Beyond Whistler

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I'm in a deep, inky darkness, high up in a valley in Nowheresville, British Columbia. It's sometime after 11 p.m., and I'm riding the back of a big snarling snowmobile, doing what feels like 60 along a series of narrow switchbacks, clinging like a bug to a man named Dale who I met 20 minutes ago. It took me about 12 hours to get to this godforsaken mountainside. I'm jet-lagged, cranky, and terrified. Did I mention that it's really dark? That I can see nothing beyond the icy meringue of snow flying in my face? Did I mention that Dale, the guy who is right now entirely in charge of my destiny, is a total stranger?

I could've gone to Whistler. I could be sitting, at this minute, in a hotel room where the drapes match the bedspread and I can order croissants and a latte for breakfast. Another thing: Mike's going to kill me. Mike is my boyfriend, and he's now in his own private hell somewhere in the swirling blackness behind me. I had convinced him to come along on this little trip to interior B.C., to a lake region called the Okanagan, because it would be relaxing. I promised that.

I admit, I knew we'd be roughing it. On the phone, the folks at Monashee Powder Adventures, a brand-new cat-skiing operation-and our first stop on a trip that would eventually take us to Silver Star and Big White, B.C.-had warned that they were located on a remote mountain, that accommodations would be, for the inaugural season, rustic. But, see, I'm an American and an East Coast Yankee to boot: Remote, to me, means 50 miles from the nearest interstate. Rustic digs are decrepit Vermont motor inns. But here in B.C., I'm getting my comeuppance in the remote department. So far tonight, we've driven nearly two and a half hours north from the tiny airport in Kelowna through ambling farmland and dense woodland. We then skated our gold front-wheel-drive rental Chevy another 25 panicky miles up a steep and slushy dirt road to the trailhead, which is where I found big Dale and his monster rig.

Now, some 30 minutes into our missile ride, my arms ache from hugging Dale, who will probably wake up tomorrow with bruised ribs due to the ardent nature of my squeezing. He's as big as a yeti, Dale is. The back of his Carhartt jacket tastes like diesel fuel. But my eyes eventually adjust, my heart quits racing, and there is moonlight gilding soft pyramids of snow all around. What I don't realize is that behind me, Mike has been unceremoniously pitched from his snowmobile, since due to some manly code, his driver, Ken, had outlawed hugging. My beloved arrives at base camp not long after I do, wild-eyed and snow covered, wondering why the heck we're not at Whistler. I have nothing to say.

We are escorted past a broken-down snowcat through the dark to our diesel-heated Weatherhaven tent-a 20-foot-long canvas tube of a room we will share with some local guys. Outside, Mike and I stand in the cold space between tents, soberly brushing our teeth. It is 3 a.m. back at home. We are so tired we can barely speak. Mike wants to clock me for hauling him up here, I'm quite sure of it. Yet there's a clean smell in the air and a swath of northern stars overhead. The Monashees stand like ghosts all around us. Before falling into my twin bed dressed in two layers of long underwear and a hat, I make one last desperate claim, one I only half believe myself.

"Tomorrow," I say to Mike, "you're going to thank me for this."

Monashee Powder Adventures is a family business run by Nick and Ali Holmes-Smith, a cheery couple who spend part of each year on a farm in Vernon, B.C. Their new winter home is a minivillage of four-person Quonset tents. They are pitched in a clear-cut on one side of Mount Tsuius, the 8,200-foot ridgeline they've leased from the provincial government for cat skiing. In the morning, Nick delivers coffee in bed to each guest; Ali fires up the heater in the mess tent. We meet our tentmates, Simon and Randy, big, burly Canadians who arrived with six buddies from lowna after we did last night and who, God love them, do not snore. Over a couple of LP-sized pancakes in the mess tent, Nick explains that it took "two years of dreaming and a year and a half of planning" to find this particular corner of the Monashees-a 14,500-acre parcel loaded with 8,000-foot peaks-and establish camp here. Part of the dream includes keeping the skiing affordable: as open to local loggers and ski bums, ideally, as to Germans and Americans who invade with stronger currencies. While Nick and Ali will build a full lodge on the site for the '99-'00 season, including 18 rooms and indoor plumbing, the accommodations will remain relatively spare. The roughing-it part helps bring in skiers who care less about being pampered and more about vast powder fields.

