A stark contrast to the growing trend of resorts over the last few years, Whitewater is staying small -- and awesome. You won't find on-the-hill lodging, high-speed lifts, or even wifi. And that's what makes it great. The resort was developed with thousands of hours of work by locals in the early 1970's, and while they've made a few improvements...that local culture and dedication to staying independent still runs strong. In a world of super developed base areas, lift tickets at $200, and mobs of people, Whitewater feels like a dream of years past holding on in this corner of the Kootenays.
Getting to Whitewater Resort
The resort is located just outside of Nelson, BC. It isn't the easiest spot to access, but that's part of the adventure. Spokane is a 3-4 hour drive away, and both Castlegar and Trail have regional airports that can connect to Vancouver and Calgary. But perhaps the best way to reach Nelson is by making your way from nearby Rossland (RED Mountain Resort) or Revelstoke as part of a Powder Highway road trip.
About Nelson, BC
The town of Nelson is a hip, vibrant community on the shores of Kootenay Lake. You'll find an incredible foodie scene and friendly locals. In the last couple of years, the food scene in particular has really blossomed and you can find exemplary pizza and (try Marzano), ramen (Red Light Ramen) and more. Need a spot to grab coffee and breakfast before you head up to the mountain? You'll love Oso Negro's funky vibe.
We stayed at the Adventure Hotel, which charms with its European-style hostel vibe. The simple, well designed rooms and common area (with a kitchenette if you want cook your own food) make you feel at home. Downstairs, you'll find a connected bar, restaurant and coffee shop. It's the perfect basecamp for your skiing adventures in winter, or any number of activities summer.
Skiing at Whitewater Ski Resort
Whitewater is a short 20 minute drive from downtown Nelson. There are only 3 lifts here, but a surprising amount of terrain — most of which will satisfy even the strongest of skiers. Those three lifts access 2367 acres of steep, fun runs. This isn’t a resort that has much to offer for beginner skiers — a blue run here can’t be compared to a blue at most other resorts. Much of this is because almost nothing on the mountain is groomed. This is a playful resort for good skiers. It seemed like there wasn't a spot on the mountain that didn't have great features (of all sizes) to jump off of.
Our favorite runs were A-C Shafts, the Trash Chutes, accessed via a short traverse off the backside of the Summit Chair (plus the bootpack above the traverse that’ll get you a few more creamy turns), and the steep glades off the Glory Chair. As recently as 2010, a run down Glory Ridge meant a hitching a ride back to the base area. But in the summer of 2010, Whitewater purchased the old High Noon (Chair 5) from Vail, and made 749 acres on Glory ready for all-day laps.
Partway through the day, take a break at the Fresh Tracks Cafe or Coal Oil Johnny's pub. The fare is some of the best I've seen at a resort, and there's something for everyone. It's not unheard of for locals to head up to the mountain just for a bite to eat.
Backcountry access at Whitewater
Upon arrival, you’ll likely be suiting up in the parking lot with equal parts resort and backcountry skiers. Perhaps the most unique aspect about Whitewater is the unbelievable amount of awesome, lift-accessed backcountry.
Whether you’re attacking the chutes of Ymir Mountain above the resort, or heading out for a longer tour and dropping into a new drainage, the access is hard to beat. The backcountry culture is so strong here that the resort offers single-ride lift tickets ($30 CAD) for tourers heading to higher terrain, something I've never seen at another resort. Options range from mellower slopes that drop down into the resort or parking lot, as well as longer tours and hike-to lines that might pucker you a bit. As with all fun in the backcountry, it's important to have sufficient avalanche education, gear, and the current snow conditions. But...if you didn't feel like dragging your backcountry gear on vacation, the base area will rent you a beacon/shovel/probe so you can still get after that hike-to terrain safely.