What else could go wrong with this ski season?

Ski season full of challenges

The 12 downhill resorts and cross-country ski areas in the Southern Interior have had a challenging season so far, to say the least.

That has prompted this column on what else could possibly go wrong?

The start to this year's season was particularly lacklustre across B.C. with drastically reduced snowfall. However, Southern Interior ski hills have demonstrated their resilience while maintaining a safe environment for skiers and snowboarders. They have responded with multiple programs, events and innovations.

Big White, for example, was originally scheduled to open on Nov. 23, but it was delayed to Nov. 30, then to Dec. 5 and it finally opened on Dec. 8, exactly 60 years from the resort's initial opening day. The good news is lift tickets were 50% off and the season will be extended by one week (with 60th anniversary celebrations) to April 14. Central reservations offered an extended early-season special of 25% off accommodation until Dec. 21.

The resort also promoted its wide range of other mountain activities, including snowshoeing, horse sleigh rides, snowmobile tours, dog sledding, ice skating with rink-side bonfires and the tubing park. The special Freedom Friday program, organized especially locals of varying proficiency levels, offered four Fridays of lessons. Freedom from work? Don't tell the boss.

Big White received an early New Year's Day present on Dec. 30 with a much-awaited dump of 10 centimetres. Several major snowfalls followed but bitterly cold temperatures in January had Thompson-Okanagan ski hills closing lifts and cancelling programs.

Big White responded with its January lift and lodging special—$138 per person per day. Mother Nature was not amused. On Jan. 11, Big White announced that due to the Arctic vortex conditions, four lifts, including the Bullet Express for night skiing, would be temporarily closed. Twelve remained open. A last-minute complete closure came on Jan. 12 when it was -30 C. Night skiing and tubing were cancelled Dec. 13 due to the cold, as well as the weekly Saturday fireworks show.

Baldy Mountain Resort closed its Eagle Chair Jan. 12, and night skiing on Jan. 12 and 13 were cancelled with temperatures of -30 C.

Apex Mountain Resort closed all lifts Jan. 12 and 13 due to -27 C (windchill -35 C to -40C) temperatures. Sun Peaks Resort closed two chairs Jan. 12 with limited operations and delayed openings on the weekend.

SilverStar Mountain Resort closed its Powder Gulch Chair and Home Run t-bar Jan. 11, opening only its gondola and Silver Queen chair Jan. 13and 14. The SilverStar Rippers, Amped and Freeride programs were all cancelled for Jan 13 and 14.

Surviving that, what else could possibly go wrong? A Pineapple Express producing record-high temperatures?

On Jan. 28, the SilverStar forecast had the risk of mixed precipitation with 3 C high, followed by the risk of rain by midweek, so it closed Brewers Pond for ice skating and mini-snowmobile tours.

Temperature wasn't the only challenge at Big White. A bearing in the electric drive motor of the Black Forest Express failed on Jan. 27. Riders were evacuated using a diesel backup. Major replacement components arrived last Tuesday and the the lift was back in operation the next day.

Last Sunday, both the Gem Lake Express and Falcon Chair were closed due to icing from overnight rain. The ice rink was closed due to warming temperatures. The forecast wasn't optimistic with wet snow, feeezing drizzle, winds gusting at 40 to 50 kilometres per hour, fog patches and freezing levels near or above the summit.

Kelowna Nordic Ski and Snowshoe Club had dozens of skiers participate in its first classic ski lesson Jan. 4 but the Jan. 11 class was cancelled as a result of frigid conditions. Groomers also faced challenges. On Jan. 23, the area received one centimetre of new snow but grooming was halted due to the 3 C temperature.

Last Sunday, it rained all night and the weather was "very hard" on the snowcat. On Tuesday, grooming was suspended for several days.

"The soft snow simply will not hold the weight of the groomer and any attempt at grooming will do more damage than good,” said a hill official.

On Monday, SilverStar announced the closure of all double-black expert runs in Putnam Creek, all three terrain parks and Brewer's Pond. The forecast was intermittent mixed precipitation through most of the week.

Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre warned that with unseasonably warm conditions bringing heavy rain overnight, trails were not groomed on Sunday. With more rain forecasted overnight and into the daytime on Monday, there was the potential for a full trail and facility closure Monday. On Monday, the temperature exceeded 5 C and it didn’t freeze overnight but grooming proceeded.

The weather wasn't better in northern B.C. where Mount Timothy Ski Resort near 100 Mile House announced Sunday it was not opening for ski/snowboarding season at all, citing continued warm temperatures, no precipitation in the forecast and what would already be a very late start to the season.

But it could always be worse in the Okanagan and cooler temperatures are in the forecast and Family Day long weekend/Spring Break that are coming up.

Big White has also launched a teen ski/snowboard program, tailored for 13- to 18-year-olds. There will be five action-packed days of five hours each day, with the same coach in either All Mountain or Park and Freestyle disciplines.

Unfortunately, SilverStar has cancelled the 2024 Over the Hill Downhill on Friday and Saturday due to soft conditions and the Vernon Winter Carnival has cancelled its B.C. Snow Sculpture Competition this weekend. Instead, Carvewel Creations will perform a series of 10 ice carvings in the carnival theme, which is “games.”

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

J.P. Squire arrived in the Okanagan Valley from flatland Chatham, Ont. in the middle of the night in the spring of 1980. Waking up in the Highway 97 motel, he looked across the then-four-lane roadway at Mount Baldy and commented: "Oh my God, there's mountains." Driving into downtown Kelowna, he exclaimed: "Oh my God, there's a lake."

The rest is history. After less than a month in Kelowna, he concluded: "I'm going to live here for a long time." And he did.

Within weeks and months, he was hiking local hillsides, playing rec hockey at Memorial Arena and downhill skiing at Big White Ski Resort. After purchasing a hobby farm in the Glenmore Valley in 1986, he bought the first of many Tennessee Walking Horses. After meeting Constant Companion Carmen in 1999, he bought two touring kayaks and they began exploring Interior lakes and B.C.'s coast.

The outdoor recreation column began with downhill ski coverage every winter as the Ski Sheriff but soon progressed to a year-round column as the Hiking, Biking, Kayaking and Horseback Riding Sheriff.

His extensive list of contacts in Okanagan outdoor recreation clubs, organizations and groups means a constant flow of emails about upcoming events and activities which will be posted on Castanet every Sunday.

You can email the Sheriff at: [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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