I'm not sure that includes us until I find myself knee-deep in fluff. After a 25-minute cat ride, I bounce through the day's first turns on an untracked slope called Top of the World. The Monashees' peaks crowd the horizon; the sun lights acre upon acre of pristine snow to a fluttering brilliance. The snow feathers beneath my skis. The run seems to last forever. If I was exhausted last night, I've forgotten. If I ever belonged anywhere (Whistler included) but here on Mount Tsuius on a sunny day, I've forgotten that, too.

We are all ravenous for freshies, devouring a brimming bowl and then disappearing noiselessly into the trees, each of us lost in our private smorgasbord of balsam and spruce before shooting out onto a frozen lake where the cat awaits. Our guide, Herb Bleuer, is a thickly mustachioed Swiss who's guided in B.C. for nearly 35 years. Deeming the snow stability excellent, Herb puts us on a blessedly long leash, directing us only enough to avoid hazards, not batting an eye when one of the Okanagan guys wants to know which way to a cliff.

Those who aren't game for hucking (me, for one), thread lines through tight glades, then we all rip down a series of 40-degree pitches on East Tsuius. On our increasingly boisterous cat rides, we sit shoulder to shoulder, sharing chocolate bars and sips of gut-warming Canadian whiskey. When one guy, a fertilizer salesman named Michael, produces some salmon jerky, we are treated to a spirited colloquium on jerky. We run through moose jerky and turkey jerky, razorback-boar jerky and shark jerky, before somehow the conversation pinballs to deep lakes and fishing. There's Shuswap Lake and Adams Lake, Salmon Arm Lake and Arrow Lake...and finally, just as I'm starting to wish we had a couple of stoic Germans here for volume control, the cat dumps us on top of another peak.

The most vociferous debate still lies ahead, triggered when I mention, over dinner, that Mike and I are headed next to Silver Star and Big White, two area resorts. Turns out Randy and Simon, our tentmates from Kelowna, are pass holders at Big White, a big daddy of a mountain with epic snowfalls and far superior to what they call "Sissy Star." With this, Tim, a Silver Star pass holder and waiter from Vernon, defiantly hoists his fork in the air like a broadsword. "That's baloney!" he cries, nudging fellow waiter Andrew, a 23-year-old wild man who unwittingly launched a 40-foot cliff earlier in the day. Dressed in a black T-shirt that reads Friendly F____ing Local, Andrew says Silver Star is definitely the bigger daddy with more expert terrain. "Well, good luck seeing a thing over at Big White, eh? The place is always in a fat cloud," says Andrew. "We call it Big White Out." In these parts, I come to understand, you ski one or the other.

Rivalries aside, a MASH-unit camaraderie develops in our few days on Tsuius. We wait in line at the outhouse, clear our own plates from the breakfast table, wrestle on the floor with Clyde, Nick and Ali's behemoth mutt. Months later, many of us will still be swapping e-mails and photos, planning a trip for next season. But for the time being, we'd just as soon be stuck permanently in this first afternoon on a mountain where every ridge reveals a new cache of sweet snow, where we are skiing faces never skied before.

Late in the day, we find dry snow in a north-facing gulch, and I watch Mike soft-shoe down, making flawless S curves. We lean on our poles in the pink afternoon light and stare out at rippling miles of mountain-not a soul out there, nothing but snow and trees and peaks. And us. Here it comes, I think with a touch of smugness. "This was entirely worth the trip," Mike says, turning to me. "Thanks."

