Contest of Canucks

Two Canadian families go head-to-head with skis, skates and bingo cards at beautiful Big White Ski Resort.


One of the realities of being a skier is grasping onto a tiny nugget of gold in a stingy weather forecast, then dreaming big. As my family and I drive the winding road ascending into the mountains from bustling Kelowna, British Columbia, my wife scans the weather forecast, which calls for an overnight snowfall of just one measly inch. We, the Findlays—Lisa, Zola, Sabine and I—are bound for a four-day “summit” with our friends the Ogles—Steve, Amy, Casey and Fletch—on the slopes and outdoor rinks of Big White Ski Resort, a neutral southern British Columbia territory situated between our respective coastal and Kootenay home bases.

The goal: We’d coax our collective tribe of under-nine-year-olds down as many Big White expert runs as possible, then lace up our skates for as much après outdoor shinny as young—and old—legs can handle. It was to be a full celebration of all things Canuck—skiing, hockey and, of course, the occasional beer.

Big White Ski Resort

A brilliant sunset casts the Monashees north of Big White in gold leaf as we shuttle four days’ worth of food, hockey bags and ski gear into our two-story Towering Pines condo. Fully installed, we stuff the hot tub—four adults, four kids—and plot out the days ahead. Fluffy snowflakes drift temptingly from the darkening sky.

The next morning, I wake early and peer out the window. The railing around the hot tub is stacked with four inches of fresh as light as Okanagan Valley bubbly. It’s a timely refresh for the foot and a half that fell on the mountain last week. Bundled for the bracing temps and light gusting wind, our crew shuffles out of the condo, across Big White Road toward the Bullet Express, the main chairlift at the base of Big White.

“What do you kids want to do first?” I ask rhetorically as we click into bindings and glide to the chair.

“Ogopogo!” comes a chorus of four replies.

Big White Ski Resort

First things first. Last night as we perused the trail map, the youngsters had quickly spotted this made-for-kids masterpiece of a pump track that winds down among trees from Black Forest Chair. Around these parts, some people believe in the existence of a Loch Ness Monster–like creature named Ogopogo that lives in Okanagan Lake. The lake stretches nearly 60 miles from Vernon to Penticton, arming the storms with the moisture responsible for pounding Big White with legendary powder.

From the top of the Bullet Chair, the kids are in charge. We rip en masse down Sundance to the arched entranceway to Ogopogo, then drop in one by one. First tracks await. Three skier-cross kamikaze minutes later, the Findlay brood, Zola and Sabine, are the first to be spat out by Ogopogo onto Mervyn’s run.

“Look uphill,” I yell lamely, parenting ineffectively from the rear.

Casey and Fletch are not far behind.

Findlays: 1; Ogles: 0.

Big White Ski Resort

After three more Ogopogo laps, Steve marshals the crew for a new plan. The clouds have lifted to reveal Big White’s domed 7,606-foot summit, and apparently it’s time to step up our game. A man with a dubious mission, Steve leads a descending traverse from the top of the Bullet Chair into a mogul-filled bowl toward the fixed-grip double, Cliff Chair. The kids follow, all oblivious, except for my oldest, Zola, naturally suspicious, who has noticed a proliferation of signage bearing black-diamonds.

Chatter stops as we ride up the vertiginous Cliff Chair. After off-loading, Steve optimistically double poles toward Pegasus, a double-black accessed via a spicy traverse above exposed rocks. Casey and Fletch fall in line unquestioningly, fully committed. Zola slides to a stop, then forms an X with her arms—the universal sign for “You have as much of a chance of getting me to follow as you do of spotting Ogopogo in Lake Okanagan.” Lisa and I retreat with our girls, and plan to meet the Ogles at the top of the Black Forest Chair in 20 minutes.

Findlays: 1; Ogles: 1.

Big White Ski Resort

From that moment on the adults agree tacitly to never say the words, “black diamond” in front of Zola, and, when necessary, to deploy diversionary tactics. Maybe I have an overinflated sense of my kids’ skiing ability, but I’m always trying to nudge them, for better or worse, into steeper, more challenging terrain that will put the lie to lazy backseat turns.

