Shames on ‘ya

🕔Dec 16, 2005

In anticipation of a great 2005/2006 season, Northword thought it appropriate to take a closer look at the ski hills in our backyard—since there is no shortage of either hills or winter!

We may lack the polish of the hills down south, but that mom and pop familiarity is part of the reason we love them. We are proud of our afternoon-due-to-no-crowd powder links, our volunteer ski patrol, our February bluegrass festivals, and the little quirks that make us decidedly north (like where else would not one but two of the hills in the area not have a phone on the mountain?). Besides, we can sit gloating on the t-bar when we have a 400 cm base and Whistler has another day of rain.

We were unable to reach anyone at a couple of the smaller hills by press time—one of the downsides of being a small operation is not manning the office until opening day! We have done our best to represent them here regardless.

Marmot Basin
Jasper, AB

Marmot has had a remarkable facelift in the last five years. The result is heaps of new terrain, totally renovated guest services, and a ski centre in downtown Jasper. Being a National Park comes with a stiff requirement to balance recreation with wilderness, and therefore the new runs were gladed by hand and the trees choppered out. Under new ownership since 2003, Marmot is looking down the road by developing a 20-year plan. Expect to see more expansion of terrain and of retail areas on the hill.

Expects to Open: November 25 or December 2
Adult day rate: $56.03
Vertical: 3,000 ft
Don’t miss: Jasper in January—annual winter festival with lift tickets reduced to $40.19
What’s new: Now you can languish over your coffee in the morning and reserve your rental equipment from home by phone, e-mail or the web.

Ski and Ride Smithers
Smithers, B.C.

If you haven’t already heard, Ski and Ride Smithers was purchased in September by Vancouver-based investment company 20/20 Properties. What you may not have heard is what their plans are for the resort. Well, now you can by reading our sidebar interview with 20/20’s John Dalton. People in town seem excited about what this investment could mean for the hill—and the region—over the long run. And in the meantime, visitors to Ski and Ride Smithers can expect its trademark great snow, friendly staff, and terrific runs. In fact, the hill was named B.C.’s top ski resort by the BC Ski Association in 2003 (one of the compelling selling features, no doubt!)

Expects to Open: November 25
Adult day rate: $36.45
Vertical: 1,750 feet
Don’t miss: The annual Telemark and Bluegrass festival March 11-12.
What’s new: Day lodge and base lodge upgrades, and possibly a new run

Murray Ridge Ski Area
Fort St. James, B.C.

The Fort St. James Ski Club operates the Murray Ridge Ski Area, which has been operational since the 1976-77 ski season. The goal and philosophy of the Fort St. James Ski Club is to provide affordable family skiing to the local population. Despite being a relatively small hill, they have plenty of neat kids’ events, races and parties scheduled every year. Their claim to fame: Murray Ridge boasts the longest T-Bar in North America!

Expects to open: early December
Adult day rate: $28.00
Vertical: 1,700 ft
Don’t miss: The Great Bathtub Race in February

Powder King Mountain Resort
Mackenzie, B.C., 200 km north of Prince George

Powder King is aptly named—the average snowfall is approximately 1,252 cm (41ft). There is a hostel on the hill (their website notes it is a hostel, not hostile), and an old staff building affectionately nicknamed “The Whale” by expats, but no phone service. No bus service either—apparently it was was hit by a moose and never recovered. And don’t miss the high-tension lines that you get to ski under—electrifying! It is all of these little peccadilloes, plus the huge dumps of snow, that has built Powder King’s cult following.

Expects to open: end of November
Adult day rate: $40.00
Vertical: 2,100 feet
Don’t miss: The annual Slush Cup—even spectators risk a soaking watching the people who brave the 92-foot jump over icy waters below!

Purden Ski Village
60 km west of Prince George, B.C.

Purden markets itself as central British Columbia’s largest ski mountain. In the summer, Purden operates as Purden Lake Resort, located directly below the ski hill. Not only is there no telephone service, at Purden you are completely off the grid! Purden Lake Resort operates several large diesel generators in order to provide its own power to service the ski hill, the café, the rental cabins and the campground. There is a convenient shuttle bus that runs skiers and boarders between Prince George and Purden Ski Village.

Expects to open: mid-December
Adult day rate: $38.00
Vertical: 1,100 feet

Tabor Mountain Ski Resort
Prince George, B.C.

Tabor is a small hill just 15 minutes from downtown Prince George. It is a great family hill with some terrain for all abilities. One can imagine heading to Tabor after a tough day at UNBC for some night skiing (they are open 5:30-9:30 some evenings) and a cold après-ski bevie.

Expects to open: mid-December
Adult day rate: $27.00
Vertical: 800 feet

Shames Mountain
Terrace, B.C.

“Shames holds the record for the most annual snowfall of any lift-operated ski area in North America…In its first year of operation (1990), 22 metres fell. Think about it: How high is your house?” And so waxed The Globe & Mail about the magnificent snow that Shames’ skiers are so (justifiably) proud of. Whereas some hills get excited about a few inches of fresh powder, one avid local noted that they don’t even get out of bed for less than a metre! In 2004 there were 50 per cent snowboarders on the mountain, thanks to the Rodeo Terrain Park. And for backcountry enthusiasts, check out the 10-minute boot pack to incredible backcountry skiing (at your own risk, of course, as this huge out-of-bounds area is un-patrolled).

Expected to open: December 14
Adult day rate: $35.00
Vertical: 1,600 feet
Don’t miss: Santa at Shames in December. Let’s hope you’ve been nice! Naughty skiers need not apply.
What’s new: Two new double black diamond runs: Junior Jingle and Eye Candy.