Atop British Columbia's Panorama Mountain Resort, smoke curls from the chimney of a board-and-batten cabin topped with a bright red roof. Inside, a dozen skiers wait to order lunch. They’re from Chicago, Calgary, Germany, Australia, and the UK, and they constitute something not normally seen at this little-known big mountain: a queue. But today is a sunny Saturday at the peak of winter, and the 650-square-foot Summit Hut—more like an alpine jewel box than a sprawling ski resort’s premier on-mountain eatery—is Panorama’s most popular place.
Outside, some 30 skiers clink cheers across picnic tables and lounge in Adirondack chairs, basking as much in the majestic surround of snow-hammered Purcell crags and Rocky Mountain peaks as in the midwinter sun. No roads or other ski areas, buildings, or power lines are in sight. A huge raven paces the deck railing and preens. A helicopter with a ski basket on its side chups briefly overhead. The smell of bratwurst drifts through the air.
“This is just so beautiful,” exclaims a woman from Toronto as she sips a fine B.C. pinot noir with husband and friends. Off to the side, two lone skiers glide west from the Summit Hut through a gate marked Taynton Bowl, then begin booting up a ridgeline to Panorama’s back side. Only the raven seems to notice, giving a loud caw as the two skiers slip from view. Taynton Bowl—former private heli-ski terrain newly expanded and improved for lift-riding guests—is the little-known adventurous side to Panorama’s piste-centric main event.
“Our core market is the person who wants to ski excellent corduroy,” explains Panorama president and CEO Steve Paccagnan. Between bratwurst and base area, Panorama’s front side features 4,019 vertical feet of broad, meticulously groomed cruisers. Imagine two New England classics (like Okemo and Stratton) stacked one on top of the other, or Colorado’s Beaver Creek (4,030 vertical feet) with every trail combed to perfection and no other skiers around. Add modest prices, steps-from-slopes lodgings, a kid-friendly complex of outdoor warm pools, and activities like maple-syrup taffy-making and night skiing. Subtract the machismo that infects most big mountains on powder days. Suddenly the presence of so many long-haul travelers adds up: Only seven North American ski areas offer a lift-served rise that’s equal or greater—but Panorama is the lone big mountain where intermediates rule.
Now, with Taynton Bowl’s latest round of expansion and upgrades, it’s also a place where experts can get their fill.
“You really feel like you’re out here,” says Chris Gent as he glides along the three-quarter-mile ridge from the Summit Hut to Taynton’s far boundary. Couloirs, ramps, knobs, woods, and the occasional cliff band define the 770-acre expanse.
Everything pitches steeply. Tamarack trees twist skyward.
Three spines divide the bowl into sub-basins. We slide onto C-Spine, where snow remains light, fluffy, and full of float some five days after the most recent storm. The spine undulates and breaks both right and left, inviting play like a standing wave. We bound and rebound, weaving amid well-spaced trees. Other skiers? We see six in total, and half are under the age of 13. At the bottom of the bowl we glide onto a smooth track that wends 2.5 miles back to the resort’s main base.
Gent—a veteran of Panorama’s pro patrol—explains that Taynton first opened to resortgoers in the winter of 1999–2000 but presented awkward access (think T-bars and goat paths), even more-awkward egress, difficult avalanche control, and dense thickets of woods. Under Intrawest’s ownership (from 1993 to 2010), new lifts brought more skiers to the summit but Taynton remained a niche. Panorama’s current owners (a consortium of 25 affluent second-home owners from Alberta and the UK) are continuing the front side’s family focus while tapping Taynton’s potential.
Four gates now open onto the bowl from different aspects; $264,000 in glading has nearly doubled Taynton’s skiable terrain and eliminated choke points. An innovative early-season pass-holder bootpacking program helps mitigate avalanche hazard throughout the season. New cat roads give patrol faster access. “It used to take up to half a day to open Taynton after snowfall,” Gent says. “Now we can get our team into the start zones quickly and have things open for those beautiful powder days nice and early.
“The moisture content of our snow is very, very low,” he adds. “It’s that true, beautiful, champagne powder. After a really good storm, we could have fresh snow in Taynton Bowl for up to a week.”
Back at the summit, as the mountain empties for the day, a Bell 206 that once shuttled NASA astronauts to their launch deposits a half-dozen skiers at the red-roofed hut.
They settle into the Adirondack chairs, watching the surrounding peaks tint toward alpenglow. “There’s a reason they call it Panorama,” someone says. Soon fondue is on the table inside, along with more of that fine B.C. wine. Outside, the grooming cats are busy, rolling out fresh carpets of corduroy. Before dark, the raven returns, preening and prancing along the deck railing, watching the skiers with his sharp, glittering eyes. After dinner, everyone (including the chef and his helper) dons headlamps and clicks into skis or snowboards. Then all soar like birds down the long, quiet, empty slopes, eight people with the big mountain all to themselves, hooting and cawing as they carve the freshly combed boulevards all 4,000 vertical feet back to the base.
Newest and nicest are the roomy condos at 1000 Peaks. Panorama Springs Lodge’s direct access to the slopeside pools makes it popular, although the units are dated and worn. [panoramaresort.com]
Coffee at Lusti’s. Lunch at Elkhorn Hut (order the raclette). For dinner, take the family to Monticola for flatbread, pasta, and parmesan pork chops, and finish with “beeramisu,” made with local craft brew. Or check out Grey’s, a quirky fine-dining mishmash of global flavors, with no shoes allowed.
Families spend après-ski splashing and soaking at the Panorama Springs pool complex. For something truly Canadian, ice-skate at Lake Windermere, where the 21-mile Whiteway is among the longest groomed outdoor skating tracks in the world.
RK Heliski, a five-minute walk from most Panorama lodgings, excels at single-day powder experiences for heli first-timers. Even lessdaunting is the Heli Fondue Experience: a short flight to the Summit Hut for a private fondue dinner followed by a ski down freshly groomed pistes or a helicopter ride back to the valley floor.