Long johns, check; sweat pants, check; ski shirt, check; fleece, check; gloves, check; beanie, check; neck warmer, check; pants and jacket, check.
Reason to go out in the cold, absent.
I hate the cold, always have. I'm a summer boy, a beach bum, a surf-boy waxhead. The cold is not for me.
But I love the snow. And to enjoy the snow I must endure the cold, which is why I'm always fully prepared. Dressed to the eyeballs, no bare skin.
Over the years, in my native Australia, I'd heard the odd snippet about British Columbia's ski hills -- the ones beyond Whistler. Places of hidden delights with virtually untouched powder and no lift lines. The stories were told reluctantly, as if the storyteller had found a piece of heaven to call his own and didn't want anyone else to know about it.
The teller never gave directions and said only that the snow was the light, pristine, champagne powder that weekend warriors dream of. I decided to find my own way, with much success. And earlier this year I did just that. Here's what I found. The Sunowdown Whistler/Blackcomb Seven years as the number one ski resort in North America, Whistler offers a blend of cosmopolitan fair and backwards naiveté, big, wild mountains and world-class sushi. At the peak, check your bindings and your e-mail. This is tourist central. The Disneyland of ski hills. It's so big (2,828 skiable hectares, 55,407 skiers an hour lift capacity), it's intimidatng. There's almost too much to see and do.
But if you get past the consuming tourists, neon jump suits, fur-lined boots, goggle tan lines, whining kids, and snowboarders who wear blinders, the skiing is excellent. Both mountains have great bowl, cliff and gladed skiing for those who like to push it, and long, cruiser runs that give you a chance to enjoy the view.
The snow is wetter and not as light as the interior because it's so close to the coast, but there's plenty of it and enough clear, sunny days for those who like to ski in T-shirts and sunglasses. Whistler, the linchpin of the Intrawest ski empire, should be seen solely to experience what the fuss is about.
Season. Late November to late April.
Snowfall. 914 centimetres.
Lifts. 32 -- including 13 high-speed quads, the most of any single resort in North America.
Elevation. Whistler: base 653 metres, top 2,182 metres, vertical 1,530 metres. Blackcomb: base 675 metres, top 2,284 metres, vertical 1,609 metres.
Prices. Adult $59, youth/senior $50, child $29, 6 and under free.
Services. Ski/snowboard school, 10 rental shops, snow hosts (guides), night skiing Wednesday to Saturday, 16 restaurants right on the mountain, 115 condos plus hotels and B&Bs.
Activities. Three half pipes, two terrain parks, 30 kilometres cross-country skiing, heli-skiing, sleigh rides, snowmobiling.
Location. 115 kilometres north of Vancouver.
Information. . Sun Peaks Resort With 2,000 hours of sunshine a year and award-winning trail design, Sun Peaks is popular with tourists and locals alike. Awarded Best Grooming and Best Weather by Ski Canada, it's a skiers' paradise -- though it can get a little icy if there's no new snow.
But when it snows, it dumps a dry, light snow that comes from the mountains of the interior. A light dusting on the well-groomed runs makes for "hero snow"; if you can't make a turn in Sun Peaks' hero snow, then you shouldn't be skiing anywhere at any time.
One problem with Sun Peaks is that it's a little flat. Apart from the cliffs and head walls at the peak, the mountain requires a lot of straight skiing to maintain speed. This, with the hero snow, makes it great for families and intermediate skiers. The extremists spend all day on the peak, which gives families and beginners a break from speedsters.
Season. Late November to mid-April.
Snowfall. 527 centimetres.
Elevation. Base 1,252 metres, top 2,074 metres, vertical 879 metres.
Prices. Adult $44, senior $30, youth $39, child $26, 6 and under free.
Services. Rental shop, ski/snowboard school, snow hosts, small, compact village, excellent staff.
Activities. Snowboard park, skating rink, sleigh rides, snowmobiling, 40 kilometres of cross-country skiing.
Location. 50 kilometres north of Kamloops, a pleasant industrial town.
Information. . Silver Star Mountain One of B.C.'s secret hills, overshadowed by Big White just one hour south, and bypassed by a lot of tourists, Silver Star offers quality skiing minus the fur-lined boots and the lift lines. Even on a Saturday, you won't have to wait longer than five minutes.
