Big White, known for its champagne powder, offers a surreal snowscape with never-ending views
Whether you're a beginner or seasoned mountaineer, Big White is the perfect place to indulge in some champagne powder, practice your tree skiing, climb an ice tower and revel in winter's many wonders
"You’re doing great, keep going." Arms shaking, knees wobbly, breath winded…I’m not feeling so great, but I keep going.
I’m climbing a massive 60-foot tower of ice under the calm reassurances of Aussie guide Joe. After another few minutes or so (time seems irrelevant when you’re clinging to slick icefall with just millimetres of ice-axe leverage), I make it to the top to ring the bell suspended there.
It’s a serious adrenaline rush and I feel chuffed (even knowing afterward that Joe’s record is 19 seconds).
Here, at Big White Ski Resort, just over 50 km southeast of Kelowna in the Okanagan, it’s easy to feel chuffed. That morning, I skied through fresh powder amidst fantastical snowghosts. The Enchanted Forest, as it’s known, is a surreal snowscape with never-ending views of the Monashee Mountains in front and winding ribbons of fresh ski tracks behind.
Ski the Enchanted Forest
Each snowghost is a unique creature-like, ice-encrusted tree. There’s a long-necked goose, here’s a unicorn, turtle, poodle…
From the 2,319 m summit at the top of the Cliff Chair, the Easy Out green run takes you right by the bulbous forms—and through some sweet fluffy stuff.
This is what Big White is known for, "champagne powder" (24.5 feet of it annually), which locals boast beats the coastal cement Vancouverites are accustomed to. And it does, big time.
Big White's 60-foot-ice tower and mystical snowghosts make skiing a magical experience (Image: Barb Sligl)
After two days of skiing, my legs still feel fresh (my burning forearms are another story after that ice tower). But, even better, I’m tree skiing!
Big White’s elevation (the base is already at 1,508 m) means the upper alpine has sparsely spaced trees. Translation: "Tree skiing up here is pretty legendary," as one local puts it.
There are 118 runs, and then another set of unmarked runs in the trees on either side of each groomed slope. Just try to ski all that in a week, let alone a season.
To get an overview of the 7,355-acre ski terrain and 16 lifts, I start off by skiing with a local ski host. Every morning, volunteer ski hosts meet in the village to give newcomers, of any level, a guided overview of where and what to ski.
My host, Sue, lives right on the mountain and has steered visitors down these slopes for 10 years. She describes the resort as a flower, with each petal representing a ridge and ski area with lifts—from the Black Forest at one end to Gem Lake on the other. In between is the summit, and she leads me right to the edge of the vertigo-inducing alpine bowl that falls off the backside, where hotdog skiers and boarders shred double-black-diamond runs, Pegasus, The Cliff and Parachute Bowl.
Big White is Beginner-friendly
I’m content to just peek. I’d rather ski the easy glades of the Enchanted Forest or the many blue runs. Over 50% of Big White is graded intermediate, and that ranges from "aquamarine" runs with a touch of green (in the Black Forest) to "navy" with a touch of black (at Gem Lake).
There’s even a Cruz the Blues event, in which you get a passport stamp for each completed blue run (takes place March 16–17).
My favourite: Blue Sapphire on the Gem Lake side. From there it’s a giddy up-and-down, criss-cross exploration from run to lift to get back to the Enchanted Forest and then Highway 33 straight down to the village. It’s all about ski-in/ski-out here. And après ski.
Number-one après-ski priority: the hot tub. Pretty much every lodge on the mountain has access to a snowbank-surrounded hot tub (astoundingly, there’s slope-side accommodation for some 17,000 guests here).
Post soak (and preliminary brew, an apropos Okanagan Spring 1516), it’s an easy walk to the yellow capsule-like gondola that delivers me down to Happy Valley where a bonfire’s crackling next to the ice-skating rink.
This is where you’ll find the Adventure Park with cross-country ski and snowshoeing trails, snowmobile tours and the looming ice-climbing tower. There’s even a 10-lane tube park that defies anyone—kid and adult alike—to not scream deliriously while spinning down slope.
That’s the beauty of Big White: it’s near impossible not to join in on all the fun going on, regardless of age (that ice tower has had everyone between four and 84 clamber upon it). And, if you stay and ski during spring break, kids under 12 ski for free. Really.
Inside the Happy Valley lodge, families and locals (the majority with Aussie accents) mingle over live music during happy hour at the Moose Lounge (on a Sunday, the place is packed for the doubles special).
On the other side of the lodge is the Kettle Valley Steakhouse, where dishes like hand-cut Canadian filet mignon and west-coast potato-crusted halibut (my pick) are paired with outstanding local wines like the Black Hills Syrah (taste more Okanagan gems on March 23, at the “Big Whites at Big White” wine event).
It’s high-end flambé fare, but if that’s not your thing, there are 17 more eateries to choose from on the mountain, including The Globe Café with coffee that rivals just about anywhere.
Sated, there’s one thing left to do. Tube. After struggling up the ice tower, I must balance things out by careening down a slick surface…and still get a core workout—from laughing.