Why We Love Skiing in B.C.

A seven-day trip to British Columbia is great any time of year, but when you throw in skiing, it’s pretty special.

SkiZer cranked out turns at four fantastic and very different resorts: Red Mountain, Big White, Silver Star and Whistler Blackcomb. The Great White North is hard to beat for powder and vertical.

Red Mountain

Old lifts, old lodge and same old great mountain. This resort has some unbeleivably rugged terrain that speaks to the SkiZer’s sense of aesthetics.

Best runs: The steep tree-skiing on Granite Mountain, including Beer Belly, Capt. Jack’s Trees and Booty’s.

Big White

“Canada’s Favourite Family Resort” is their slogan. Indeed, this is a great place for young skiers and old skiers who like to cruise.

That said, you’ll find some challenging powder skiing in the trees, some steeps on the aptly named Cliff Chair, and some long drops off of Gem Lake.

Best runs: The trees off of the Powder Chair.

Silver Star

Oh Silver Star, you have a lot going for you. On the surface, you seem like another Big White, with lots of cruising on the front side. But your back side, with double-diamond drops everywhere, elevates you considerably.

Silver Star also has Canada’s best and biggest Nordic trails system and a cute-as-a-button village to recommend it.

Best runs: The big drops off of the back side’s Powder Gulch Express.

Whistler Blackcomb

SkiZer has a love-hate thing going with Whistler. First the hate: This village is an over-the-top ode to conspicuous consumption. It’s a playground for rich people who kind of like to ski.

But oh, the skiing. With more than 8,000 acres of amazing terrain (and more than 5,000 feet of vertical), SkiZer was blown away by the mountains. Now if we could just get this village thing under control.

Best runs: The alpine zone at Whistler Blackcomb is amazing. Blackcomb Glacier, the runs off of Seventh Heaven Express, Harmony Express and Peak Chair were inspiring and challenging.

Days 14 and 15: Red Mountain

  • Vertical: 40,000 feet
  • Vertical for the season: 222,000 feet

Day 16: Big White

  • Vertical: 24,000 feet
  • Vertical for the season: 246,000 feet

Days 17 and 18: Silver Star

  • Vertical: 48,000 feet
  • Vertical for the season: 294,000 feet

Day 19: Whistler

  • Vertical: 38,000 feet
  • Vertical for the season: 332,000 feet
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Cruising the back side at Red Mountain.
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Powder in the trees at Big White.
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Powder Gulch Express on the back side of Silver Star.
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Skiing the trees off the Powder Gulch Express at Silver Star.
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The village at Silver Star.
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Riding the alpine zone on the Glacier Express lift at Whistler Blackcomb.

 

 

Seeing Red: A Delightfully Old-School Mountain

If you believe that ski areas should be about the terrain and not the Prada shop in the village, then you will love Red Mountain Resort in Rossland, British Columbia.

The resort is 2,877 acres of old-school, from top to bottom. One of Canada’s oldest resorts has no high-speed lifts, a historic day lodge and oodles of tree skiing stretching over four mountains. Tickets remain affordable in an era when skiers are getting priced out around the world.

In order to keep Red Mountain this way, the resort has embarked on a novel campaign. Red is raising money through a crowd-funding campaign “to keep it sustainable,” says Howard Katkov, chief executive officer of Red Mountain Ventures.

It’s called “Fight the man, own the mountain,” a campaign squarely aimed at battling the increasingly exclusive resorts like Whistler Blackcomb, which was purchased by Vail in 2016.

SkiZer supports the fight. No lift lines, lots of vertical, and no Prada shops. What’s not to like?

Days 14 and 15: Red Mountain

  • Vertical: 40,000 feet
  • Vertical for the season: 222,000 feet
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One of many old cabins within the ski area boundary. Some, like this one, are available for public use.
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Sun-softened snow on Granite Mountain.
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A skier takes in the view from the Grey Mountain Chairlift.
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A skier heads toward the Motherlode Chair, with Red Mountain in the background.
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Some runs have old signs dating back decades. Other runs have no signs at all.
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A skier turns in soft snow on Victoria’s Secret, a run on Grey Mountain.

