Pros: Great tree lines, good steeps, excellent sidecountry, new lift reduces need for hitchiking, great food
Cons: small day lodge
Whitewater, British Columbia, outside of Nelson, offers real skiing, unpolluted by the Wally World syndrome that affects so many large destination resorts. There's no gloss, no glitter, no snowmaking and no detachable express chair lifts. There are many ungroomed lines, mostly in the trees, but some wide open. There are cliffs, rocks, drops, stumps and logs. And there's usually enough snow to cover most of those, um, "features," allowing you to ski over them or off them, sometimes without even noticing that they're there.
There are even a few groomed runs, and the quality of the grooming in the last couple of years has been very good, with very few surprise ridges between adjacent passes of the groomer. The addition of the Glory Ridge chair (a fixed grip triple down the fomer Backside) has allowed Whitewater to add some nice long cruisers covering 2,000 vertical feet.
Groomed runs, great as they are for kids and intermediates, are not the reason many people come to Whitewater. They come for the powder and the terrain. They come for endless tree lines. They come for Terra Ratta and Catch Basin and Backside Bowl. They come for un-named stashes everywhere and snow that's still soft days after the last storm. They come to hike and climb to fresh tracks.
The food is like nothing you've seen at a cafeteria-style day lodge anywhere. There are the usual burgers and fries, along with Canadian poutine (fries with cheese curds and gravy - the Heart Stopper Special). There are vegetarian wraps, chicken souvlaki, the Ymir Bowl, the Glory Bowl. The daily specials really are special.
OK, enough hyperbole.
Whitewater now has three chairlifts with a total vertical drop of about 2,000 feet. The base of the Glory Ridge triple is at about 4,700 ft, the lodge is at about 5,400 ft, and the top of the Summit chair is at about 6,700 ft. These elevations are fairly high for the BC interior, which makes Whitewater more resistant to winter rain than some of the lower areas. Still, it can happen.
Whitewater has a substantial "earn your turns" component. While it's not necessary to skin up and climb, there are only three lifts to serve something like 1,400 skiable acres, and that's just the in-bounds terrain. It's common practice to traverse from the tops of the lifts for a few minutes to get to the run you want. This means that it takes a while for some runs to accumulate more than a few tracks. I've found essentially untouched sections at 2:00 in the afternoon!
Many runs have no apparent entrance. There's a sign, but no obvious cut run - just tracks going into the trees. If you're a tree skier, there's space enough. If you're not, maybe a different run would be a better choice.
Like all ski areas, Whitewater has good days and bad days. Sometimes they report 8 inches (20 cm) and you go up there to find that it's 12" or 15" in the woods. Sometimes it rains and makes it ugly for a few days. Sometimes (but not often), the wind blows. Some days, rockers are the tool of choice; other days, carvers might be best.
Whitewater does not currently offer daycare (2010-2011 season).
There is no nightlife at the ski area, but it can be pretty good in Nelson.
Whitewater's location near Nelson makes it easy to combine a trip to Whitewater with a trip to Red Mountain or a day with any of several nearby cat skiing operations. Of course, if the snow is good at Whitewater, you can get very nearly a cat skiing experience without cat skiing prices.
Play it safe. Don't ski alone in the woods.