Unseasonably mild temperatures this winter have been hitting ski hills in western North America hard but West Kootenay ski outfitters have been fairing better than most due to a far better snow pack in comparison.
Nelson Kootenay Lake Tourism executive director Dianna Ducs said that cat and alpine skiing has been good considering the weather at lower elevations.
“We actually have more snow than anywhere else so we need to celebrate and market it. I’m running ads in Spokane and Seattle markets promoting that we have snow and everything is pretty much 20 per cent off, with the US dollar being so high. I’m also promoting our snow in the Okanagan area too. Hopefully March travellers will come our way for their ski vacations. Things are better here than anywhere else.”
Baldface Lodge owner Jeff Pensiero said they’re still cat skiing and boarding. Many of his clients book a year in advance, returning to the area year after year due to its overall snow consistency.
He concedes this year is different than normal and it’s posing challenges. “Yes, we’re making lots of lemonade,” he said. “We got epic powder, then it rained and froze, and it snowed again but we’re still skiing.”
Photo courtesy of Baldface Lodge.
“People are coming to Baldface for the experience, the people and the mountains. They come to be with their friends and have good food. They’re on vacation and they’re having a great time.”
Although it isn’t a typical winter at Whitewater Ski Resort, marketing manager Rebeckah Hornung said they have one of the deepest snowpacks in western North America and boast one of the deepest snow packs at any ski resort.
“We have not had a significant impact to our business in relation to other resorts. We are currently only down approximately 10 per cent in skier visits from last season,” she said.
As of last Friday Whitewater actually has more snow this winter than last, with a settled base of 223 cm at the Summit weather plot, compared to 195 cm on the same day in 2014.
“The big difference is on the lower third of the mountain where we have a below average snowpack due to the higher than average freezing levels this winter,” Hornung said.
All 81 runs have been open since early January except the odd avalanche area closure during periods of high hazard and Hornung doesn’t anticipate having to close any runs or lifts with the current long-range weather outlook.
Ymir Peak from top of Glory Ridge Chair at Whitewater Ski Resort. Photo by T. Hynd
“We just work to get the word out that there is more to the Whitewater experience than deep pow, although we all love it. It is about getting out above the clouds into the mountains under the stunning Ymir peak, catching up with friends and enjoying a delicious meal. It has been pretty fun to have some spring skiing/snowboarding at the resort. Historically we have not had many days like that.”
The Salmo ski hill did not fare as well — it closed Feb. 12 after a season that lasted just six weeks.
Village Ski Hut co-owner Heather Renwick said this season “hasn’t been terrible,” especially when compared to the coast where businesses are struggling and several hills are closed. Lower Mainland ski hills Cypress Mountain, Grouse Mountain, Mount Seymour and Hemlock Valley are all closed, as is Mount Washington on Vancouver Island. Castle Mountain in southern Alberta announced it’s closing on Feb. 16.
Snoqualmie Pass in Washington closed its slopes mid-season for the first time in 10 years and Mount Baker has reduced operations.
“At least we still have snow,” said Renwick, who added their waterproof gear sales were up during a rainy spell. “Change from your big fat [powder] skis to carving skis. Some tourists have come through pretty bummed out but it’s nice that at least we can recommend other apres-ski things to do. There’s still potential for it to improve if it snows in March.”