6 things you may not know about Big White on the resort's 60th anniversary | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source
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6 things you may not know about Big White on the resort's 60th anniversary

The Powder Chair has served guests for the last 39 years. Photo courtesy of Big White Ski Resort.
Image Credit: Big White Ski Resort

Since it opened in 1963, Big White Ski Resort has earned an impressive reputation and is beloved by those in the Okanagan and further afield.

To celebrate Big White’s 60th birthday here are six things you may not have known about Kelowna’s famous mountain.

The first, and most surprising, is that the resort is not part of the Central Okanagan.

That’s right. Despite its close proximity and association with Kelowna, Big White is in the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary with its headquarters 200 kilometres away in Trail.

READ MORE: Why Big White Ski Resort isn't in the Central Okanagan

Although it seems nonsensical, the decision dates back to the mid-1960s when the regional districts were established and has remained the same ever since.

As a result, the Central Okanagan misses out on the whopping $6 million in taxes the resort has to cough up every year to the Kootenay Boundary regional district.

The impressive enterprise that is Big White was the idea of two Kelowna locals Cliff Serwa and Douglas Mervyn. However, ownership was later transferred to the Schumann family in 1985.

The Schumann family are from Australia and previously owned a ski resort in their home country.

“Compared to Australia, it was like heaven. Guaranteed snow, plenty of it, beautiful blue-sky days,” Peter Schumann is quoted saying on the Big White website. “I’ve looked at a lot of resorts around the world, I’ve studied them, and I wouldn’t swap Big White for any resort in the world.”

Big White ski mountain in 1971. Shared by the 'Old Kelowna' Facebook group.
Big White ski mountain in 1971. Shared by the 'Old Kelowna' Facebook group.
Image Credit: Old Kelowna Facebook group.

Not only are the owners of the resort Australian, but so is a large portion of its workforce today. Many of Big White’s seasonal staff travel from across the world to work, ski and snowboard all winter long.

And it’s not hard to see why some would make that journey, with Big White selected as the best snowboarding mountain in Canada this year by USA Today and its the second-best mountain in Canada according to Conde Nast Traveler in 2021.

USA Today described the mountain as having "breath taking runs, gorgeous views, and brilliant terrain."

READ MORE: Big White voted best snowboarding mountain in Canada

While Conde Nast Traveler gave the resort an overall score of 80.3, it was only 0.3 points away from Lake Louise Ski Resort for top spot.

The ski resort’s impressive terrain has also provided the training ground for Olympic athletes.

Big White athlete Tess Critchlow represented Canada in both the PyeongChang 2018 and Beijing 2022 Olympic Games.

Critchlow grew up and learned to snowboard at Big White Ski Resort, which was also where she competed in her first ever race.

During her career, Critchlow won five adult and junior Canadian National Championships, had multiple top-10 World Cup finishes, a 9th overall placement at PyeongChang 2018 and a sixth place finish at Beijing 2022.

After a long and impressive career, Critchlow finally retired in June 2022.

READ MORE: Big White Olympian Tess Critchlow is retiring from snowboard cross

Big White athlete Tess Critchlow represented Canada during the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games.
Big White athlete Tess Critchlow represented Canada during the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Big White Ski Resort

But the resort isn’t just about winter sports, chalets and restaurants. It’s also host to the annual alpine music festival Altitunes Festival.

According to the Big White website, Altitunes is Canada’s biggest mountain music festival, packed with live music, skiing, and an array of outdoor activities.

The event takes place over two days, with a impressive new line-up announced every year.

This year, headline acts include Elderbrook, Milky Chance and Vandleux, with plenty more on the schedule.

And finally, despite being a beloved destination to many in Kelowna, it isn’t the first ski hill.

READ MORE: Kelowna’s first ski hill was much closer than Big White

This photo from the 1930s was shared by Steven James on the Old Kelowna Facebook page. It shows the Joe Rich Ski Inn.
This photo from the 1930s was shared by Steven James on the Old Kelowna Facebook page. It shows the Joe Rich Ski Inn.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK/Old Kelowna

In the early days, Kelowna residents would travel to Joe Rich rather than Big White, but because of the gasoline shortage during Second World War, the ski hill didn’t last long.

After that, skiers tried out Black Mountain and for a time the Black Mountain Ski Bowl was the place to go. That was until it became obvious that snow would be too sparce for a full season of skiing.

Then came Doug Mervin and Cliff Serwa and their idea to start cross country skiing up Big White Mountain, which, as all know resulted one of Canada’s most prestigious mountains.

You can find out more about Big White Ski Resort by following the link here.


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