When we reach Silver Star, 45 minutes downhill by snowmobile and 90 minutes by car from Tsuius, I get what I once wanted-a bathtub that gur-gles, drapes that match the bed-spread, a steaming latte and fresh croissant for breakfast. But after our stint in the tents, the comfort feels almost obscene. Hoping to eventually take sides in our cat pals' rivalry over Big White and Silver Star, Mike and I wander Silver Star's village, a quaint-looking walking-street lined with hotels, shops, and restaurants dead-ending at a T-bar. I'd call it Disneyland, but that'd be too literal. Each of the resort's myriad buildings is built with a design that appears to be simultaneously Victorian and Wild West, topped off with a charismatic paint job, a minimum of three colors, preferably primary colors, per building. Passing the Putnam Station hotel-painted yellow, green, red, and purple-Mike and I are forced to squint.

The Okanagan's first ski resort, Silver Star was started with a single poma lift by a ski club in 1959. In the early '80s, five shareholders took over and poured in millions, building a fully modern resort with scores of condos, updated lifts, and 1,440 acres of terrain.

At first glance, Silver Star appears to be purely a family mountain. Peewees happily roam the village, and the kid-focused ski school-reputed to be one of the best in B.C.-takes up one end of Main Street. But we spot ski bums here, too-dreadlocked, amped-up brethren to our friends from the cat. Mike and I take a few runs on the Vance Creek front side where broad gentle cruisers seem to dominate, but we suspect there's more. There is.

A five-minute traverse takes us to Putnam Creek, the mountain's wilder back side. Ages ago, Putnam Creek's now-dried-up namesake sliced a bunch of deep ravines into the mountain's soft shale. The narrow trails we intend to ski descend the sheer sidewalls of those ravines, dropping into the creek bed below. If Vance Creek, with its open slopes facing the town of Vernon, is the smiley-face side of Silver Star, Putnam Creek wears a gloriously sinister expression. Reading the map, I count 23 black- or double-black-diamond runs. I look at Mike, who's peering down a gnarly-looking, bumped-up fall-liner.

"We're not in Kiddyville anymore!" I shout, making an ungainly swoop at my first mogul. This is just the beginning. We tackle five or six side-by-side supersteep runs, narrow enough in places that I'm hop-turning to keep from lobbing myself at one of the scraggly spruce standing sentinel along the fringes. Warming up over homemade soup at Paradise Camp, a cozy chalet-style restaurant on the Putnam side, I'm ready to chuck my previous misconceptions about B.C. skiing. For me, there'd only been Whistler/Blackcomb-fabulous skiing coupled with mushy coastal weather and year-round crowds. My assumption: The rest were nothing but mom-and-pops, day trips for locals maybe, but certainly not vacation spots. But then here we are with our cocoa and schnapps-affordable cocoa and schnapps-taking a breather before exploring powdery off-piste bowls, exploring them, I might add, virtually alone.

My giddiest moment comes the next day when the sun disappears and a light snow starts whiffling from the sky. It's early afternoon, and Mike has gone back to the hotel to catch up on work. I grab my tele skis, take a chairlift from the village, and skate over to the back side. The snow's coming in a thick curtain now; the mountains vanish, the trees turountain where every ridge reveals a new cache of sweet snow, where we are skiing faces never skied before.

Late in the day, we find dry snow in a north-facing gulch, and I watch Mike soft-shoe down, making flawless S curves. We lean on our poles in the pink afternoon light and stare out at rippling miles of mountain-not a soul out there, nothing but snow and trees and peaks. And us. Here it comes, I think with a touch of smugness. "This was entirely worth the trip," Mike says, turning to me. "Thanks."