The hill has two faces: Putnam Creek, and Vance Creek. Putnam is a steeper face, definitely for advanced skiers. The Vance face has longer, easier runs. All the skiers are happy. Those who want to see how close to death they can safely get go to Putnam, and those who want to cruise and work on their form, stay on Vance.
While the mountain is excellent, Silver Star is known for its cross-country skiing. Named by Snow Country Magazine as "One of North America's top cross- country ski resorts," Silver Star boasts 85 kilometres of groomed trails.
The village is colourful, with a western theme, and ski-in/ski-out accommodation -- and dry snow falling almost on a daily basis.
Season. Mid-November to early April.
Snowfall. 570 centimetres.
Elevation. Base 1,149 metres, top 1,909 metres, vertical 760 metres.
Prices. Adult $46, youth $39, senior $32, child $24, 5 and under/70 and over free.
Services. Rental shop, ski/snowboard school, snow hosts, on mountain accommodation, night skiing Wednesday to Saturday.
Activities. Two half pipes, terrain park, tube rides, skating rink, dogsled rides, snowmobile tours, 85 kilometres of cross-country skiing, Valhalla adventure skiing.
Location. 20 kilometres from Vernon, by no means a ski town.
Information. . Big White Ski Resort It was the hairiest T-bar ride of my life: a 15-minute hike to the peak and a personal pep talk (a reminder there's no other way down). It's vertical to start; a slow slide dodging rocks and keeping your edge. Then you let go, barrelling down the cliff face into a bowl of powder. Big, long cut-out turns at incredible speed spray the snow everywhere. The bowl flattens, you stop, look around and see the beautiful S's of your carving. A 20-minute hike to the trail and then back to the lift.
Big White is home to more pass holders that any ski resort in North America. It breeds fierce loyalty from its local skiers. Rated by the London Daily Mail as the best ski resort in Canada, Big White is a major stop for tourists and ski bums alike. But there's 840 hectares to spread them all out.
It's a little flat in parts, but the snow is excellent and the runs of the powder-chair mid-mountain are a hidden treasure. There's also plenty of quality gladed skiing for the tree huggers. Definitely worth a stop.
Season. Late November to mid-April.
Snowfall. 750 centimetres.
Elevation. Base 1,505 metres, top 2,312 metres, vertical 775 metres.
Prices. Adults $44, child $22, youth $37, senior $30, 6 and under free.
Services. Rental shop, ski/snowboard school, snow hosts, self-contained village, ski-in/ski-out accommodation, kids centre, night skiing.
Activities. Three snowboard parks, two half pipes, cross-country trails, lots of activities for kids.
Location. 45-minute drive from Kelowna, a large town full of shopping malls and car yards.
Information. . Apex Mountain Resort Ski Canada rates Apex as Canada's best-kept secret. This would be true if there were one more lift that prevented a too-long, too-flat trip back from the far side of the mountain. But there's no denying the great snow and terrain, with some of B.C.'s best fall-line slopes and head walls. All the runs can be accessed from the high-speed quad.
The grooming is excellent and the village quaint. There are runs for everyone from cruising beginners to extreme fall lines. The best thing about Apex, though, is the lack of a ski crowd. There are tourists, but they're usually die-hards who know the hill. This is a local's playground. The fog on the summit keeps the hordes away.
At the end of the day, retire to the award-winning Gunbarrel Saloon for a quiet beer and some big talk. And don't let the fog scare you.
Season. Late November to mid-April.
Snowfall. 570 centimetres.
Elevation. Base 1,580 metres, top 2,185 metres, vertical 608 metres.
Prices. Adult $35, teen $31, junior/senior $25, 7 and under free.
Services. Rental shop, ski/snowboard school, night skiing, ski-in/ski-out accommodation, snow hosts.
Activities. Terrain park, half pipe, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, sledding, snowshoeing.
Location. 37 kilometres from Penticton, a quaint town on Okanagan Lake.
Information. . Red Mountain Resort Red is fast becoming one of the most popular hills in B.C. for extreme skiers. Its reputation for challenging, off-trail tree skiing holds firm with long runs comparable to heli- and cat-skiing. Opportunities abound all over the mountain for untouched powder runs through tight trees.
The snow that falls is the famous Kootenay powder, for which this area is known; it's so dry, it brushes right off your jacket. At the peak, the 360-degree view of the surrounding valley is superb. Take the "long run" from the peak to the base. It wraps around the mountain, 7 kilometres long.
Season. Mid-December to April.
