Even by British Columbia’s famous ski and snowboard standards, it might well be deemed a Christmas miracle of sorts — historically, meteorologically, even industrially.
This Wednesday, Dec. 22, when Nelson B.C.’s Whitewater Resort throws the switch on its first new chair in 17 years, the mountain will mark a rare achievement by ski industry standards — literally doubling in size, with the addition of just one lift.
Rising 2,042 vertical-feet in 11 minutes, the new Glory Ridge Chair will at full build-out open 303 hectares (749 acres) of advanced and intermediate ski terrain, upping the resort’s skiable area to a formidable 533 hectares (1,317 acres).
The Glory Chair — which was purchased this summer and trucked all the way north from the storied slopes of Vail, Colorado — will initially open eight new runs (five expert and three intermediate) and a sprawling, 180-degree mountain side of world-class glade and tree skiing.
“It’s awesome. I kinda hate that word,” laughs says Whitewater General Manager Brian Cusack “but, yeah, it’s awesome.”
Cusack says combined with the resort’s other two lifts, the Summit and Silver King doubles, Whitewater will offer Canada’s best lift serviced deep-powder skiing.
True to Whitewater’s fame for deep, dry snow, skiers and snowboarders heading to the Glory Chair’s highly anticipated grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony Wednesday morning will be celebrating Christmas a few days early, thanks to a stellar start to the 2010/11 season.
All along BC’s famous Powder Highway, stretching throughout the West and East Kootenay regions, higher elevations have been thumped with snow over the past two months.
Nearly three metres of snow have fallen at Whitewater — a metre in just the past seven days — with a sturdy, settled base of 156 centimetres. Another storm system is forecast for the Nelson region starting Wednesday.
“Everybody’s just stoked,” says Whitewater Marketing and Operations VP Anne Pigeon.
The effort to install the giant lift was extraordinary.
Spurred by the enthusiasm of the resort’s new Calgary-based owners, longtime Whitewater skiers Dean Prodan, Andrew Kyle and Mitch Putnam of Knee Deep Developments, the Fernie-based Summit Lift Company was able to install the chair in record time.
“It took us roughly half the amount of time it would normally have taken for a chair this size,” says Summit owner Randy Gliege, a 25-year veteran in the lift installation business.
Gliege and his company, who installed lifts for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and were featured on National Geographic TV’s “World Toughest Fixes” last spring, hired one of BC’s biggest helicopters for the Whitewater project, to install the lift’s towers this past summer.
“Installing a lift is a huge undertaking,” says Pigeon. “The Summit crews operated in all sorts of horrendous weather and only shut down a few times, in deluging rains this summer and fall. You’ve got to be tough to be on those crews. The guys were phenomenal.”
And with the clock ticking towards an historic day for Whitewater, Nelson and the entire BC ski sector, so too are the expectations of local and visiting ‘boarders and skiers.
“There’s so much local energy,” says Pigeon. “It’s, well…awesome!”