When we reach Silver Star, 45 minutes downhill by snowmobile and 90 minutes by car from Tsuius, I get what I once wanted-a bathtub that gur-gles, drapes that match the bed-spread, a steaming latte and fresh croissant for breakfast. But after our stint in the tents, the comfort feels almost obscene. Hoping to eventually take sides in our cat pals' rivalry over Big White and Silver Star, Mike and I wander Silver Star's village, a quaint-looking walking-street lined with hotels, shops, and restaurants dead-ending at a T-bar. I'd call it Disneyland, but that'd be too literal. Each of the resort's myriad buildings is built with a design that appears to be simultaneously Victorian and Wild West, topped off with a charismatic paint job, a minimum of three colors, preferably primary colors, per building. Passing the Putnam Station hotel-painted yellow, green, red, and purple-Mike and I are forced to squint.

The Okanagan's first ski resort, Silver Star was started with a single poma lift by a ski club in 1959. In the early '80s, five shareholders took over and poured in millions, building a fully modern resort with scores of condos, updated lifts, and 1,440 acres of terrain.

At first glance, Silver Star appears to be purely a family mountain. Peewees happily roam the village, and the kid-focused ski school-reputed to be one of the best in B.C.-takes up one end of Main Street. But we spot ski bums here, too-dreadlocked, amped-up brethren to our friends from the cat. Mike and I take a few runs on the Vance Creek front side where broad gentle cruisers seem to dominate, but we suspect there's more. There is.

A five-minute traverse takes us to Putnam Creek, the mountain's wilder back side. Ages ago, Putnam Creek's now-dried-up namesake sliced a bunch of deep ravines into the mountain's soft shale. The narrow trails we intend to ski descend the sheer sidewalls of those ravines, dropping into the creek bed below. If Vance Creek, with its open slopes facing the town of Vernon, is the smiley-face side of Silver Star, Putnam Creek wears a gloriously sinister expression. Reading the map, I count 23 black- or double-black-diamond runs. I look at Mike, who's peering down a gnarly-looking, bumped-up fall-liner.

"We're not in Kiddyville anymore!" I shout, making an ungainly swoop at my first mogul. This is just the beginning. We tackle five or six side-by-side supersteep runs, narrow enough in places that I'm hop-turning to keep from lobbing myself at one of the scraggly spruce standing sentinel along the fringes. Warming up over homemade soup at Paradise Camp, a cozy chalet-style restaurant on the Putnam side, I'm ready to chuck my previous misconceptions about B.C. skiing. For me, there'd only been Whistler/Blackcomb-fabulous skiing coupled with mushy coastal weather and year-round crowds. My assumption: The rest were nothing but mom-and-pops, day trips for locals maybe, but certainly not vacation spots. But then here we are with our cocoa and schnapps-affordable cocoa and schnapps-taking a breather before exploring powdery off-piste bowls, exploring them, I might add, virtually alone.

My giddiest moment comes the next day when the sun disappears and a light snow starts whiffling from the sky. It's early afternoon, and Mike has gone back to the hotel to catch up on work. I grab my tele skis, take a chairlift from the village, and skate over to the back side. The snow's coming in a thick curtain now; the mountains vanish, the trees turn spectral. After our global-warming kind of winter back home, I am exhilarated at the very thought of freshies. It's not until I slide into the lift area that I realize there's no one else here. Just me and a 50ish lift op who comes out of his hut to sweep snow from my chair. "You're not from here, are you?" he says, smiling through the cascading flakes. I ask how he can tell. "Because everyone else has gone home," he says, making a hopeless gesture at the roiling sky. "We're all tired of snow."

Here's our first impression of Big White: White, very white. Nothing but white. Six inches of snow fell on the mountain overnight, but the massive, spent cloud that dumped it seems to have parked itself-no, draped itself-uselessly on Big White. Early in the morning, it's impossible to see the slopes from the lobby window of our slopeside hotel. Outside, the base village is functional if unpretty, a mixed bag of day-tripping families and hardcore pass holders wandering about. And somewhere above it all, lost in the fog, is a monstrously giant mountain.

