Activities and adventures on B.C.’s snowy slopes

British Columbia’s premier ski resorts present a variety of skiing experiences, but there are also many other winter sport options and adventure opportunities.

One of the province’s pioneers in the ski industry is Norm Crerar, whose ski career began as an instructor in 1965, when his clients were mostly single adults and couples. When those early skiers became parents, resorts responded by creating daycare centres and lessons focused on the younger members of the family. Those early initiatives heralded a new era for British Columbia’s ski resorts, as they expanded their off-mountain activities to provide guests with a variety of winter experiences.

Mr. Crerar recalls the early days: “We dug out a pond to make a skating rink. Now the tube park is next to it. From the same area – right in the heart of the SilverStar Mountain Resort village, at the base of the ski hill – you can cross-country ski, snowshoe, even fat bike.”

The unique characteristics of the mountains, combined with the scope of winter activities, ensure B.C. ski resorts stack up well against any other winter vacation options.

“The snow and mountains make for a different world – something special,” says Mr. Crerar, who is now retired, but still owns an on-mountain home.

Cross-country skiing was one of the early activities ski resorts added to the choices they offered to their guests. “When the conditions aren’t perfect on the mountain, skiers can switch to cross-country,” says Mr. Crerar. “Sometimes it will be the best day ever. You stop out there, it’s so beautiful and it’s completely silent. You can’t hear anything.”

Cross-country or Nordic skiing is an option at almost every major ski resort in B.C. For some enthusiasts, it is as important as lift-accessed skiing. Cross-country is an aerobic alternative to skiing’s adrenalin rush – easier on old joints, and often peaceful and quiet. It doesn’t even have to be hard work – some resorts use a ski lift to make Nordic skiing easier. At Sun Peaks Resort, the Morrisey Express Chairlift transports skiers to the top of one of the resort’s three mountains, for stellar views and the opportunity to take a leisurely skate-ski or classic-style slide down the mountain. Several lifts at SilverStar Mountain Resort access the 105 kilometres of daily groomed trails for gravity-aided striding.

After cross-country, helicopter skiing was added to offer a whole new adventure. Panorama Mountain Resort was an early adopter. Since 1979, RK Heliski has flown day trips out of the village to long alpine runs in the nearby Purcell Mountains. Whistler Blackcomb boasts a similar partnership, and there are two cat-skiing operations near Fernie Alpine Resort; Island Lake Lodge and Fernie Wilderness Adventures.

Revelstoke Mountain Resort’s ski runs used to be cat-skiing terrain, and the option still exists just outside the ski area boundary, along with heli-ski pick-ups right from the resort’s base. Kicking Horse Mountain Resort is also adding heli-skiing to its activities. Its partner, Purcell Heli-Skiing, picks up groups right from the resort and flies them to heli-access-only runs nearby.

For a different powder-snow experience, try snowshoeing. Lightweight and durable, modern snowshoes make it easy for anyone to walk in the deepest snow. While there’s little or no learning curve, starting with a guided walk always enhances the experience.

Maybe the most unique way to try snowshoeing, without missing a turn, is by headlamp. At Sun Peaks Resort, a guide leads a Moonlight Snowshoe & S’mores tour, a ramble through the snow-draped trees followed by a campfire, complete with roasted marshmallows. Another decadent experience is the Kootenay Fondue at Kimberley Alpine Resort. Ride the North Star Express to the summit, hike 30 minutes to a cozy cabin, savour a chocolate fondue and then ride the lift back down – likely a little heavier, but with legs ready for tomorrow’s turns.

Snowmobiling is a popular option at several B.C. resorts. Fernie Alpine Resort and Kicking Horse Mountain Resort’s network of snowmobile trails makes it easy to explore the mountains without breaking a sweat. The machines are easy to drive, and a guide leads the way, ensuring safety is always paramount. At Big White Ski Resort, “The Mini-Z” is a contained track where kids can zip around on miniature snowmobiles. It’s part of the resort’s activity-filled Happy Valley area.

Backcountry skiing is another sport that’s gaining in popularity. B.C. ski resorts offer some of the easiest access to backcountry ski terrain. Guiding services at resorts like Revelstoke Mountain Resort, Whistler Blackcomb, Fernie Alpine Resort, Kicking Horse Mountain Resort and Sun Peaks Resort offer lessons, tours and safety courses.

Don’t forget the classics: skating and tobogganing. The highest skating rink in the country at Big White Ski Resort brags wicked mountain views, and Sun Peaks Resort has put the finishing touches on an NHL-size outdoor skating rink.

Any hill works for tobogganing, but the resorts offer up an easier alternative – tube parks. A lift shuttles tubers to the top of a slope – snowbanked into lanes. Sitting on modified inner tubes, the tobogganers speed down the hill, solo or in groups. Just about every resort has a tube park – evidence that everyone enjoys an exhilarating race down the slopes.

For something completely different, consider dog sledding at Revelstoke Mountain Resort, soak in the hot springs at Panorama Mountain Resort, and enjoy the horse-drawn sleigh rides at Sun Peaks Resort.

There are also some amazing activities you probably never considered experiencing in winter, like ziplining across a frozen canyon. Or improve your air awareness at an indoor trampoline playground, both at Whistler Blackcomb. At Big White Ski Resort, there’s even an ice-climbing tower, constructed out of telephone poles and covered in a thick layer of ice. Everyone, from kids to octogenarians, can strap on crampons and use ice picks to climb to the 18-metre summit.

Meanwhile Kimberley Alpine Resort is one of several resorts to embrace the newest winter activity, fat biking. The four-inch-wide tires on the mountain bikes allow them to float on top of packed snow on a few designated trails. The fat tires turn snowshoe and cross-country trails into a slick, single track.

And at Revelstoke Mountain Resort, skiers can take to the skies. Revelstoke Paragliding runs tandem flights from the ski hill runs, with an instructor manning the parachute for an airborne trip to the valley.

It’s all a long way from the days when Mr. Crerar was a ski instructor and responsible for keeping guests entertained from breakfast to bedtime. “There’s so much to do,” he says. “Skiing is only part of what brings people to resorts these days.”

Discover unparalleled skiing at one of British Columbia’s world-class ski resorts this winter.