We bang off a couple of runs down immaculately groomed blue-square cruisers, topped with cold smoke snow so low in density that it offers zero resistance even to the littlest in our group. Dry clouds billow behind Fletch and Sabine. If I were a poker player, these two cruisey runs would be my attempt to sucker my opponent—my oldest daughter—into my next bluff. After our third trip up the Black Forest, I usher the gang of skier’s right into the trees, quickly spiriting them past the black-diamond sign indicating Easter Chutes, before Zola has a chance to nix it.

“Wow, do you see where those kids are going?” I hear a man talking to his wife as they watch Fletch, Sabine, Casey, and Zola dive into the benign glades above the chutes.

Snow-blanketed spruce and fir take the sting out of the steepness. The kids manage the chutes beautifully, scraping the sides of the deeply carved troughs to control their speed. Minutes later we’re sailing down Cougar Alley, which still offers up mid-afternoon untracked powder.

Findlays: 2; Ogles: 2.

Big White Ski Resort

Zola and Casey are emboldened after Easter Chutes. They decide to join the dads to explore farther afield, while the littles exhaust their moms on Ogopogo. After a multiple-lift cross-mountain journey, we’re in a new zone, riding the Falcon Chair above a playground of steep trees and cliffs. The sun pokes between cotton ball clouds as Steve, Zola, Casey and I cut swooping turns in the natural half-pipe feature at the top of Grizzly. We have the Falcon to ourselves, and, to my pleasure, Zola calls for another crack at Grizzly.

Findlays: 3; Ogles: 3.

Time has flown. We barely catch last ride on the Powder Chair for the return journey to the village. Ten minutes later, we reconvene for nachos at the Towering Pines. We flip on the screen to watch the Toronto Maple Leafs take on the Montreal Canadians in a classic original six NHL tilt, a primer for our next activity.

Sticks and skates in hand, we load Lara’s Gondola and glide over the village down to Happy Valley Lodge. Though our two clans are currently deadlocked, I’m well aware that we enter the rink at a distinct disadvantage. The Ogles’ hockey-playing Ontario roots run deep. In our family, skates take a distant backseat to skis, but I’m counting on the sports’ similarities of balance and coordination—and the competitive sparkle in Zola and Sabine’s eyes—to keep us in the game.

Big White Ski Resort

We lace up next to the rink-side crackling wood fire as a young Aussie staffer scrapes the ice with that all-Canadian contraption known as the Zamboni, an ice-cleaning machine that ranks right up there with maple syrup and the Beaver floatplane as one of our country’s greatest gifts to the world.

It’s game on. The kids tap into hidden reserves of energy, despite a late night and full day on the slopes. Perhaps they’re fueled by crisp mountain air and dreams of powder—ski bums in the making. The slashing of skates and the snap of frozen pucks fill the air. We play well past sunset; the Ogles mercifully go easy on the Findlays, but still net enough shots to make the decision definitive.

Findlays: 3; Ogles: 4.

Big White Ski Resort

We practically have to pry the skates from the kids’ feet. A late dinner awaits at the Kettle Valley Steakhouse, upstairs at Happy Valley Lodge. While we wait for our table, we sit down in the nearby Moose Lounge and order pints for the adults and Shirley Temples for the children. It’s Bingo night, and we relish the opportunity to keep the rivalry going.

The children each grab a card. Fletch and Sabine enlist parental assistance to stay focused and search for called out numbers. Seven rounds in, I see Casey’s face light up, before he calls out, “Bingo.” He heads to the front, accompanied by Zola, to collect his prize, a bold Big White trucker hat.

Findlays: 3; Ogles: 5.

So, a glorious Big White winter day ends, our friends from the Kootenays edging out the coastal B.C. crew in this friendly, all-Canadian contest. But this is only round one of four; tomorrow will be another day.

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