The future looks big at Big White in its 2020 Master Plan

Big plans for Big White

More than double the chair lifts, almost triple the skiable terrain, along with cat skiing, zip lining, golfing and expanded mountain biking trails. Big White could look a whole lot bigger in the coming decades.

The ski resort, about an hour outside of Kelowna, recently submitted its 2020 Master Plan to the provincial government, outlining its plans for growth through to 2089.

“This is big picture stuff ... this is a broad brush picture of what things could be,” said Michael J. Ballingall, vice-president of Big White.

“For sure we're going to expand the resort, for sure there'll be more lifts, for sure there'll be more skiing, there'll be more accommodation ... First you have to go through the process of getting the plan approved.”

The resort's original Master Plan was created in 1989, which set a plan for the coming 50 years.

“We've got about 19 years left on that contract, so what [the government] asked for is 'are you going extend your contract?' Obviously yes. 'So give us a look at what things would look like for the next 50 years,'” Ballingall said.

The stated goal of the 2020 plan is to make the mountain a “world-class, all-season destination resort.”

This includes adding an additional 17 chair lifts and expanding the skiable terrain from the current 607 acres to 1,628 acres.

Much of this terrain will come from what the resort calls the East Peak area, more than three kilometres east of the current Black Forest Chair.

“The East Peak was identified as offering a significant opportunity to develop north facing, high quality ski terrain,” the plan states. “This is the type of advanced and expert terrain that is currently lacking at Big White. Further, the surrounding Crown lands offer backcountry adventure opportunities for the Resort to capitalize on and cater to.”

The resort is looking to expand its summer offerings as well, by expanding its current downhill mountain bike trail system and adding cross-country mountain bike trails, while adding golf courses and an alpine roller coaster.

But Ballingall says with the challenges that have come from running the resort during a pandemic, they're focused more on 2020 than the far-off future.

“Tomorrow it will be like Jan. 4, 1996. There is literally less than 10 per cent occupancy on the mountain [compared to 97 per cent last year], there is nobody here,” he said.

“We know that this will come to an end ... we will be able to run the resort similar to how we ran it last year, and then we will start to look at what is the right thing to do first. And obviously summer and mountain biking and hiking and summer adventure on the mountain is really important to the sustainable future of the resort because it gives us two seasons.”

The 2020 Master Plan will be open to a series of virtual public consultation sessions in the near future.

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