Young and old

One of the deepest openings ever

Snow up in the mountains is leading to a great opening day at Nelson's Whitewater Ski Resort.

After Mother Nature provided a November to remember, Old Man Winter has wasted no time digging in for the long haul at Nelson’s Whitewater Ski Resort.

Slated to open all 69 runs and four lifts this weekend, including the Glory Triple Chair, the mountain is already experiencing mid-winter conditions with one of the deepest resort bases in Western Canada, thanks to big snowfall last month and ideal temperatures since.

“It’s been like January already,” says outdoor operations manager Kirk Jensen. “There’ve been deep fresh tracks to be had everywhere.”

The resort opened for a sneak-a-peek weekend last Saturday and Sunday, with a 140 centimetre snowpack and 230 centimetres of snowfall in November alone.

“Everything went like clockwork,” says Anne Pigeon, Whitewater’s manager of indoor operations and marketing. “There were lots of happy people… plus we had a full house.”

“The snow, the terrain, the skier visits,” adds Jensen, “and the feedback we got from sneak-a-peak weekend crowds were the best we’ve ever had. This is the kind of start we only see once every six or seven years.”

Local weatherman Ron Lakeman says the southern Selkirk range was hammered in November by a typical Kootenay storm front.

“We had some really good storms in November,” says Lakeman. “Especially two long-lasting systems November 21 through the 24th. They basically stalled right over top of us, dropping 80 centimetres of snow — and that’s a bit rare for that time of year.”

The forecast for Whitewater’s full opening weekend is for flurries Saturday night and Sunday morning, with sunny, chilly weather during both days. There are more flurries in the forecast starting Tuesday of next week.

With staff training for Whitewater’s 165 employees wrapping up this past week, the mountain also planned to open most of its 16 kilometres of Nordic terrain and its snowshoeing area.

Jensen says the resort has already been plumbed by hundreds of touring skiers and snowboarders and that backcountry stability is good, despite strong winds in the alpine, and hazards rated low to moderate.

Pigeon says the 2011-12 season in going to be an historic one on the Whitewater events schedule.

“We’ve got a really big season on tap, starting next month,” she says. “We’re really stepping it up a notch.”

The Whitewater Winter Carnival, which will include the Gericks Summit Cup Dual Slalom/Banked Slalom and Snowball Aprés Event runs January 21 and 22.

The following weekend will be a history-maker for the mountain and its hard-charging masses. The first-ever Whitewater Junior Freeski Competition will see a field of 100 compete in two days wild off-piste ripping on four classic Whitewater fall lines — High Grade, Bound For Glory, Sleeper and Blast.

“We’re expecting competitors from around Western Canada and the western US,” says Pigeon, noting that the event will be first-come, first-serve for competitors 18 and under.

“We’ll be keeping an especially close eye on the Whitewater Freeski Team, which is now in its second season. We’re really looking forward to watching them in action.”

The Whitewater Freeski Team is open to kids eight to 17.

The month after, February 24 through 27, the Kootenay Coldsmoke Powderfest marks its sixth year.

“And we’re going back to the event’s grassroots,” says Pigeon. “We’re almost 100 per cent local this year.”

In addition to an amped-up roster of backcountry skiing, telemarking and ‘boarding clinic instructors — including world champion extreme skier Alison Gannett and big mountain icon Eric Pehota — the annual celebration will feature demo days, a trade village, randonee, slopestyle, backcountry Olympic and poker run competitions.

The Kootenay Coldsmoke Buff-eh and Photo Face Off will all be held right at the mountain this year, beneath the towering top of Ymir Peak and the Kootenay’s famous star-scape.

Most of Coldsmoke’s major sponsors this year are local too, including Kootenay Mountain Culture magazine, ROAM, Valhalla Pure Outfitters, Gericks Cycle and Ski and The Sacred Ride.

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