Lured by rumors of spectacular late-season snow, my flannel-shirted 25-year-old brother, Steve, has driven up from Oregon, where he works in fisheries biology, hiking seven miles to work and essentially living in a battered old pick-up truck he calls the War Pony. As Steve and Mike unload skis from the truck, a chirrupy young Aussie woman checks me into the hotel, assuring me that at some point we'll see the sun.

Before long, the three of us are bobbing through tendrils of fog, sharing a quad with a man named Alain, who is giving us a quick mountain tour. Alain is Big White's ski school director, a Quebecois with handsome, melty brown eyes and a French accent. He explains that west-facing Big White has the highest average snowfall-about 25 feet-in the region. Coastal weather systems rolling across B.C.'s farmland plateau pick up moisture over mighty Lake Okanagan and then smack the first obstacle they hit, which happens to be Big White. The fog, he says, is just part of the deal.

I watch Alain swish into the mist, and then I try to follow. Two turns later, I'm on my butt. Mike, Steve, Alain-they're all gone. All the people on the lift, they're gone, too. I'm alone in a closet of fog. Confounding things is the fact that Big White's summit is a bald, above-tree-line expanse. For the first 300 feet or so, there are not so much trails as directions in which to point your skis. I aim myself in the direction I think is down. Three turns and I'm on top of Alain, who appears impervious to the weather.

Eventually, it starts to get fun. As if feeling around for the lights in a dark room, I let my legs get a sense of the terrain and then just follow them. We stick mainly to cruisers and ski as slowly as a group of grannies, but at least we're skiing. Alain says adieu around noon, and Steve, Mike, and I hit Snowshoe Sam's for lunch. Sam's has the dark-wooded feel of a rathskellar, with animal pelts and snowshoes hanging on the walls. On the big-screen TV, Manitoba is whaling on Quebec in curling. With the resort's Australian owners pouring a fresh $119 million into development, Big White's already myriad eating and drinking options are only likely to multiply in the future. But we are hooked on Sam's, where we ultimately log hours drinking Okanagan Pale Ale and getting imposs-ibly wrapped up in the sport of curling.

Just after lunch, the mother-ship cloud lifts just slightly and, as if on some daily schedule, starts to slough snow. We start madly exploring. Our first revelation is that the mountain is stunning-a colossus covered in snow-swallowed trees called snow ghosts. We take turns thinking of other ways to describe the four- to 15-foot coral-like lumps formerly known as trees. They're freeze-dried haystacks, they're drooping monoliths, they're ice-cream scoops, they're frozen brains!

Big White spreads out over three adjacent peaks; at 2,075 acres, it's roughly equivalent to Breckennridge and, behind Whistler, Tremblant, and Lake Louise, it's the fourth largest ski area in Canada. The distance between the bottom of the Gem Lake Express lift on the far west side of the mountain and the base lodge, for example, is five miles. The variety we find is seemingly endless. On the Gem Lake lift, we get an exhilarating 2,500 verts per run. Off the Alpine T-Bar, we discover The Cliff, a horseshoe-shaped bowl with a hip-scraping 45-degree pitch. Off the Powder Chair, we find woolly, ungroomed trenches cut into the spruce.

Mike and I are unresolved on the Silver Star-versus-Big White argument begun in the Monashee mess tent. I had a ball on Silver Star's bumps and reveled in the solitude, but Mike's taken with the full package of rollicking nightlife and inexhaustible terrain we've found at Big White. It's like debating the relative merits of whiskey and beer. We shrug our shoulders and feel marvelously spoiled.