 

 

Get Your Ski Legs in Seven Days

Seven days, seven mountain experiences.

SkiZer just spent a week skiing, hitting the slopes at Snoqualmie Pass, Schweitzer Mountain, Mt. Spokane, Lookout Pass and Silver Mountain. It was fun to stack up seven days straight — and interesting to see how an aging body reacts.

The first couple of days, SkiZer was feeling very sore. But after a few days in, SkiZer’s legs were coming around and he was feeling a much better slope rhythm.

Which can only mean one thing: SkiZer needs more slope days!

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Willy Bartlett shreds at Silver Mountain.

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Steep turns at Lookout Pass.
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SkiZer turns on the backside at Mt. Spokane.
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SkiZer on the Nordic trails at Mount Spokane State Park.

Day 10: Mount Spokane Nordic

  • Distance skied: 28k
  • Distance for the year: 57K

Day 11: Mt. Spokane Alpine

  • Vertical: 18,000 feet
  • Vertical for the season: 131,000 feet

Day 12: Lookout Pass

  • Vertical: 20,000 feet
  • Vertical for the season: 151,000 feet

Day 13: Silver Mountain

  • Vertical: 25,000 feet
  • Vertical for the season: 176,000 feet

Which Ski Resort is the Best in the Northwest? It Might be Schweitzer

Some ski resorts just feel like home. For the SkiZer, Schweitzer Mountain is one of those places.

Back in another lifetime, SkiZer put in hundreds of days on the slopes of this North Idaho resort. Even after moving away, SkiZer still pined for Schweitzer’s big drops, wide-open bowls and empty slopes.

So it felt very familiar when the SkiZer pulled into the parking lot of Schweitzer. Did it match all the expectations? Yes, and more.

Which got SkiZer thinking: Is Schweitzer the best resort in the Pacific Northwest?

Maybe. If you call the Pacific Northwest Idaho, Washington and Oregon, Schweitzer is certainly in the top two.

The biggest, Oregon’s Mount Bachelor, doesn’t have nearly as good terrain as Schweitzer. Washington’s Crystal Mountain, does have better terrain, but can’t match Schweitzer’s amenities. And in snow quality, Schweitzer beats them both.

SkiZer loves Crystal Mountain on a powder day. But the crowds can be a buzz-kill, and Schweitzer’s remains pretty quiet most of the year.

All good reasons to vote for Schweitzer as the best in the Northwest.

Days 8 and 9: Schweitzer Mountain

  • Vertical: 53,000 feet
  • Vertical for the season: 113,000 feet
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Dropping into Big Timber on the back side at Schweitzer.

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The village at Schweitzer.
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Taking in the view from the T-bar.
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Matt Folwell shreds the powder in the Outback Bowl.
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Dramatic skies loom above Schweitzer as a storm approaches.

Remember When Tickets Were $1.50 at Hyak?

Some ski days take you back into the past.

That was the case recently when SkiZer climbed the old ski area we used to call Hyak. It’s now part of the Summit at Snoqualmie complex about an hour’s drive from Seattle on I-90, known today as Summit East. Often during weekdays, it remains closed, so it’s a perfect quick fix for a workout climb.

The skiing was just OK. But the trudge up the hill sparked some memories from SkiZer’s childhood when he spent many a night doing some cheap skiing on the same slopes.

Back in SkiZer’s long-ago childhood, Hyak had some bargain prices. Seattle’s old Ernst Hardware stores had Hyak coupons for $1.50, and if you could find a semi-responsible cousin to drive you, it was an amazingly fun night.

There were some memorable times. During one stormy night, lightning hit the chairlift. Nobody seemed too worried — the chairlift kept spinning and the seventh-grade SkiZer happily rode up into the tempest along with everyone else. It was a powder night, afterall.

Here’s to appreciating the old days at ski areas like Hyak, when skiing was for the masses — not just the rich.

