Carving It Old School
November 3, 2014
Right up the highway sits the biggest and best resort on the planet. We're spoiled rotten to have Whistler-where they spent $6 million this summer just to upgrade one gondola, where the roundhouse is packed at noon with skiers griping about having to take the Peak T-Bar to access knee-deep powder, and where no one under 30 knows what a handle tow is.
But to really appreciate those amazingly nice new gondola cabins, you need to appreciate what a tow feels like. That's why, for at least one day this season, you'll pack away your Whistler/Blackcomb pass and head back to a time before high-speed quads, quinoa power bars, and the idea that a ski hill could actually be 8,191 acres.
Westfalia, and not just because the on-hill bar is called Coal Oil Johnny's. It's because a few years back, a troika of deep-pocketed Calgarians bought the place, and though locals feared the worst-swank condos, golf courses, high-speed quads – instead they bought one used lift, slapped it onto the hill's untouched backside, and thus accomplished the unthinkable: doubling the resort's awesomeness by keeping it real. They even kept the handle tow.
This community-owned spot on northern Vancouver Island is an acrophobic's dream. Your skis are firmly planted in the snow as you ascend; you're only airborne if you hit some sick jumps. That means there's no respite for your legs, so the age demographic skews more toward those who use the word "sick" a lot. It also works well for agoraphobics – a busy Saturday in January might see 200 people, so juxtapose that with the hill's legendary powder dumps and you have the best skier-to-snow ratio of any resort in Canada. Be warned: the locals like to keep this place secret (the last Tweet they sent was on April 4, 2012), so rolling up in a shiny white Range Rover would not be the wise play.
More skiers have spotted Heidi Klum in Whistler Village than have made the trek to this Valhalla of snow. It's virtually unknown to most Lower Mainland skiers, but mention it to any hard-core freestyler and their reddened eyes light up as if you just told them Animal Collective is playing Chetwynd. Part of the allure stems from plain remoteness: you have to get to Prince George first, and it's 195 kilometres north from there. But once you arrive, you'll find more snow than you know what to do with (41 feet on average) nestled on steep runs-and no one you have to share it with. Fresh tracks here run all day. What you won't find is a bunch of luxe amenities. This is the sort of place where owners Heidi and Jim might greet you personally on any given day, so you'd better like friendly more than fancy.
Skiable acres: 1,184
Equipment: One T-bar, two doubles, a triple
Lift ticket: $69
Distance from Vancouver: 700 km
Closest town: Nelson
Skiable acres: 500
Equipment: Two T-bars, one handle tow
Lift ticket: $47
Distance from Vancouver: 365 km
Closest town: Port McNeill
Skiable acres: 925
Equipment: One handle tow, one T-bar, two double chairs
Distance from Vancouver: 968 km
Closest town: Mackenzie