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round BC

By Oona Woods Even Whistler people have to leave sometimes and check out the snow-scene in other resorts. Harry Lemke and Julien Howlett took to the road over the holidays and chose a line through B.C. and Alberta. So what was the verdict? How does Whistler rate against the others from the eyes of seasoned locals? And how was the El Niño tour? Read on. Pique: What was the first stop? HL & JH: Silver Star in Vernon Pique: Price? HL & JH: $20 to plug in the camper. $45 for a full day lift ticket, but the whole mountain wasn't open. To be fair it was about 3/4 open. Pique: Good points? HL & JH: No schlepping. When you park you're two seconds away from the ticket booth and the lifts. But everywhere is like that, apart from Whistler. It doesn't matter to us but some people don't like to schlep around in their ski-boots. I guess it isn't like that in Whistler because when you ski to the bottom there are facilities there, as opposed to parking where you could get in your car and drive away instead of spending money. Pique: Bad points? HL & JH: A can-opener cost $9. We kinda got the impression they were going hard on the day-skiers because that's where the money is. We also got our card clipped after two runs because we ducked a rope. The liftee that did it was super-hyper and shouted "Your day is over." So we weren't too impressed. Pique: Differences? HL & JH: It's all Vernon locals that work there. The snow wasn't up to much in most of the places we hit but here we had to pole down. We started looking for people with over-developed upper bodies to see if they were locals. That's probably because we were mad at them for clipping our tickets. Pique: Aprés? HL & JH: None at all. Pique: What about the decor? HL & JH: The look of the place was very pastel and western. It's like a painted lego land. Pique: Where next? HL & JH: Revelstoke, but Mount MacKenzie was bare. They were offering snowcat skiing in the alpine but that was too expensive for us. Pique: Then? HL & JH: On to Banff. We scored the best ever free plug-in parking spot right downtown but we cannot disclose the spot so we can use it in the future. We commuted to Lake Louise to ski. Pique: How much? HL & JH: $46 for great runs with the whole mountain open. Pique: Bad points? HL & JH: It was all man-made snow. Pique: Good points? HL & JH: The whole mountain was open, the runs were meticulously well maintained and groomed. They weren't at all chunky. There were no line-ups either. At the bottom they had a brand new high end log timber frame package lodge. It looked good. There's no development 'cause it's in the park. It's so much more beautiful to ski in an area that is untouched. Pique: Differences? HL & JH: The lifts are old originals. They've been restored but it does give you the impression that you're back in the ’70s. Pique: Aprés? HL & JH: There were little bars at the base but most of the action takes place in Banff. That's where everyone goes for aprés from all three mountains, (Lake Louise, Norquay, Sunshine). Pique: Where else? HL & JH: Sunshine. It was $49 for lift tickets and we still had our score parking spot in Banff. Pique: Good bits? HL & JH: All natural snow. They don't even have snowmaking there because it's such a windblown area. The snow comes off other mountains to make a ski-able surface. The base was low but feasible. Pique: Any bad bits? HL & JH: There's a little bit of schleping involved because the gondola wraps around the mountain. When you park you can't see the mountain, then you get in the gondola and it does a little shuck and jive around. So, the only way to ski out is under the lift. Pique: Differences? HL & JH: In Whistler we wear GoreTex, out there they wear down. Pique: Then? HL & JH: Norquay for $30. Pique: Good bits? HL & JH: It was the best mountain. Actually, every mountain is so different it's hard to say that one's better than another. Pique: Anything bad? HL & JH: Not bad, just different. They haven't got the variety of terrain that Whistler has. Pique: Vive la difference? HL & JH: Yeah, the difference in that area was pointed out to us by a bartender in Banff. He said that after three months in Whistler you're a local. In Banff you're only local if you were born there. He has been there 16 years and still isn't considered a local guy. Pique: Where next? HL & JH: Back to B.C. We hit Fernie and skied Snow Valley. Pique: What's so hot about Fernie anyway? HL & JH: There's just something in the air. You can smell the money coming in. The town was a lot bigger than we expected and there's a large population. The owner of Lake Louise bought Snow Valley and is about to put $100 million into the town. Of course everyone’s talking about it. The snow is total powder, it's really dry. One local said that even at 100 cm the base was pretty small compared to their annual average of 300 cm. It would be a really good place to move if you're tired of Whistler. Pique: Was there anything bad about perfect little Fernie? HL & JH: They were unprepared for ticket sales. Instead of having them available everywhere, like Whistler, Fernie only had one booth with two people working in it. There was a mass ticketing frenzy. One thing you never want to do in a resort is wait in line. Only money alleviates that. Pique: Where to now? HL & JH: The last place we skied was Whitewater in Nelson. We wanted to do Red Mountain in Rossland as well but there was no snow. Pique: Good bits? HL & JH: The snow was great. Fernie and Nelson were the only places with over 100 cm. The snow was light and fresh for the two morning hours and then it turned heavy. Pique: Bad bits? HL & JH: There wasn't much of a focus on aprés at the base. Pique: Difference? HL & JH: Unlike Whistler, Nelson's a big city that doesn't really focus on the mountain that much. It's not dependant on the ski-resort and the mega-glom of businesses that go along with it.

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