Day 7: Hyak Climb

  • Vertical: 2,000
  • Vertical for the season: 60,000
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This old photo from 1940s shows the base area of Hyak. (This predates even the ancient SkiZer.)
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SkiZer takes off the skins at the top of Hyak.
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The destinctive Olympia-beer inspired water tower at Summit East dates back to the Hyak days.
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Empty slopes near the top of Summit East.
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The view of Summit East hill from the base area.

It’s a Brave New World of Snowmaking at Crystal

With sunny skies returning to the Pacific Northwest after weeks of rain, SkiZer felt like taking a mental health day in the mountains.

It was a quick trip to Crystal Mountain for day 3 of the season. The weather was great, and it gave SkiZer the chance to see Crystal’s new $5 million snowmaking system in action.

Clearly it’s working. Coverage is sketchy at most Northwest resorts after torrential rains washed away the snowpack at Thanksgiving. But the lower slopes at Crystal are covered and looking good.

SkiZer wrote about the snowmaking system earlier this fall for Crosscut.com in this story.

As for the day, it was fun. Much of the mountain was closed as Crystal waits for more snow. But what was open was skiing very well, and SkiZer’s mental health has been successfully restored.

Day 3: Crystal Mountain

  • Vertical: 27,000
  • Vertical for the season: 57,000
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A snowboarder waits to drop in on Green Valley at Crystal Mountain.
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Mount Rainier makes a welcome appearance after weeks of stormy weather.
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The top of the Rainier Express, with dramatic skies.
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Powder Bowl on Silver Queen Peak was closed, but looked inviting.
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A skier rides through snowmaking mist near the bottom of the Forrest Queen lift.

Season Starter: Whistler-Blackcomb Delivers Early Turns

On the day after Thanksgiving, it was raining in the village at Whistler and didn’t look all that promising.

But the village (at 2,200 feet) is one thing and the upper mountain is another.

At the top of the Whistler Gondola (6,000 feet), it was stormy and looked a lot like winter. Great coverage made for a fantastic early start to ski season during a trip to Whistler-Blackcomb in British Columbia.

The SkiZer hit it for two days over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend while the other Americans watched football at the bar. It was stormy, pretty foggy at times, but hey, it was skiing in November. You gotta love that!

Days 1 & 2

  • Vertical: 30,000 feet
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Fitzsimmons Creek roars through the lower mountain at Whistler-Blackcomb
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Blue skies peeked out for a moment at the base of the Whistler Village Gondola.
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SkiZer gets some turns off the Crystal Ridge Express chairlift at Blackcomb.
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Skiers unload on the Big Red Express at Whistler.
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Fresh pow off the Jersey Cream lift at Blackcomb.
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Stormy weather shuts down the Peak to Peak Tram
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The Peak to Peak Tram takes 11 minutes and shuttles skiers between the two mountains.
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Skiers enjoy a rare view of blue skies from the Longhorn Bar at the base of Whistler.

 

What Are Your Ski Goals? Let’s Start the Discussion

With two months to go until we strap on the skis for a new season, it’s time to get serious about what we hope to accomplish.

What are your ski goals this year? For the SkiZer, it’s about numbers. Every year, he sets a goal for the number of days and the amount of vertical he hopes to rack up. It’s a game he plays to see if he’s living up to his hopes and dreams for the season.

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Lisa Jones McClellan drops in at Whitefish Mountain Resort.

For others, it’s often about trips they’d like to take. Lisa Jones McClellan of Whitefish, Mont., has a brand new Mountain Collective Pass, a new set of alpine skis, and a plan to “take a few road trips to see old friends in Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Alberta, and B.C.” Besides resort skiing, she looks forward to “connecting with friends on backcountry adventures.”

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Alison Boggs hopes to get some backcountry days this year.

Alison Boggs, a communications instructor at WSU, also wants to hit the backcountry this year. She’s busy mulling over where to ski on her birthday weekend in January, and thinking about technique.

“I almost always pick a skill (keep my hands in front of me, keep my skis pointed downhill, etc.) to focus on for the season,” she says.