On our final run, we hit an accidental jackpot. Steve shoots across a snowfield past a double-black-diamond sign for Playground. Mike and I follow. Within seconds, we're lost in an enchanted forest of snow ghosts and fresh snow, with no other skiers in sight. After a minute, the slope drops steeply and the ghosts form a tight pack. The three of us pick our own lines and attack. I slip neatly through several narrow gaps and then, rounding a blind corner past a gargantuan, sagging white hot dog, indecorously slam into the next tree. Laughing, I get to my feet and look for the next hole at which to hurl myself. I've never skied like this before. This is fun. Mike will be thanking me for months, I just know it. Somewhere from deep in the ghosts below, I can hear Steve whooping his way from gap to gap. And somehow this seems the best measure of all: My tough-guy mountain man of a brother is giggling like a schoolgirl.

Beyond Whistler: Destination British Columbia

Photo Essay: Beyond Whistler

Photo Essay: Beyond Whistler Part 2pectral. After our global-warming kind of winter back home, I am exhilarated at the very thought of freshies. It's not until I slide into the lift area that I realize there's no one else here. Just me and a 50ish lift op who comes out of his hut to sweep snow from my chair. "You're not from here, are you?" he says, smiling through the cascading flakes. I ask how he can tell. "Because everyone else has gone home," he says, making a hopeless gesture at the roiling sky. "We're all tired of snow."Here's our first impression of Big White: White, very white. Nothing but white. Six inches of snow fell on the mountain overnight, but the massive, spent cloud that dumped it seems to have parked itself-no, draped itself-uselessly on Big White. Early in the morning, it's impossible to see the slopes from the lobby window of our slopeside hotel. Outside, the base village is functional if unpretty, a mixed bag of day-tripping families and hardcore pass holders wandering about. And somewhere above it all, lost in the fog, is a monstrously giant mountain.Lured by rumors of spectacular late-season snow, my flannel-shirted 25-year-old brother, Steve, has driven up from Oregon, where he works in fisheries biology, hiking seven miles to work and essentially living in a battered old pick-up truck he calls the War Pony. As Steve and Mike unload skis from the truck, a chirrupy young Aussie woman checks me into the hotel, assuring me that at some point we'll see the sun.Before long, the three of us are bobbing through tendrils of fog, sharing a quad with a man named Alain, who is giving us a quick mountain tour. Alain is Big White's ski school director, a Quebecois with handsome, melty brown eyes and a French accent. He explains that west-facing Big White has the highest average snowfall-about 25 feet-in the region. Coastal weather systems rolling across B.C.'s farmland plateau pick up moisture over mighty Lake Okanagan and then smack the first obstacle they hit, which happens to be Big White. The fog, he says, is just part of the deal. I watch Alain swish into the mist, and then I try to follow. Two turns later, I'm on my butt. Mike, Steve, Alain-they're all gone. All the people on the lift, they're gone, too. I'm alone in a closet of fog. Confounding things is the fact that Big White's summit is a bald, above-tree-line expanse. For the first 300 feet or so, there are not so much trails as directions in which to point your skis. I aim myself in the direction I think is down. Three turns and I'm on top of Alain, who appears impervious to the weather. Eventually, it starts to get fun. As if feeling around for the lights in a dark room, I let my legs get a sense of the terrain and then just follow them. We stick mainly to cruisers and ski as slowly as a group of grannies, but at least we're skiing. Alain says adieu around noon, and Steve, Mike, and I hit Snowshoe Sam's for lunch. Sam's has the dark-wooded feel of a rathskellar, with animal pelts and snowshoes hanging on the walls. On the big-screen TV, Manitoba is whaling on Quebec in curling. With the resort's Australian owners pouring a fresh $119 million into development, Big White's already myriad eating and drinking options are only likely to multiply in the future. But we are hooked on Sam's, where we ultimately log hours drinking Okanagan Pale Ale and getting imposs-ibly wrapped up in the sport of curling.Just after lunch, the mother-ship cloud lifts just slightly and, as if on some daily schedule, starts to slough snow. We start madly exploring. Our first revelation is that the mountain is stunning-a colossus covered in snow-swallowed trees called snow ghosts. We take turns thinking of other ways to describe the four- to 15-foot coral-like lumps formerly known as trees. They're freeze-dried haystacks, they're drooping monoliths, they're ice-cream scoops, they're frozen brains!Big White spreads out over three adjacent peaks; at 2,075 acres, it's roughly equivalent to Breckenridge and, behind Whistler, Tremblant, and Lake Louise, it's the fourth largest ski area in Canada. The distance between the bottom of the Gem Lake Express lift on the far west side of the mountain and the base lodge, for example, is five miles. The variety we find is seemingly endless. On the Gem Lake lift, we get an exhilarating 2,500 verts per run. Off the Alpine T-Bar, we discover The Cliff, a horseshoe-shaped bowl with a hip-scraping 45-degree pitch. Off the Powder Chair, we find woolly, ungroomed trenches cut into the spruce.Mike and I are unresolved on the Silver Star-versus-Big White argument begun in the Monashee mess tent. I had a ball on Silver Star's bumps and reveled in the solitude, but Mike's taken with the full package of rollicking nightlife and inexhaustible terrain we've found at Big White. It's like debating the relative merits of whiskey and beer. We shrug our shoulders and feel marvelously spoiled.On our final run, we hit an accidental jackpot. Steve shoots across a snowfield past a double-black-diamond sign for Playground. Mike and I follow. Within seconds, we're lost in an enchanted forest of snow ghosts and fresh snow, with no other skiers in sight. After a minute, the slope drops steeply and the ghosts form a tight pack. The three of us pick our own lines and attack. I slip neatly through several narrow gaps and then, rounding a blind corner past a gargantuan, sagging white hot dog, indecorously slam into the next tree. Laughing, I get to my feet and look for the next hole at which to hurl myself. I've never skied like this before. This is fun. Mike will be thanking me for months, I just know it. Somewhere from deep in the ghosts below, I can hear Steve whooping his way from gap to gap. And somehow this seems the best measure of all: My tough-guy mountain man of a brother is giggling like a schoolgirl.

