kicked in 180 acres of public land at $2,500 an acre (roughly market value) for Kicking Horse to develop into an alpine resort village. Judging from architectural renderings of Kicking Horse that depict a gondola plaza surrounded by hotels, condos, and family homes, and the newspaper ads for the units filling Vancouver newspapers, you get the impression that the Kicking Horse base area will be Whistler II. (A Whistler Resort representative declined to comment on the plan.) "We are going to try to make it the most interesting and elegant village there is," gushes Oberti.

Of course, there already is a village nearby—the town of Golden itself. When Oberti first outlined his plans to the locals in October of 1996, the 4,000 residents were still smarting from the temporary closure, just weeks earlier, of the Evans Forest Products lumber mill, the town's principal employer. Promising that the resort will create 350 to 500 new service jobs, in the fall of 1997 he presented the populace with a referendum. Some 31 percent of area residents turned out, and 93 percent of them voted in favor of the project.

But the townspeople's enthusiasm could come back to haunt them, should property prices follow the trend they have in Whistler. (According to Whistler Real Estate, average 1999 home prices were two-and-a-half times those of a decade earlier.) Should that happen here—and skier Ptor Spricenieks, among others, believes it will—people like Caroline Green, a 34-year-old masseuse, will feel it the most. After living in Whistler for 12 years, she decamped to Golden in May to escape an escalating cost of living. "My friends can't afford Whistler anymore, so they all came flooding out here to check out the real estate," she says. "Whistler is becoming the Canadian Aspen."

That's just fine with pro skier Moss Patterson, who also just moved to Golden from Whistler, and who recently returned from a ski descent of Peru's 19,790-foot Mount Toqllaraju. "Just like Whistler, you can ski right down the ridge," he says. "Golden's going to be a similar big-mountain experience: lift to the peak, then where do you want to go?" In other words, ask for some boards in Golden this time next year, and you'll likely be pointed in the direction of the nearest sleek pair of Dynastars.

Access + Resources
Off-Piste Paradise

THE BASICS: Kicking Horse Mountain Resort is at 888-706-1117 or www.kickinghorseresort.com All prices in U.S. dollars.

GETTING THERE: Air Canada services Calgary from almost every major U.S. city. From there, rent a car from Avis (800-879-2847) or Hertz (800-654-3131), or catch the westbound Greyhound to Golden. 

LODGING: The Golden area offers several backcountry lodges, including Sorcerer Lake Lodge (250-344-2804; www.sorcererlodge.com; $840 per week) and Mistaya Lodge (250-344-6689; www.mistayalodge.com; $1,030 per week) both accessible only by helicopter. In Golden, you can rest your peds at Sisters and Beans Restaurant and Guesthouse (250-344-2443; $40 night), a European-style inn known for its rich fondues. 

ABOVE THE FRAY: Eastern British Columbia boasts thousands of acres of prime heli-skiing terrain. Contact Canadian Mountain Holidays (800-661-0252; www.cmhski.com Great Canadian Heliskiing), (250-344-2326; www.greatcanadianheliski.com), or Purcell Helicopter Skiing (250-344-5410; www.purcellhelicopterskiing.com), for weeklong trips ranging from $3,350 to $5,000. —Jason Daley

Behold the first alcoholic energy drink. Sort of.

Hype

"BECAUSE OF ATF GUIDELINES, we can't say it's an energy drink," explains Quendrith Johnson, one of the spinmeisters charged with hyping a new citrusy, caffeinated, alcoholic beverage called Hard e. "Instead, marketing is calling it a carbonated, alcoholic refresher." Clueing in to the popular Red-Bull-and-vodka cocktail known on the après-ski circuit as an Uprising, Corona, California–based Hansen Natural Corp. fused Energy, its existing athlete turbo drink, with a blend of vodka and malt liquor to create the neon-yellow Hard e. (Imagine a Bartles & Jaymes chased with Mountain Dew.) Hansen's wanted to call its concoction Hard Energy, but the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms forced the firm to change the drink's name to comply with the Federal Alcohol Administration Act of 1935, which bars makers of alcoholic drinks from suggesting through packaging or advertising that their wares will enhance athletic prowess. But with a planned rollout at ski resorts throughout the West this winter, Johnson and company are still hoping Hard e will put Red Bull, the jolt du jour, back in its pen. Like that market leader, the 5-percent-alcohol Hard e boasts the amino acid taurine, a panel of B vitamins, and ginseng extract. But, with ATF agents watching closely, the company will need to come up with another hook. "It does contain all sorts of nutrients," says Johnson. "But we can't say exactly what they are."

