Why British Columbia Nailed the Winter Olympics

January 4, 2010 at 4:07 pm | Posted in British Columbia, Canada, resorts, skiing/snow sports | Leave a comment
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British Columbia's superlative skiingby Max Pesling

Gold-medal fever’s headed our way again — for the third time in Canada, but just the first in Canada’s westernmost province. It’s fair to say that reasons number one and two why British Columbia is hosting the 21st Winter Olympics this February 12-28, followed by the Paralympic Games March 12-21, are the appeal of world-class Vancouver and nearby Whistler Blackcomb.

Vibrant yet laid-back, sophisticated yet outdoorsy, Vancouver will be hosting various ceremonies, events, and of course parties, but there’s only so much in the way of winter sports you can get done in a city — you need those soaring mountain resorts. And in this rarefied catgory, Whistler Blackcomb, a two-hour drive away, has become North America’s biggest ski area and a world star. Known for its dozen Alpine bowls, 5,280 vertical feet, and more than 8,000 skiiable acres, all 200-plus runs will be open before and after the Olympics (when it hosts events including Alpine racing, Nordic, luge, bobsled, and skelton), and 90 percent of them even during the games themselves. Serving up a wide variety of dining, shopping, clubbing, and miscellaneous fun, by now Whistler’s a phenomenon.

But it’s far from the province’s only superb center of snowy action (in fact, some would even say not the best), and in fact various Olympic teams consider several good enough to have their athletes living and training there at this very moment. So here’s a quick primer covering eight of the best of BC’s 19 resorts. Chances are you’ll be able to nab some good deals on lift passes and accommodations season — even, in some cases, during the games themselves — yet still get a chance to cross paths with an international bevy of Olympians in training.

Apex Outside Penticton in the Okanagan Valley 250 miles (420 km) from Vancouver, this under-the-radar gem is a hot practice spot this winter. So watch for an international crew of freestyle ski athletes doing their thing on the bumps, jumps, and some of North America’s driest, fluffiest powder. With a 7,250-foot elevation, it’s a little quieter than other BC resorts, and a bit more geared toward advanced levels.

Big White Also in the Okanagan, outside the town of Kelowna a few miles from Apex, B.C.’s second most popular winter resort has an elevation of just over 7,600 feet and 2,565 skiable acres celebrated for their dry powder and good for beginners and intermediate. With three hotels and more than 250 condos, cabins, and more, it’s got a pretty admirable apres-ski scene, too, including a shopping mall, spas, nine eateries, and eight nightspots.

Kimberley A good 6,500 feet up in the Kootenay Rockies 510 miles (850 km) east of Vancouver, here’s another lesser-known gem with lots to do for all skill levels (strongest on intermediate), plenty of powder, new year-round, $6-million facilities, 1,800 scenic acres, and also a fair bit of good après-ski and activity when the white stuff goes bye-bye.

Mount Washington On Vancouver Island, 75 miles (125 km) by road and ferry from the Big V, it’s not hosting events, but it is hosting plenty of Olympians, because its 5,209-foot elevation, temperatures, and ambience are similar to Whistler Blackcomb’s; more than 23 Nordic and Alpine teams from ten countries will be training and kicking back here until show time. Indeed, for scores of elite snow jocks, Mount Washington has become a second home.

Red Mountain Just over the Washington State border and 385 miles (640 km) east of Vancouver, this former gold mining town in the Monashee Mountains boasts a pair of impressive peaks with a 2,887-foot drop and is top rated for powder, service, and overall experience. And January 22-24, it’ll be hosting the Canadian Freeskiing Championships during the its annual winter carnival; front and center this year will be the Olympic torch relay.

Revelstoke Over the past three years, this West Kootenay railroad town 360 miles (600 km) east of Vancouver has morphed into BC’s most talked about new winter destination. Besides some of the newest equipment in the business (including a new on-hill helicopter, cat-ski, and mountain education/backcountry adventure center), you’ll find North America’s longest top-to-bottom trails. And of course the historic town itself is quite the charmer.

Sun Peaks When it comes to ogling Olympians and Paralympians in training, gliding on some fab powder, or just plain relaxing, it doesn’t get better than this sun-splashed trio of peaks on 3,678 acres near Kamloops, 210 miles (350 km) miles east of Vancouver. It’s where national alpine ski teams from Canada and Europe (especially mighty Austria) gather in advance to steel their nerves against scary-steep runs, and home to Canada’s top winter Olympian, skier Nancy Greene Raine (drop by the lobby her Cahilty Lodge to check out her impressive trophy cabinet, and don’t be surprised if she even offers to let you hang one around your neck). It’s all affordable, walkable, and lift lines minimal — what’s not to like?

Whitewater Intimate, mellow, and a bit off the beaten path, this resort in Nelson, 390 miles (650 km) from Vancouver (not far from Red Mountain) has been long known as the place for some outrageous champagne powder — sometimes topping 45 feet (13 meters) in a season. An “Olympic Gear-Up Winter Carnival” is being held here January 30.

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