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Elevation: 6,700 feet Vertical Drop: 1,300 feet acres: 600 Snowfall: 390 inches (at 5,500 feet) Getting There: The access road to Whitewater is 10 miles south of Nelson, B.C., on Highway 6. The area is 142 miles north of Spokane, Washington. The nearest airport is Castelgar, 25 miles west; flights from Calgary and Vancouver. Info: 800-666-9420, skiwhitewater.com
Beta: Make the trek to Whitewater in Interior B.C.-including the four miles up the access road, past 20-foot snowbanks and the echoing concussions of artillery shells-and you’ll realize you’ve arrived in a rarefied place. With two chairlifts and a modest 1,300 vertical plunging down the two facing ridgelines of a horseshoe-shaped valley, Whitewater sounds smaller than it skis. The place is known for its monumentally deep days. The town of Nelson-with charming brick architecture and a microbrew-fueled nightlife-is a magnet for artists, counterculture types, and hemp-clad dope farmers. But the mythic powder combined with the backcountry options are why so many ski bums call it home.
From the top of the Summit chair, bash down Blast, a fall-line shot under the chair. Next, hit Glory Basin, an undulating, lightly gladed bowl near the boundary rope. Late morning, work your way skier’s right as the slide-prone upper ridge opens. Monitor lift-line rumors of control work and Catch Basin’s opening. When patrollers drop the ropes to this steep, wide-open powder cache, join the giddy pack on the long side-stepping traverse.
3 Days Later
Head to the far reaches of Catch Basin or Glory Basin. It’s a short bootpack to the untracked. You’ll also find stashes in the steep, tight Quicksilver Glades.
Whitewater comprises two long ridges; there’s no way around knuckle-dragging. Fortunately copious snows fill in the whoop-de-doos, keeping traverses mellow. Glory Basin is less of a hump than the scramble to Catch Basin.
Marquee Route: Blast is the showpiece on powder days, as local rippers line up to entertain the audience on the Summit chair.
Off-Broadway: On the trail map it reads Cliff Area. Locals call the supertight glades skier’s left of the Summit chair “Terra Rada.” Wear a helmet and have a roll of duct tape handy for those pine-induced Gore-Tex punctures.
Whitewater has an open-door OB policy, but terrain can be less hospitable: In recent years, three people have died in backcountry tree wells here. Go with a local to the Backside for 2,200 vertical feet of chutes, pillow drops, dense glades, and open meadows. Or hire local guides Tim Rippel (250-352-9133) or Joe Pavlich (250-352-2456) to show you the surrounding terrain.
Drinking & Dancing
Tipple a locally crafted après beer at the Last Run Pub in the base lodge. Mike’s Place in the Heritage Inn in Nelson is a sprawling smorgasbord of booths, microbrews, and pool tables. Taffy Jacks, in the basement of the inn, is the town’s raciest nightclub.
The Fresh Tracks Diner in the lodge serves up creative wraps, spicy samosas, and homemade borscht. In Nelson, the Main Street Diner (250-354-4848) is a hip hang that serves tasty Greek food and stays open late. The informally chichi All Seasons Grill (250-352-0101) serves “left coast inland cuisine and way too much wine.”
There are no beds at the base; you’ll find lodging in Nelson. Your pennies will stretch at the Dancing Bear Inn (dancingbearinn.com). Near the street life is the New Grand Hotel (newgrandhotel.ca). The well-heeled head to the Heritage Inn (heritageinn.org).
That nonpine aroma you smell drifting from the pines is B.C. bud, the region’s number-one crop. The government recently relaxed marijuana laws in British Columbia, though possession still remains illegal.
The access road is not for the tractionally challenged. Make sure you’re piloting a dependable 4WD. A Hummer H2 perhaps? ($48,455; hummer.com) Okay, so it’s a little like bringing a howitzer to a knife fight, but you won’t miss first chair.