It looks like Pop Rocks in Sprite. Riding the Summit Chair at Whitewater Resort near Nelson, BC, the signature run underneath the Summit Chair is alight. A procession of colorful, baggy-jacketed pre-teens explodes off every mogul, bump, and knob. At one point I'm convinced one girl's going to air into my skis, but she narrowly misses.
"Well, try Sleeper, instead?" Peter Velisek asks, wide-eyed at the devastation. He has himself to blame, as he coaches most of these kids--an entire generation of ski-bum offspring that now competes on the junior IFSA North American tour.
"Let's give it a shot," I answer, as we shimmy off the '70s-era double chair to a golden-hued morning horizon. Cirrus clouds part over the Kootenays' Valhalla Mountains in the distance as I follow into the steep treed run. It's replete with sniper-y triple-cliff lines, pillows, and open patches. My 39-year-old ski partner is hard to follow: He grew up here and knows every roll.
Nelson's a family town, and countless shredders have been raised at Whitewater, the raucous "little" ski hill over the years. Velisek was just a tyke when Bill Heath made the cult classic Sinners--a spirited portrait of the Kootenays' deep snows and holistic vibe.
We relive it on our run, hooting like owls, and lap back onto the chair for more. Once avy bombing is done, the Catch Basin Traverse opens and the longest runs on the front side fall into play. We're hoping to time it right. In the lift line behind us is Trace Cooke.
Cooke is the ski hill's latest wunderkind, a competitor on the Freeride World Tour at the age of 21. He's another of Velisek's proteges. On days like this he's looking for the sloughed-in three-foot-deep landings that curated his acute air awareness. It helps that this ski area gets nearly 40 feet of snow annually.
Catch Basin's not open yet, so Velisek and I slide toward the backside instead. Glory Ridge offers another 2,000 vertical feet of perfectly spaced trees and cold smoke. It's often less crowded because it takes you away from the base area.
We do three top-to-bottoms--Knee Deep Glades, Jack Leg, and Giddyup Glades--and roast our quads like chestnuts at Christmas. By mid-afternoon, fuel and beer call to us. We make the commute back to the day lodge via the Glory Ridge chair. By the time we're back the voracious powder frenzy calms into Kootenay time. Everyone's relaxed, happy, satiated. The obvious runs are shralped, but the stashes and sidecountry remain. Even on a pow day, people around here only rush so much: a morning blitz, and then it's chill time.
I settle into a falafel wrap from the café (which has produced two wildly popular cookbooks), and Velisek falls into social hour among his people. Nelson's famous for stupid amounts of beautiful young people, and Coal Oil Johnny's pub, here at Whitewater, is a captivating scene. Thankfully some other friends break my spell by announcing they're heading up the Silver King chair to do a backcountry lap of Half Dome, in the shadow of Ymir Peak--which reigns stoic above the resort.
"I got my gear," I tell the duct-tape festooned posse. "Wicked!" they say. "Join us!"
PHOTO: Doug LePage