Beyond Whistler: Destination British Columbia

Photo Essay: Beyond Whistler

Photo Essay: Beyond Whistler Part 2 Breckenridge and, behind Whistler, Tremblant, and Lake Louise, it's the fourth largest ski area in Canada. The distance between the bottom of the Gem Lake Express lift on the far west side of the mountain and the base lodge, for example, is five miles. The variety we find is seemingly endless. On the Gem Lake lift, we get an exhilarating 2,500 verts per run. Off the Alpine T-Bar, we discover The Cliff, a horseshoe-shaped bowl with a hip-scraping 45-degree pitch. Off the Powder Chair, we find woolly, ungroomed trenches cut into the spruce.Mike and I are unresolved on the Silver Star-versus-Big White argument begun in the Monashee mess tent. I had a ball on Silver Star's bumps and reveled in the solitude, but Mike's taken with the full package of rollicking nightlife and inexhaustible terrain we've found at Big White. It's like debating the relative merits of whiskey and beer. We shrug our shoulders and feel marvelously spoiled.On our final run, we hit an accidental jackpot. Steve shoots across a snowfield past a double-black-diamond sign for Playground. Mike and I follow. Within seconds, we're lost in an enchanted forest of snow ghosts and fresh snow, with no other skiers in sight. After a minute, the slope drops steeply and the ghosts form a tight pack. The three of us pick our own lines and attack. I slip neatly through several narrow gaps and then, rounding a blind corner past a gargantuan, sagging white hot dog, indecorously slam into the next tree. Laughing, I get to my feet and look for the next hole at which to hurl myself. I've never skied like this before. This is fun. Mike will be thanking me for months, I just know it. Somewhere from deep in the ghosts below, I can hear Steve whooping his way from gap to gap. And somehow this seems the best measure of all: My tough-guy mountain man of a brother is giggling like a schoolgirl.

Beyond Whistler: Destination British Columbia

Photo Essay: Beyond Whistler

Photo Essay: Beyond Whistler Part 2

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