Outside Style

The Captain Avalanche

"My tack was to take the Flexible Flyer and bring it into the 21st century," says Seattle-based marketing consultant David Levy, a lifetime fan of the classic snow toy and a member of what he describes as a cult of "cockamamy-crazy adults who have continued to sled for their entire life." Realizing several years ago that the Flyer's design hasn't been significantly updated since the late 1800s, Levy parlayed his obsession into the Captain Avalanche—an advanced toboggan prototype that he's currently shopping to leading gear companies. More rocketsled than Rosebud, Captain Avalanche features a padded black body cradle made of polyethylene for headfirst riding and aluminum runners that bend into tight arcs for unprecedented maneuverability.

Alas, the 23-pound Captain Avalanche is not for sale—unless you happen to head up a big equipment company. "We believe there is a major manufacturer out there who is going to realize this thing has potential," says Levy. He hopes the Avalanche will be in retail stores next season for around $300, and he has reason to think it might: After seeing the sled in action, K2 Skis general manager Tim Petrick pronounced it "one of the most exciting products that's come along in years." Still, many resorts are leery of skier-boarder-sledder carnage, and no one has built a terrain park for the Cap'n, yet. "We love the sleds," says Michele Reese, vice-president of Montana's Big Mountain Resort, "but we'd like to see them integrated on somebody else's mountain before we do it here."

Adventure Retching

A horrendous post-Eco-Challenge outbreak underscores the unusual hazards of an already savage sport

WHILE SPENDING NEARLY six days slogging his way to victory in the wilds of Borneo, Isaac Wilson never imagined that the toughest part of the Eco-Challenge Sabah 2000 adventure race was yet to come. But there he was, laid up in a Kota Kinabalu hotel room with a fever approaching 105 degrees, while the other members of Team Salomon collected a $55,000 prize. "I was going through incredible chills, just burning up inside, and then shivering so hard I thought I was going to throw my back out," says Wilson. The 30-year-old was but one of many hospitalized after the August race by the potentially deadly

infection leptospirosis. At press time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had confirmed seven lepto sufferers (of a suspected 25 cases among American competitors) and was working with the World Health Organization to contact the 161 Eco-Challenge racers who live outside the States.

Athletes and organizers alike knew something like this could happen: In the 1994 Raid Gauloises, also held in Borneo, New Zealander Steve Gurney nearly died after contracting the same infection. (Apparently undaunted by his first bout with lepto, Gurney believes he contracted it again this year, at the ELF Authentic Adventure race in Brazil.) Eco-Challenge supervising producer Lisa Hennessy—who, incidentally, caught whooping cough while scouting locations in Borneo—stands behind the choice of the host country. "When people are competing in these races, they know the risks," she says. "They know they're going to be traversing places where no other people have traversed before. And that's part of the appeal."

Fortunately, after an aggressive course of antibiotics and a week of suffering in his hotel room, Wilson is fine, as are the rest of the masochists who competed in this year's event. What's more, Wilson's ready to race again. "Only when somebody comes close to dying do we really take notice," he says. "Everything else, we're conditioned to just suffer through." What follows is a physician's chart of hard-core nasties that have historically taken up residence in the adventure-racing ranks.

THE BUG
Leptosgcolorpirosis

THE RACE
Eco-Challenge Sabah 2000, Borneo; 1994 Raid Gauloises, Borneo; 2000 ELF Authentic Adventure, Brazil

THE AGONY
High fever, chills, muscle aches, jaundice, possible death

THE TRANSMISSION
Contact with water contaminated with animal urine

THE SYMPTOMS
"You feel so tired and so achy. I was lying in bed the whole day, and I couldn't even bear to turn on the TV." —Karen Lundgren, Team Hi-Tec


THE BUG
Viral Meningitis

THE RACE
1997 Eco-Challenge, Australia

THE AGONY
Seven to ten days of headache, nausea, neck and back pain, possible death

THE TRANSMISSION
Otherwise harmless air and waterborne viruses that infiltrate exhausted immune systems

THE SYMPTOMS
"I came within a half-inch of death. I saw the white light and the whole nine yards. It wasn't a comfortable experience." —Patrick Csizmazia, Team ROAM


THE BUG
Hookworm, aka Larva Migrans

THE RACE
Eco-Challenge Sabah 2000, Borneo

THE AGONY
Up to a month of excruciating itching

THE TRANSMISSION
Contact via soil with the quarter-inch-long worms, which burrow into skin to lay eggs

THE SYMPTOMS
"It looked like the mumps had mated with the chicken pox. I was flopping around like a landed marlin." —David Kelly, Team Hi-Tec


THE BUG
Dengue Fever, aka Breakbone Fever

THE RACE
Eco-Challenge Sabah 2000, Borneo

THE AGONY
High fever, chills, headache, possible death

THE TRANSMISSION
Mosquito bites

THE SYMPTOMS
"It's about 90 degrees. And I was wearing jackets to warm up. Then I'd have a fever to 103 degrees."—Matthew Battiston, Team C-Magazine.com

Me Tarzan, You Jeanne

The French take to the treetops for high-wire adventure—starring hanging logs, zip lines, and yeah, a jungle rope swing

READY FOR the Tour de France of ropes courses? Start with the usual cargo nets and balance beams, add a 30-foot jungle swing here and a zip-line there, ditch the team-building jargon, stick the whole works 60 feet up in the canopy of a French pine forest, and you've got trekking aérien, or aerial trekking. "Clients love films like Indiana Jones," says Jean Yves, an operations manager for La Forêt de L'Aventure—an obstacle course built on about seven and a half acres in the village of Talloires, near Geneva. "Here, they become the hero."

