The Ultimate Whitewater Ski Trip: Resort Runs + Backcountry Turns

Well known are the incredible amenities and ski terrain offered by Whitewater Ski Resort, located just outside of Nelson, British Columbia. Less appreciated is the amazing backcountry access and unparalleled ski terrain that is offered in the out-of-bounds terrain. Experience them both for the ultimate Kootenay ski trip.


Whitewater the Resort

Whitewater Ski Resort is a unique resort that continues to have a small family ski lodge feel while offering some big area ski terrain. In addition, the area has some of the best and deepest snow to be found anywhere in the West. Powder Magazine calls Whitewater “One of the best powder mountains on the continent.”

Tucked into a massive bowl on mighty Ymir Peak in the Selkirk Mountains, Whitewater Ski Resort averages 40 feet of light, dry, powder snow every year. While the resort definitely has terrain to satisfy the entire family, it is also known for incredible steep terrain, including really fun chutes and bowls. The resort has over 2,000 feet of vertical drop, and ski terrain that covers 1,184 acres and includes 81 runs. At the end of 2010, the Glory Ridge Chair was added, which opened up a significant amount of new terrain, and decreased the lift lines considerably throughout the resort.

One unusual aspect of the resort, as ski areas go, is the incredible food. In 2011 Ski Magazine rated Whitewater #2 in the “Top 10 Ski Resort Cafeterias.”  In addition to the fresh homemade food in the lodge, there is also a quality Fresh Tracks Café Express food truck at the base of Glory Chair.


Whitewater the Backcountry Shangrila

For those of you uninitiated, backcountry skiing provides a unique, heavenly experience. On a quality backcountry ski tour, typically one encounters no crowds, deep powder, the tranquility of nature, and the freedom to explore. The quality of the backcountry terrain that’s accessible from Whitewater Ski Resort is unparalleled.

With a base elevation of 5,333 feet, the resort offers “some of the best lift access backcountry on the planet,” according to their own website. Reflecting typical Canadian wisdom and sensibilities, Whitewater supports backcountry access wholeheartedly. The resort recommends on their website that all skiers and snowboarders be equipped with a transceiver, probe and shovel, and be educated in backcountry knowledge and up-to-date avalanche conditions. They also ask that you check in with the Snow Safety Patrol before you head into the backcountry.

There are a ton of great access points to the backcountry from the top of the lifts. For lift access to the backcountry within the season and during operational hours, single ride lift tickets are available (you will be required to sign a backcountry waiver). One access point is at the top of the Silver King Chair that leads to several prominent areas known as White Queen and Five Mile. Another, located at the top of the Claim Jumper ski run, accessed via Glory Ridge Chair, takes you, after a short hike, to what the locals call the “Trash Chutes.”  From the bottom of this region you can ski back to the Glory lift. A third access point is located in the Powder Keg Bowl, which takes you into the Ymir region, offering a vast expanse of quality skiing.

You also have the option of parking and hiking into the backcountry. The Resort offers recommended ascent routes outside the ski area boundary. Interestingly, Whitewater Ski Resort offers a beacon/transceiver training area. In addition, they offer a one-day introductory avalanche awareness course.

If you are interested in learning to telemark ski or expand your backcountry skills, the 8th Annual Kootenay Coldsmoke Powder Festival (Feb. 21-23) offers beginner to intermediate telemark clinics that are perfect for developing skills, gaining confidence, and enhancing your understanding of the magic that is the telemark turn. Half-day sessions are also available throughout the season.

A great resource for planning your trip is the Backcountry Ski Map and Guide to the Whitewater Ski Area, available at As the classic saying goes, free your heels, and your mind will follow.

Getting There: Whitewater Ski Resort is located 142 miles north of Spokane and just  14 miles south of Nelson, B.C. Don’t forget your passport!

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