John Grollmus of Sandpoint, Idaho, has some big numbers in mind, as he does every year.

“My goal for every ski season is to ski at least 100 days with a minimum of 40 of those being some form of backcountry be it cat, heli or ski touring,” he says. He also wants to tour some of the West’s best small ski areas, including Lost Trail and Discovery in Montana, and Castle Mountain in Alberta.

Like Grollmus, Nancy George of Beverly, Mass., also has some big numbers in mind. Last year, she skied from October to June and hopes to do it again. She somehow gets on the slopes constantly despite working a full-time job and taking care of a family.

“Last year I skied 111 days; I may not reach that number again, but I certainly will try!”

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Nancy George shreds tthe slopes of Timberline in June this year.

And now for the SkiZer.

It’s hard not to get carried away. SkiZer would love to get 100 days, but he needs to keep it real. So here we go.

Number of days: At least 40. Amount of vertical: At least 800,000 vertical feet. And here are a few places he’d love to ski this year: Big Sky, Mont., Jackson Hole, Wyo., Alta-Snowbird, Utah.

Now, let’s get to it.

 

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SkiZer in the Crystal Mountain Southback last March.

Gallery: Ski Season Highlights from an Epic Year

When can you start talking about next ski season? The SkiZer’s rule is mid-August, which is right now.

Let’s start by looking back at last year. It was a great season, filled with powder days and huge dumps. Here are a few of the SkiZer’s favorite shots from last year.

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Skiing the East Rim area at Whitefish Mountain Resort in Montana.
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Deep snow after a dump at Revelstoke, British Columbia.
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Shark Fin chutes at Lost Trail, Montana.
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Powder day at Kicking Horse in British Columbia.
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Above the clouds at Sun Peaks, British Columbia.
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Heading to the backcountry’s Gil’s Zone at Sun Peaks, British Columbia.
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Skiing fresh powder at Bluewood near Dayton, Wash.
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Into the clouds at Whitefish Mountain Resort in Montana.
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On the trail at Silver Star, British Columbia.
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Fresh snow at Apex Mountain, British Columbia.
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SkiZer gets ready to drop in on Gardner Headwall in Wyoming.
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Skiing the Rock Creek Headwall on the Beartooth Highway, Montana.
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Dropping in on Sasquatch Chute at Crystal Mountain.
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SkiZer stops to enjoy the view at Mount Hood in Oregon.
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Sunlight splashes the snowy slopes at Crystal Mountain.

Summer Skiing in the Beartooths

Skiing the Beartooth Highway in Montana and Wyoming is the perfect ending to a great season.

The famed highway — arguably the most beautiful high-elevation route in America — is only open from May to October. The SkiZer made the trip in mid-June and skied some of the headwalls off the roadway and also hit the slopes at the tiny, two-platter Beartooth Basin ski area.

The highway is nothing short of amazing. It rises more than a vertical mile from Red Lodge, Mont., and tops out near 11,000 feet. Snow can fall any month of the year, and indeed, while the SkiZer visited, two snowy storms closed the roadway in Wyoming for periods of time.

It’s a wild and beautiful place.

Over the course of four days, SkiZer shredded the high-elevation slopes and even got out the bike to ride the gorgeous highway. It was an epic trip — one that left the SkiZer wanting more.

Days 42 & 43: Beartooth Highway, Mont.

  • Vertical: 15,000
  • Vertical for the year: 735,000
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A skier shreds the soft snow on Rock Creek Headwall.
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Skiers must hike across the Beartooth Plateau to reach Rock Creek Headwall.
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Gardner Headwall offers a wide-open run near Beartooth Pass.
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The platter lift at Beartooth Basin offers access to Twin Lakes Headwall.
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A skier carves a high-speed turn on Twin Lakes Headwall.
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Huge snowdrifts on the roadway near Beartooth Pass.
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SkiZer gets ready to drop in on Gardner Headwall.
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During a road closure, SkiZer nears 10,000 feet on the Beartooth Highway.