Snowfall. 750 centimetres.
Elevation. Base 1,182 metres, top 2,067 metres, vertical 882 metres.
Prices. Adult $40, student $33, junior/senior $21, 6 and under/75 and over free.
Services. Rental shop, ski/snowboard school, night skiing, on-mountain accommodation, three restaurants including one mid-mountain, snow hosts.
Activities. Cross-country skiing at nearby Blackjack trails, back-country skiing at Nancy Greene Lake, sleigh rides.
Location. Three kilometres from Rossland, a quaint mining town of 3,500.
Information. . Whitewater Ski and Winter Resort "If you took everything that mattered and put it into one little area, you'd have Whitewater." -- Powder Magazine.
That pretty much sums it up. The snow, a whopping 1,000 centimetres annually, is easily the best I've seen. It's worth enduring the cold and the icy winds just for the powder. There are two peaks, and two double chairs.
The backcountry skiing here is amazing, and very dangerous. Tree wells, sometimes over two metres deep, are waiting to swallow you after the spring thaw. So be prepared and don't go alone.
The resort only has a day lodge, so visitors stay in the nearby town of Nelson, named as the best ski town by Ski Canada. It's a bizarre mix of ski bums, transients, small businesses, families, settled hippies, hippy wannabes, and rednecks, but everyone seems to get along. And the town itself is beautiful.
Season. Early December to early April.
Snowfall. 1,000 centimetres.
Elevation. Base 1,642 metres, top 2,037 metres, vertical 395 metres.
Prices. Adults $35, 13-18/65+ $27, 7-12 $21, 6 and under free.
Services. Rental shop, ski/snowboard school, two restaurants.
Activities. Cross-country centre at base of mountain, back-country tours, tobogganing, heli-skiing, snowshoeing.
Location. 29 kilometres from Nelson, known as "the heritage city."
Information. . Kimberley Alpine Resort With trails cut by Scandinavian miners in the 1930s, Kimberley Alpine Resort is steeped in history. The original T-bar was built using the trees the miners cleared. With lots of different terrain, ranging from groomed cruisers to world-class moguls to powder runs in the trees, there's something for everyone. The Easter run was ranked by Ski Canada Magazine as one of the finest in the land.
The big plus here is the lack of lift lines. Literally no wait, even on weekends. The hill is worth a stop simply for the relaxed, peaceful skiing it offers, while still accommodating the extremists.
Season. December to mid-April.
Snowfall. 600 centimetres.
Elevation. Base 1,277 metres, top 1,976 metres, vertical 699 metres.
Services. Rental shop, ski/snowboard school, snow hosts, night skiing Tuesday to Saturday, four restaurants including one mid-mountain, on-mountain accommodation.
Activities. Half pipe, two terrain parks, 26 kilometres of cross-country skiing, heli-skiing, cat skiing, snowmoble tours, backcountry skiing.
Location. 3.5 kilometres from Kimberley, the bavarian town of the Rockies.
Information. . Fernie Alpine Resort With five bowls inside the ski area boundary, Fernie gives a skier a lot of vertical and a lot to explore. Each bowl is different and needs to be given its due. After a major expansion before the 1998/99 season, the skiable terrain has doubled and word has spread. Fernie is destined to become the next big resort in Canada, with its great terrain and snow, and proximity to the Calgary and American markets.
Fernie is part of the Powder Triangle with Red and Whitewater. Ski bums live in tents, car parks, bus stations, dog houses, whatever shelter they can find that can keep them skiing Fernie every day.
It can seem a little off the beaten track, but the rewards are there.
Season. Late November to early April.
Snowfall. 875 centimetres.
Elevation. Base 1,064 metres, top 1,920 metres, vertical 855 metres.
Services. Rental shop, ski/snowboard school, snow hosts, on-mountain accommodation and restaurants.
Activities. Half pipe, snowboard park, 15 kilometres of cross-country trails, cat-skiing, snowshoeing, sleigh rides, backcountry skiing.
Location. Five kilometres from Fernie.
Information. . Start Waving Those Skis There are many more ski hills in B.C. including Intrawest's second resort in the province, the intimate Panorama, located a 3½-hour drive from Calgary. Almost every town, big or small, has some kind of ski hill. Vancouver, one of the wettest cities in the world, has three fine hills within the city limits. Go figure. Wear sunscreen. Cam Jefferys is based in Nelson, B.C.