It’s a long way to the top

A new chairlift at Whitewater Ski Resort will provide access to a treasured sweet spot on the mountain

by Trevor Crawley
someone skiing at Whitewater Ski Resort

Whitewater Ski Resort draws skiers of all experience levels.

Photo courtesy Whitewater Ski Resort

Whitewater Ski Resort is making one of its hidden treasures more accessible by installing a new chairlift to service the an area referred to as the Backside. The Glory Ridge chairlift will cover just over 1.5 kilometres of slope length and push the vertical drop of skiable terrain to over 2,000 feet.

According to Anne Pigeon, manager of indoor operations and marketing, this feat thrusts the resort onto a world-class stage.

"It just jettisons us into another marketplace so we're looking to gain more international attention and more destination market opportunities than we had before, which is something that will benefit the local community," she said.

Whitewater bought the lift from the renowned Vail resort in Colorado, and contracted Fernie-based Summit Lift Company Ltd. to do the installation.

The Dopplemayr triple lift can haul 2,400 people up the mountain in an hour and one trip takes roughly 11 minutes.

"We've always . . . thought that we would use reconditioned lifts previously enjoyed just from an economical perspective, and suiting the culture of our mountain," Pigeon said.

More access, more snow, more fun

The Glory Ridge chair was identified as the first priority chairlift expansion because the snow conditions and terrain lured adventurous skiers and snowboarders to the backside area of the mountain, which was technically out of bounds.

"From a marketing perspective, so many people are familiar with that area and have fond memories (of) skiing back there, so it made our job easier," said Pigeon.

The backside has developed a reputation as an area with deep powder and challenging terrain—and over time, it has attracted more and more backcountry enthusiasts.

"It offers a good fall line and some good powder opportunities so people were skiing on the backside and then dropping out on our main access road to hitchhike back up to the base," Pigeon said.

In the beginning, it wasn't a problem but as more people migrated to that area of the mountain, it became a safety hazard.

The goal is to make 303 hectares into a mixture of 18 treed and groomed runs over two years, designed for the intermediate and expert skiers and boarders.

The chair is slated to be operational by December and will service eight runs to be finished this season, with the remaining 10 to be completed for the next season.

The addition of the new chairlift is part of the recently updated master plan, released in June, and will double the area of developed mountain terrain at the resort.

Master plan updates

The Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture approved changes to Whitewater's master plan in June, the most recent update since its creation in 2003. Knee Deep Development initiated the review in 2008 when they bought the resort from a local family.

The plan details a vision for the future of the resort and lays out guidelines for facility and chairlift expansion. It also studies the environmental impacts of future development, particularly on the mountain caribou and other wildlife.

The mountain is the headwater for Apex Creek and a 30-metre riparian area on both sides of the creek forbids any kind of development.

In flipping the industry on its head, Knee Deep Development is currently more interested in developing their lift capacity and ski products rather than focusing on marketing real estate.

Two more ski lifts have been identified for the back side due to the quality of the terrain, lift access to Ymir Ridge from the Qua basin is proposed as well as the addition of the White Queen chairlift and replacement of the existing Summit chairlift.

Another immediate priority is the construction of a new skier services building.

Pigeon estimates it will be three or four years until the first phase of real estate development—likely single-family accommodation—is available to the market.

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