Mother Nature was a bit capricious in her start to winter in Kamloops and the Okanagan, which had negative early season effects on the region’s ski resorts.
Snowfall was an early season problem for the ski resorts but it’s been pretty much business as usual for Sun Peaks, Silver Star, Big White, Apex Mountain Resort and Baldy Mountain Resort since late December, and from the looks of things midway through the ski season, the best is yet to come in the second half.
Christina Antoniak of Sun Peaks Resort, located 45 minutes north of Kamloops, says snowfall and ski conditions have been good so far this season, with November and December on par with other years. January was a stingy month for snow, but the most recent forecast is calling for snow on the weekend.
Antoniak says weather at the resort has been great for skiing, with temperatures generally milder than normal. Temperature inversions have been frequent this year, making for mild but clear sunny days at Sun Peaks.
Although the resort saw less than normal amounts of snow in January, the hill has held up well, with the current base at 151 cm.
“We’re very pleased with how the season has progressed so far,” Antoniak says, adding conditions have been great for the resorts other activities which include nordic skiing, snowshoeing, dog sledding and skating.
Skier visitation has been strong with an increase in season pass holder visits, as have visits from destination markets, which are comparable to last season.
Sun Peaks anticipated closing date is April 14.
At Silver Star Mountain Resort, located 22 kilometres northeast of Vernon, spokesperson Chantelle Deacon says the winter season has been great this year.
The resort was a day late opening, but did so with a solid base of snow. Silver Star was busy over the Christmas holidays and has not experienced any weather related issues, currently sitting with a 175 cm base at the summit. Current conditions at the resort are considered normal and comparable to previous years.
Deacon says alpine and nordic skiing are the most popular activities, but there’s also been a lot of interest in the resort’s horseman dinner tours, skating, tube town and fat biking facilities.
This is the first season for Silver Star’s new gondola.
“It’s definitely been a big hit,” Deacon says. “It’s been a great season so far and we expect the rest of the season will be awesome as well."
Deacon says the resort has a tentative closing date of Sunday, April 7, but that date is “not set in stone.”
Senior vice-president of Big White Ski Resort, Michael J. Ballingall, says the resort set new records over the holiday season with more skier visits than ever.
He said the region’s ski resorts were doing well in general this year because of a large number of “long haul” customers who had booked their time months in advance.
“With local B.C. business in November and December, it fills your resort,” he says.
Ballingall said the hardest part of the business right now involves guests arriving without their bags sometimes.
“We’re working with the airlines on that now,” he said.
Ballingall said Big White was seeing large numbers of guests from Washington and Oregon, with American business in general on the upswing.
Big White opened on schedule and has had adequate snow since operations began this year.
“We have a lot of snow, other resorts haven’t got as much, but everyone’s spent money preparing the hills and grooming this year. The grooming is good,” he says.
With colder weather and snow in the forecast, Ballingall says conditions will only improve through the second half of the season. He expects the resort to operate until April 22 this year, its longest season ever.
Big White is located 56 kilometres southeast of Kelowna.
Apex Mountain Resort general manager James Shalman says the season got off to a slow start, mother nature-wise, with poor quality snow early in the season.
“Things have turned around after a 25 centimetre snowfall last Wednesday,” he says. “Last weekend was absolutely beautiful. We had a temperature inversion, it was warm, with blue skies and lots of sun."
Shalman says although numbers were down over the Christmas season compared to last year, the resort’s ice surfaces have been really busy this year. Apex's hockey rink, which the resort claims is the highest in Canada, and the one kilometre ice skating loop have proved very popular this season.
A promotional video of the skating loop, done in conjunction with Travel Penticton, has received more than 500,000 views to date.
“It’s an additional amenity to Apex, which is best known for its steep, aggressive skiing and easy access to the lifts and the village,” Shalman says.
Although the snowpack is not quite deep as last year’s, there’s still February and March, which typically are high snowfall months for Apex. With two months left to go, Shalman says he’s looking forward to the second half of the season.
Apex Mountain resort expects to close for the season on March 31.
Baldy Mountain marketing coordinator Andrew Zwicker says the resort, located about 35 minutes east of Oliver, had a slow start out of the gate with snow coming later than normal.
“Once we got open, our snow has been phenomenal, with staff keeping an pretty excellent product out there,” he says.
The resort postponed its opening by two weeks, which Zwicker says isn’t all that unusual. Since then, snow conditions have been good, other than being a little below normal in terms of depth.
Zwicker says the loss of 10 days operating time has affected skier numbers, but on a daily basis the count is up slightly over last year.
Snowshoeing has been a popular pastime at the resort this year, with a local group going out at least once a month for a snowshoe morning with as many as 30 or 40 people at a time, Zwicker says. Saturday night bonfires with hot chocolate and tobogganing have also been a well attended event.
Zwicker says the resort has enough snow to carry them through, although short term forecasts are calling for more snow this weekend.
“I’d say the season has been a nine out of 10 so far, mainly due to the late arriving snow. That compares with last year, which was more like a 12 out of 10,” he says.
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