Big White

Big White Ski Resort was above the clouds on Thursday. Bluebird conditions meant the Gem Lake parking lot was filled by 10 a.m. and there was a lift lineup to get to the summit for this incredible view. With two centimetres of fresh snow and 40 cm during the past week, conditions were mid-winter beautiful.

The Okanagan (and Snow Gods) threw an incredible Christmas-New Year’s party for local snow lovers.

On. Dec. 22, Big White Ski Resort reported 33 centimetres of fresh snow and issued an Extreme Powder Alert as a pre-Christmas gift.

On Dec. 30, Silver Star Mountain Resort reported more than 50 cm had fallen during the past week with more in the forecast for New Year’s.

With 27 cm of new snow on Dec. 22, only the main trails were groomed at Kelowna Nordic Ski and Snowshoe Club.

So the Ski Sheriff and Constant Companion Carmen had to, just had to, check out the fine conditions. On numerous occasions. And we found the best snow, the best grooming, moderate temperatures and even occasional sunshine (rare in December-January).

The trick is a keen eye on weather forecasts — scheduling ski days in-between snowstorms which seemed to come every second day. Especially when the cross-country grooming reports say: “Excellent for both skate and classic. It’s supposed to snow for the next few days so this will be the best ski day this week. An absolutely gorgeous day; you don’t want to miss it.”

Who can turn down an invitation like that? The result can be an overflowing main parking lot at Kelowna Nordic (more than 30 vehicles parked off-site on McCulloch Road on Sunday) and many skiers and snowshoers on trails. All with big grins.

So we did XC trails we haven’t done for a while. And did some of our favourites in the opposite direction.

We also drove to the upper (north) end of Union Road in Kelowna and found signs for the Wild One Wilden Trail Run, a virtual run last fall to raise awareness and funds for youth mental health. All of these backcountry trails in Wilden can be confusing for first-timers but there were so many people walking there on New Year’s Day that no one needed snowshoes and you could ask someone how to get back to the trailhead. Keep in mind Wilden’s ridges run north-south.

On Tuesday, the forecast for sunshine didn’t come to pass at Silver Star but there was 13 cm of fresh snow (36 in last seven days) for powdery downhill runs. Big White had that beautiful sunshine and two cm of fresh snow on Thursday so Gem Lake Parking Lot was filled by 10 a.m. To avoid its lineups, we cruised Ridge-Snow Ghost runs right through lunch.

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Kelowna Nordic Ski and Snowshoe Club has a new shelter on a new snowshoe trail at the Summit Parking Lot. The trail starts on the left front side of the Summit building.

“The trail is called Snow Venture and was built by Tom and Mona Ferguson during the summer and fall,” said club president Ryland Garton. “They added to a trail started by Craig Lewis and Gord Miller a couple of years ago. It has a nice view of Big White. At the viewpoint, Craig, Gord, Tom, Mona and Paul Stephenson assembled a ‘shed-in-a-box’ 10-by-10 shelter that I had purchased earlier.

“They broke it into pieces and carried it in. Kudos to them all as it is a 1.25-hour trip each way. The shelter is called the Venture Outpost since Hudson’s Bay Co. doesn’t have any anymore. There is a firepit and benches so make the most of it. Maybe next full moon? A big thank you to them all for their hard work.”

In addition, the main K-9 trail is finally open. “We wrestled with warm mud in the bog for some time but finally got enough of a snowpack on it to groom. It is in great shape with lots of happy dogs on it. It is an important trail for our grooming loops,” said Garton.

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There’s no doubt COVID-19 had more people hitting valley trails last summer, a trend which continues this winter.

At Telemark Nordic Club: “Last year, we had about 1,100 members. This year, we have over 1,700 members — a 50 per cent increase and the most members we have ever had by far,” says GM Mike Edwards.

“We know that this increase is, in large part, due to the COVID crisis, and the fact that XC skiing and snowshoeing are naturally-physically-distancing healthy outdoor activities that are perfect activities to do right now.”

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At Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre, “it’s not often that your club reaches a big benchmark,” GM Troy Hudson said in a Christmas newsletter.

“It was just two winters ago that Sovereign was the first club to break the 2,000-member mark.

As of Christmas Eve, SLNC broke the 3,000-member mark. This is no small feat. We are excited to welcome over 800 new members this season. You can definitely tell by the number of lessons and rentals being booked that there is a whole new generation of families, couples and individuals taking up the sport.”

Cross-country skiing has exploded across the country with many clubs breaking their membership records, he added.

“COVID-19 has created somewhat of a renaissance for our sport and it is exciting to see participation growing once again.”

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Regional District of Central Okanagan parks staff had scheduled a series of in-person park programs, but they had to be postponed indefinitely in accordance with the latest provincial health orders.

In addition, the RDCO will not open outdoor public skating at either Joe Rich or Scotty Creek community parks.

All 30 RDCO regional and community parks remain open.

J.P. Squire, aka the Ski Sheriff, is a retired journalist. Email: jp.squire@telus.net.