This past weekend’s weather forecast promised a healthy dose of new snow here across the Central Rockies. All indications were that Colorado was getting into the storm track and at long last, we’d finally be able to ski some soft snow on the piste instead of the all-too-common groomed up manmade stuff that turns to boilerplate ice after the first hour of being assaulted by spring break tourists.
Yes, we got some new snow, about 10cm, but it wasn’t all that fluffy so instead of floating through a pillow of softness, it was more like surfing over a coral reef at low tide. Chunky, choppy, whatever you want to call it, it was just another typical day in the Colorado 2012-2013 ski season. I know this is spring in the Rockies and conditions are supposed to be variable, but I think frustrations are just high due to yet another subpar powder year.
What makes it even worse for me is that just two weeks ago we were in Nelson, British Columbia, one of our favourite places with a couple of our favourite friends to ski at Whitewater Ski Resort and be part of the Annual Kootenay Coldsmoke Powder Festival.
Whitewater is truthfully pretty much the antithesis of what skiing in Colorado is typically like, save for a few of the small “gem resorts”. No frills, no holier-than-though attitudes, no lift lines, an endless supply of blower powder, world class terrain (read:steep), reasonably priced lift tickets, lodging and food, super friendly locals who love to share the stoke and an entire community that truly embraces the very soul of what winter is supposed to be about.
I first went to Nelson a few years ago with a friend who lives up in Spokane (about three hours away from Nelson). She endlessly touted it’s coolness, it’s laid back grassroots attitude and vibe, and of course it’s unworldly deep powder and phenomenally steep terrain. She even went as far as saying that if she could figure out a way, she’d make Nelson her home. Keep in mind that this friend is an uber stout and discerning skier and it takes something special to get that type of glowing endorsement out of her. Naturally I was intrigued with all this hype so I accepted the invite to go see what it was all about. That was the exact start date of my love-hate relationship with Nelson, BC and Whitewater Resort.
Yes, Whitewater could be a bit intimidating at first glance because it’s definitely first and foremost a no frills skier’s mountain with some of the sickest lines in North America. Experienced skiers will start salivating the very moment they round the corner and look into all the steep chutes and juicy glade lines below the magnificently beautiful Ymir Peak. However, even if you’re a complete skiing neophyte, you’ll immediately get wrapped up in the fun, relaxed vibe of the locals and any worry or intimidation instantly vanishes. There is truly something for everyone at Whitwater and people are amped to share it with you! Now that I think about it, it wouldn’t be overly hard to just stand in the parking lot and stare at Ymir Peak all day and leave calling it a total success.
It’s hard to explain really, but your DNA actually changes when you’re there. Things move at a slower, but more amazing pace. People are actually courteous and nice to each other. The snow is so soft and confidence inducing that you’ll find yourself doing silly things, even without a GoPro strapped to your helmet. You can eat amazing food without mortgaging your house to pay for it. You can park right next to the base area — for free! Your face will literally hurt from smiling and laughing so much. And at the end of the day, the delightfully funky hamlet of Nelson will be just down the hill waiting to give you a big, warm, genuine hug welcoming you back home.
Before I ever went to Whitewater, fighting traffic, standing in long lift lines, skiing hardpack conditions and worst of all, sometimes having to deal with rude people all day was just part of the norm of a typical ski day. It made it hard to get excited about going out to ski at all but that’s what we had. It’s honestly why my friends and I pretty much stick to the backcountry when the avalanche conditions allow. Now that Whitewater’s spoiled me forever, anything but a once in a decade powder day at a resort here in Colorado simply falls into the category of “just another day”.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to live in Colorado and to have some of the nicest resorts in North America at my disposal. There is never a day goes by that I take that savoury bit of good fortune for granted. But until you ski a place like Whitewater and experience a town like Nelson, you can’t fully understand what a grassroots ski experience is all about and how it sets the bar impossibly high for a skiing experience anywhere else on the planet. Just yesterday as we sat in standstill traffic on I-70 coming down from skiing, Donna said, “You know, Whitewater will probably be the best ski days of my entire life”.
As a backcountry skier, grassroots experiences is what it’s all about for me and my friends. Easy and convenient doesn’t necessarily equate to good. We ski because we love to ski and we don’t mind working hard to float those beautiful powder lines. Whitewater gives me those beautiful, deep powder lines, for a fair price, always with a smile and always surrounded by likeminded souls. If you ski for the pure love of skiing, you’ll get what Whitewater is all about. If you enjoy genuinely friendly people who are thrilled to share the stoke of winter and will be happy to drink a beer with you at the end of the day, then you’ll fall in love with Nelson and it’s residents in a heartbeat.
Now that I’m back here in Colorado, I find myself trying to get stoked about skiing anything less than Whitewater (which is everything except Whitewater itself). I admit my thoughts are already drifting to next season and the idea of introducing Whitewater to a couple of my close backcountry friends from here, those friends who will definitely “get it”. However, I must be careful and not let the secret out too much, lest I endanger the very reason I go to begin with.
I hate you Whitewater for setting the standard of a purely organic skiing experience so ridiculously high and making the remainder of my season here in Colorado seem so “average” — but I also love you enough that I’ll always return every season for the rest of my life.
Climb high. Pedal far. Ski hard. Live big.