Last year, roughly 12,000 Europeans and Americans of all ages paid approximately $16 each to slip into a climbing harness and clamber around La Forêt's tree-fort-style platforms—one of an estimated 20 such courses built in France since 1997. The more elaborate setups include up to 40 differentarboreal challenges involving nets, ladders, hanging logs, and stirrups that can take up to three hours to navigate."Mostly, it's very, very quiet and you really can't see much because the forest is so thick," says 37-year-old Annemasse, France, resident Dawn MacNeill of her August run through La Forêt's course. "But you do occasionally hear people go, 'Aah-uh-AHHHH!'" (That would be a Tarzan yell, in French.)

Uh-huh. But will it travel? Dev Pathik, president ofthe Carolina Beach, North Carolina­–based company Challenge Course Advisory, predicts aerial trekking will swing over to the New World sometime in the next two years, showing up first at ski resorts as a potential source of off-season revenue. Though the nation's technical tree climbing community (not to mention environmental groups) may take issue with a sport that involves bolting platforms and ladders to trees, representatives from Telluride, Jackson Hole, and three other resorts have contacted Pathik about bringing aerial trekking to the states. Corporate trust games may never be the same again.


 The Worst Journey in the World, Chapter Two
A new book chronicles history's most plodding—and belligerent—trek to the South Pol

"I CAN'T EXPLAIN WHY he behaved the way he did," says Australian explorer Eric Philips. "Perhaps it has something to do with all that time he's spent at altitude without oxygen—maybe that does something to the brain.

Philips is referring to New Zealander Peter Hillary, the 46-year-old son of Everest legend Sir Edmund Hillary and a key player in one of the most bizarre public tiffs in recent expedition history—a spat that began on the Antarctic ice cap in 1998 and ended recently in New Zealand and Australian law offices.

At issue is IceTrek: The Bitter Journey to the South Pole (published this fall by HarperCollins New Zealand), an account of a disastrous 930-mile journey authored by Philips, 38, who set out to ski across the ice with Hillary—an accomplished adventurer—and 39-year-old Aussie Jon Muir. Claiming that IceTrek portrays him as "bungling and inept," Hillary threatened to block the title in the New Zealand courts. He cites a pre-expedition agreement that banned the publication of personal trip accounts for three years following the expedition. "There was an obvious breach of contract," says Hillary.

Philips countered that the contract allows for the publication of a single book—the official account of the expedition—and had positioned IceTrek as just that. Unfortunately, the trip seemed jinxed from the day they began in November 1998 until they made it to 90 degrees south a torturous 84 days later. Bad weather, bad health, and atrocious team chemistry earned the trio a record: slowest South Pole expedition ever. None of this makes for a heroic tale, and Hillary takes the brunt of it; IceTrek paints him as emotionally unstable and physically unfit.

Hillary and Philips settled out of court for an undisclosed sum in September, paving the way for the book's possible North American release. (Muir calls the legal wrangling "a load of nonsense.") But the bickering continues. "To offer a settlement like this is as good as an admission of fault," says Hillary, clearly still miffed by the whole escapade. "The amount was immaterial." —Brad Wetzler

Caught

Will snowkiting bring big air to the prairies?

"Flatlanders will love it," predicts Charlie Patterson, 31, a professional snowboarder and one of a new cadre of American athletes using kites to grab big winter air. An offshoot of its waterbound cousin kiteboarding, snowkiting allows a skier or snowboarder harnessed to the 98-foot-long reins of an inflatable mylar foil kite to launch upwards of 40 feet off horizontal terrain. Patterson may be worth listening to, judging from the growth of kiteboarding: The arrival of a water-relaunchable kite in 1998 attracted nearly a dozen new kiteboarding manufacturers, inspired three magazine startups, and is winning over many of America's estimated 1.5 million wakeboarders. In Europe, where the shift from water to snow originated, there's already a snowkiting competition circuit. And if the fledgling sport can take off on such a cramped continent, imagine the possibilities for the Midwest. "The best place for this isn't really a ski resort, but an open field where you could go for miles and days at a time," says Patterson, pictured here at California's Soda Springs Lake last March. Maybe there's something in it for the South Dakota tourism board, which has the unenviable task of promoting Interstate 94; the corridor must boast a thousand square miles of launchable three-foot-high snowdrifts.

More Adventure

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