Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 18, 2017
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BRAND NEW VIEW

BC's Panorama ski resort is worth a second look

It was a blinding snow storm. I had a white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel, frozen slush clogged the windshield wipers and there was barely a hint of that dividing yellow line on the roadway. Just when I thought it couldn't get any more dangerous, a trailer truck zoomed past in a whoosh of snow and completely obliterated any hope of visibility.

The only possible strategy in these circumstances is to clench your jaw, keep your foot off the brake and pray. If you're lucky, when the maelstrom clears, you'll still be on the road -- hopefully on the right-hand side.

The one thing that makes driving through a snowstorm worthwhile for die-hard skiers is the knowledge that if you make it to the resort in one piece, the skiing could be great, perhaps even legendary.

And it was. I awoke to blue skies and 36 centimetres of fresh white fluff blanketing the slopes of the Panorama Mountain Village. I hopped out of bed at the Tamarack Lodge, into my ski boots and onto the mountain. There's nothing like waking up almost at the foot of the lifts. On this particular January morning Panorama was like a cupcake, and I was ready to dig into the frosting.

I warmed up with a floating, arcing cruising run through knee-deep snow on Fritz's run. Word spread quickly through the resort that, for the first time this season, there was enough snow to open the expert terrain -- a playground that includes runs like the View of 1000 Peaks and the Extreme Zone. My appetite whetted, I took my first big bite: a 1130-metre vertical descent through the powder, laying down tracks where few had gone before in

the season. I coasted from run to run, negotiating the intersections and hidden lines in the trees. The snow was so deep that shorter skiers and small children were in it up to their chests. Only those with the latest shaped skis were floating over top as if skiing on down feathers.

New vistas
Panorama has changed a lot since I skied there back in the early 1980s. It used to be known as a resort with long cruisers and few challenging slopes. But with the addition of steeper lines, including the 400 hectares of glades, chutes and gullies in Taynton Bowl, there's enough variety to explore for a full week -- an essential hook for the international skiers Panorama is hoping to lure in the near future.

Although the resort drew more than 200,000 skiers last year, it feels uncrowded even on a weekend when there is fresh powder. "We're a resort that's intimate by design," says Michelle Leroux, communications co-ordinator. "We are a big experience within an intimate village setting."

Panorama Mountain Village is owned and operated by Intrawest Corporation, a leading ski resorts developer whose other properties include BC's Whistler/ Blackcomb and Mont-Tremblant, Quebec. Since Intrawest took over, Panorama has gone from a collection of temporary trailers to an upscale village with pubs, nightclubs and restaurants. Now there's an eight-passenger open-air gondola to move people from the lower village to the base of the ski lifts. There's also a 550-square-metre, year-round outdoor water park next to the slopes with large hot pools where you can soak your burning thighs at the end of the day.

 

Panorama plans to invest millions in development over the next 10 years, including a much-needed, high-speed quad at mid-mountain to replace the sluggish Horizon double. The resort has also sold more than $55 million in real estate in the past few years. Slope-side recreational properties run from $200,000 to $600,000, ranging from a furnished, two-bedroom unit in the new 1000 Peaks Lodge, to prime building lots on the Grey Wolf golf course's signature hole.

Sleeping slopeside
Season pass holders Bill Kosich and Carolyn Stiles-Kosich witnessed the changes at the resort over the past few years and recently decided to buy a Panorama Springs home. The two Calgarians are avid skiers and mountain bikers who plan to use their home part of the time and throw it in the rental pool at peak times like Christmas and school holidays to off-set the costs.

Kosich skied the long cruising, fall-line runs for years at Panorama, but the 42-year-old skier is about the new terrain. Because the Extreme Dream Zone is on the lee side of a ridge it often gets twice as much snow drifting into it than the rest of the mountain. Not bad considering the mountain sees an average snowfall of 445 centimetres a year. "It was deep in there," said Kosich, with a grin. "It's made the mountain a whole lot more interesting."

Some aspects of the village are a bit contrived, however. The resort goes to great pains to be in harmony with the mountain environment by using natural wood and rock in its upscale condominium units, yet the gigantic rocks in the centre of the pools are fakes, with trowel marks still obvious on the cement. In an area of the world where, if nothing else, there are plenty of rocks, this design element rings hollow.

While most ski resorts offer complimentary cross-country skiing as a base area amenity, Intrawest charges $8 to access the 17 kilometres of trails at the Beckie Scott Nordic Centre, apparently to off-set maintenance costs. Overall though, the improvements are quite stunning, especially for a skier who hasn't been there for a while.

It's a great family mountain with runs of varying difficulty from the top of each lift, a terrain park for snowboarders, night-skiing, snow play/ski lessons for pre-schoolers, a day-care centre and various adult group programs at Heather and Don Bilodeau's School of Skiing and Snowboarding (tel: 250-342-6941, ext. 4280).

After a great weekend of skiing powder and a relaxing soak in the hot tub, I loaded the car and began the long drive home through another snowstorm. This time the snowflakes were fat and furious. I sighed and assumed the white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel. The only thing worse than driving to a ski resort in a snowstorm is driving away from one that way.

 

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