“Last run, mate!” My body greets the lift attendant’s words like a stubborn teenager. “We’ll see about that!” I think. By the time my keister hits the seat of Baldy Mountain Resort’s double chair I’ve yanked off my glove, pulled out my phone and am checking the time: 3:18. Lift closes at 3:30. Chairlift takes at least 10 minutes to get to the top. “It’s going to be close.”
Dustin laughs at me. I join him. I resent anyone telling me when to quit a good ski day, but the truth is my legs are tired. Dustin and I first loaded this lift at 9:00 a.m., just after it opened. We only stopped for lunch. The rest of the time we skied powdery runs and immaculate groomers and then slid right onto the lift—not a line in sight. I stopped counting runs mid-afternoon. In a few minutes we’ll unload for the last time, point our skis right under the lift and find a line through the trees where the boot top powder remains barely tracked up.
Fresh snow all day long is only one of the reasons BC’s little areas rock. Of the 37 downhill ski hills in British Columbia only about 12 can call themselves destination resorts, with expansive run selections, on-slope accommodation and quaint villages. (And the prices to match.) Another four have modern high speed lift networks. The rest, 20 odd ski hills spread across the province, are small and funky, with mostly old, slow lifts and rustic base lodges powered by dedicated crews of volunteers and the love of locals.
Many are only open part of the week, so any snow that falls just piles up waiting for opening day. So while these community ski slopes could fit into a dusty corner of Whistler Blackcomb or Revelstoke Mountain Resort, they make up for what they lack in stats with quality and atmosphere. I’ve become a connoisseur of these little areas, making a point of visiting a new one every year. I’m never disappointed.
Last year it was Sasquatch Mountain Resort. A lot of people even inside the BC ski industry don’t know where this ski hill is and even when they do, few have been. Formerly known as Hemlock, it sits above Harrison Lake in the Fraser Valley. True to its new name, it’s in the heart of Bigfoot country. Nearby is Sasquatch Provincial Park, at the bottom of the access road is the Sasquatch Inn and a nearly life-size chainsaw carving of the cryptid ape greets skiers when they arrive at the ski hill.
I find Sasquatch empty on a stormy Tuesday afternoon. Only one lift is open, a chugging double chair. By the time it hauls me up to the ridge top I’m plastered in a coat of white flakes two centimetres deep. Blindly I dive into the trees to find snow up to my knees and barely any tracks. Halfway down the steep pitch mellows onto a groomed run. The skiff of fresh snow makes the corduroy a buttery smooth high speed thrill ride. I repeat the process, exploring trees and just about every run for the rest of the day. By the time the lifts close I can’t stop grinning.
Sometimes this is when things get going at the community hills. But rather than fancy restaurants and dance clubs, après ski is about the friendly locals and quirky traditions.
“Are you coming to The Clubs?” It’s 3:00 p.m. on a sunny spring afternoon at Vancouver Island’s Mt. Cain and I’m riding the upper T-bar with a local. For most of the ride we’ve been chatting about the cabin he owns in the “village,” 50-odd, off-the-grid ski chalets tucked into the trees just off the ski hill. Now, as we unload, he leads me to a trail in the snow. At Cain apres begins with a short hike to a small summit where locals gather to toast the day and welcome whatever comes next. After hitting a golf ball or two off the sub-peak—clubs are stashed in a cairn—and watching the sun set behind the spiky Tlupana Range, everyone skis down to reconvene, with or without ski boots, in the log cabin base lodge.
I rub shoulders with more Cain regulars at dinner at the lodge. Then a band starts setting up. The lodge begins to fill. Before long the building is literally rocking. Around 2:00 a.m. I’m at an after party in someone’s cabin, drinking beer supplied by a woman whose name I can’t remember. My cheeks hurt from smiling so much.
I’m not thinking that far ahead back at Baldy.
I think we can make it to the bottom of the lift in time for one more run before the lift closes—and prove the liftee wrong. Dustin is skeptical, but up for the challenge. Our quads are not so sure. We launch off the lift and carve through the open trees that give the place its name. About a third of the way down my legs start screaming, demanding I stop. I slump into the powder gasping and grimacing. We take another two stops before the bottom. We slide right past the motionless lift. Still smiling.
My legs may be sore and my ego may be bruised, but I’m not sad. At BC’s little ski areas you never know when the next adventure will begin.
Four little areas that every skier should ride
Baldy Mountain Resort
There are never lift lines at this south Okanagan hill, but it’s especially quiet on Thursdays and Fridays. baldyresort.com
My Mountain Co-Op
Legendary snow buries this community owned ski area (a.k.a Shames Mountain) in the Coast Range west of Terrace. mymountaincoop.ca
Mt. Cain Alpine Park Society
When the forecast calls for mid-week snow at this north Vancouver Island ski hill, book a room in the hostel. The lifts only spin on weekends. mountcain.com
Sasquatch Mountain Resort
The owners plan to turn it into a destination resort. Until then enjoy the sleepy weekday skiing with just a handful of others. sasquatchmountain.ca
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