"I don't even ski, but I know what a great place this is."
The hemlock, fir, and cedar trees surrounding Kootenay Lake are caked with frosty snow. The tree runs off Whitewater's Summit and Glory Ridge chairs have cold pockets of untracked five days after a storm, and multiple felled trees make for playful pillow popper airs. Locals, like POWDER Senior Correspondent Mitch Scott and Whitewater Snow School Director Brent Malysh, are calling it one of the best ever early-season starts, with a mid-winter snowpack before the New Year. Denizens of the 10,000-person town of Nelson smile and saunter around the boutique store-lined main street of Baker. They know they have it good this year.
We elected to head up to the weird little Canadian haven of the Kootenays to check in and catch the reaction of one half (nearby Rossland being the other town) of the inaugural Ski Town Throwdown champions. Rhonda Comeau, guest services manager at the New Grand Hotel in downtown Nelson, who claimed she had never skied, greeted us with a big smile and genuine excitement, telling stories about the town's run to the title.
"The mayor [of Nelson] would run in here sweating nearly every day, asking locals and tourists if they had voted," she explained. "He'd be like, 'here, take this iPad and vote.'"
And vote they did, as the two-town Kootenay combo defeated Bozeman, Montana, in the finals with 11,000-plus votes.
For anyone who has walked, eaten, drank, and skied in and around Nelson, it's not hard to decipher how this tiny town in the middle of nowhere was voted the best ski town in North America by skiers. Visitors and writers like to describe the scene as progressive and creative. And it is. But more than anything, it's bohemia. Residents share poutine in Whitewater's packed day lodge, skiers tour in the beautiful Selkirk Mountains around Whitewater, reminding each other of avalanche hazards, day trippers and out-of-towners share jugs of Kootenay True Ale at Whitewater's Coal Oil Johnny's Pub, vagabonds dance to rave music in old Victorian-style homes, and 10-year-olds swing hula hoops in the middle of icy streets while holding New Year’s sparklers.
Every day is cause for celebration in the Koots. Just don't forget the champagne and Roman candles.
Vertical: 2,044 feet
Annual snowfall: 480 inches
Where to stay: New Grand Hotel in Nelson; NewGrandHotel.ca, 250.352.7211
Where to eat: Coal Oil Johnny's Pub at Whitewater; Oso Negro in Nelson for coffee and delicious breakfast bagels; Bibo in Nelson for dinner and amazing margaritas
Where to drink: Mike's Place Pub
Info: Contact Nelson Kootenay Lake Tourism for town and region information.