Southern Interior now a B.C. mecca for skiing

Colder, new snow at ski hills

The return of cold temperatures and new snow this week have Southern Interior ski hills very optimistic for February and March.

Last Tuesday morning, for example, Big White Ski Resort issued a “Powder Alert” after 17 centimetres of fresh snow fell during the previous 24 hours for a base of 171 cm. The quality of snow is always dependent on temperature, in this case -4 C at 7 a.m., i.e. soft powder.

The cumulative year-to-date total was 3.57 metres compared to the 10-year average for Feb. 1 of 4.14metres (a range of 3.23 metres to 5.26 metres) and an average base of 1.87 metres (a range of 142 metres to 2.35 metres). "We've had plenty of years better and a few not so much," noted senior vice-president Michael J. Ballingall.

SilverStar Mountain Resort reported seven centimetres during the previous 24 hours, 19 cm in 48 hours and 24 cm during the past seven days, so most of it fresh powder. The cumulative total was 3.46 metres. Nearby Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre had similar numbers.

Apex Mountain Resort had 14 cm in 24 hours, 17 cm in seven days on a base of 1.14 metres and total accumulation of 2.57 metres. Sun Peaks Resort had eight cms in 48 hours, 19 cm in seven days and an alpine base of 1.41 metres.

Compare that to the three Lower Mainland ski hills and and one on Vancouver Island, where warm, wet weather stripped much of the snow from Mount Seymour, Grouse Mountain, Cypress and Mt. Washington. They all closed for several days last week. Mount Seymour was still temporarily closed Wednesday. Grouse had half of its six ski lifts open with early-season conditions. Cypress had just one out of more than 30 runs open and one lift of six operational. Mt. Washington received nine cm on Wednesday but still had numerous runs and lifts closed.

"Our current base is down 70 cm comparing Feb. 5, 2023 to Feb. 5, 2024," said Apex GM James Shalman on Monday, noting skier visits were down 35% comparing those two dates.

Early snowfall last season allowed Apex to open every run on the mountain on Dec. 2, 2022, one week earlier than the scheduled opening date what was described as amazing conditions and a base more than 100 cm. This season saw a slow opening, with discounted lift tickets and reduced terrain open for most of December.

"We're in a mountain environment. We take the good with the bad,” Shalman said. “This one, we've had a lot of swings from extreme warm to extreme cold. But that's fine, you roll with it.” .

He said the numbers are definitely down, “especially if I'm comparing to last year because last year, we had a phenomenal opening. I'm hoping we have quite a bit more snow just to set us up for the last half of the season, February and March can be absolutely fantastic as far as snowfall and snow quantity."

Baldy Mountain Resort services manager Brandan Datoff said rain definitely didn't help his South Okanagan hill but thanks to groomers, all runs remained open.

At Kelowna Nordic Ski and Snowshoe Club, this has been a trying year, said president John Davina. "Last year, we had an early snowfall, skiing by mid-November. This year, the snow was almost a month late. As such, our membership is down a little as well as our day-use passes."

The club also has to deal with old grooming equipment that had numerous breakdowns to date causing financial hardship. As such, the club is full steam ahead in fund-raising for a new $600,000 groomer.

At Nickel Plate Nordic Centre, this season has been “amazing” in many respects but challenging in others respects, said Kevin Dyck, marketing and communications manager.

The ski area's higher elevation had sufficient snow for exceptional skiing as the season began. As a result of extensive advertising, skiers came from throughout the Pacific Northwest, as well as from eastern provinces and U.S., he said.

Even with those new faces, overall numbers are down, causing financial pressure, so grooming was halted on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the ticket and rental office is closed those days. The centre itself, including the day lodge and bathrooms, remains open without office staff. The base, usually about 100 cm and lasting into May, is currently at 45 cm.

At Telemark Nordic Centre it has been a challenging year in terms of the weather and snow, said GM Mike Edwards. "It has definitely resulted in fewer people coming out,” he said. “The number of season pass holders is pretty close to last year (longest season ever) but the number of day-users buying passes and renting skis is down 30% to 50%, a bit of a challenge financially. Last year, we had a 90 cm base, while this year we just have 50 cm."

Extensive trail work and summer grooming and brushing using a flail mower purchased two years ago allowed skiing on low snow starting Dec. 16. The club used its new e-snowmobile, two other snowmobiles, a side-by-side machine and a new grooming roller purchased last year for manual grooming (not the big Pisten Bully) until Christmas.

"With normal temps and snowfall over the next few weeks, we hope to have a good second half of the XC ski and snowshoe season with great conditions to at least the middle of March," he said.

"Although we've been hit with some drastic fluctuations, all things considered, RMR has a decent snowpack up top thanks to our elevation. It appears that the Interior will be bouncing back this week so we will continue to look forward to the snow and 2.5 months of winter we have left to enjoy," said Laura Meggs, Revelstoke Mountain Resort’s communications manager in the marketing department.

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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