It’s been debated for years. It’s been wanted and waited for, despised and abhorred. But in all reality, it’s been needed. Whitewater’s local skier populace has been busting at the seams for some time now. Big dumps, equally big line-ups and mega gongshowery. But now, that’s all about to change. Whitewater is getting a new triple chair up its famed Backside out-of-bounds stash. Check out KMC’s Deputy Editor Darren Davidson’s feature on the expansion in the Nelson Daily News.
DARREN DAVIDSON, NELSON DAILY NEWS REPORTER
Whitewater lovers, hold on to your seats.
And get ready for a wild ride—especially over the next five months.
Trucked all the way from the storied slopes of Vail, Colorado, a new lift was hauled up to the local hill Thursday afternoon in a major move that will likely take a lot of skiers and ‘boarders by surprise.
After weeks of tight-lipped strategizing, the resort and its Calgary-based owners have announced plans to install a triple-chair on its coveted and advanced Backside out-of-bounds area—in time for the start of this winter.
“Whitewater will become the lift-serviced powder capital of Canada,” says General Manager Brian Cusack.
“I’ve talked to a few people who’ve been heli-skiing, cat skiing… and they’ll tell you that when the snow’s good on The Backside, it’s the best skiing around.”
From a loading station located a kilometer-and-a-half below the Hummingbird Pass roadside parking area, the new-but-not-exactly-new lift—already crowed the Glory Ridge Chair—will carry riders up to a vertical drop of 2,042 feet in 11 minutes. With the exception of a few groomed runs, all of the terrain will be gladed, advanced-to-expert tree skiing.
And with the days officially already getting shorter, the two companies hired to get the lift installed and the forest thinned out to ideally shred-able proportions say they can have the work done by the time the hill opens for winter.
“It’s a bit of a daunting project,” Whitewater marketing boss Anne Pigeon admits. “And we’re going to be really busy over the summer and fall trying to get the word out to the world.”
Fernie-based lift installer Summit Lift Company will put the chair in. Juggernaut Development Inc., the same company that undertook Red Mountain’s well-received glading project a few winters ago, will tackle the logging and brushing, with an aim to have eight tree-skiing runs ready for the new season.
The harvesting of the Backside area will be spread over two years and once complete, the Glory Ridge Chair will service a total of 303 hectares consisting of 18 gladed, treed and groomed runs of intermediate and advanced/expert terrain—an expansion that will effectively double Whitewater’s current size.
Pigeon, on staff at the hill for the past 21 years, says the new chair marks a milestone on a number of fronts.
“This is going to put us in a league that we belong in,” says Pigeon, referring to the magic marketing figure of 2,000-plus vertical. The marketing manager says despite its lore as a deep and cheap must-ski, on paper, the hill doesn’t look large enough to attract the sort of annual skier visits Whitewater and owners Knee Deep Developments are banking on to fund ambitious expansion plans.
The incoming lift “will entice a different skier, a different crowd,” says Pigeon, “they’ll be more serious and higher end.”
And for a community with considerable economic reliance on winter tourism, Pigeon says, the Glory Ridge is going to be a real benefit for the region.
Given its history, the lift — a Dopplemayr triple chair — comes with a little mountain mojo too.
Previously called the High Noon, the chair was installed in one of Vail’s back bowls in 1980. It underwent a complete mechanical overhaul in 1999. Whitewater isn’t saying what it paid for the chair, which was taken down in May.
“It’s got an awesome track record, and has been maintained meticulously,” says Whitewater Outdoor Operations manager Kirk Jensen.
With hotter weather in the forecast, Jensen says crews will begin harvesting the lift line to make room for the chair’s 19 towers within the next few weeks, then get to work on terrain to the skiers’ left of the chair.
Jensen points out that the new lift won’t mark the end of the Backside’s famously off-piste offerings. A third of the zone, from the in-bounds Diamond Glades run to the 9.5-kilometre marker on the Whitewater road, will remain unpatrolled and alluringly out-of-bounds.
“I think it’s going to be fabulous,” says Jensen, noting that like it or not, The Backside isn’t what it once was.
“It’s come to the point where it’s not a secret at all. It’s very popular.”
The huge increase in snowboard and skier traffic has resulted in more tough-to-reach injuries and a heap of meandering hitchhikers on the road.
“The lift is going to enable people who haven’t wanted to take the risk of going out-of-bounds to head back to an area that’s patrolled and safer.”
And the skiing terrain, Jensen says, will be just as locals know it, but brushed out and better, adding there’ll be a small parking lot at the loading station, but no other buildings.
For his part, Cusask, who managed Pincher Creek, Alberta’s Castle Mountain for over 20 years while keeping a home in Nelson for most of the last three decades, suggests the Glory Ridge lift addition — Whitewater’s first new chair since the installation of the Silver King double in 1993 — will in fact bring back the sort of skiing folks were used to only a few years ago, before the local mountain surged in international notoriety.
“The new chair is going to spread people all over the mountain,” says Cusack, “instead of little secret stashes lasting for a day or maybe two, they’ll last for four.”
And with the goal of more untracked snow equaling more dough, Whitewater can confidently set its sights on even bigger plans over the next three to five years, Pigeon says. The resort’s upcoming priorities, after the Glory Ridge ride is completed, include a new skier services building, replacement of the Summit Chair, the first phase of its single-family real estate and accommodation development and even more terrain expansion—thanks to a new lift slated for another nearby and so-called slack-country destination, White Queen.