Making Mountains out of Ski Hills
From locations in out-of-the-way places to spots near major cities, community ski hills make good neighbors--and great discoveries.
Experience the winter wonders of Big White Ski Resort in Kelowna, B.C., a charmingly authentic ski village.
HOW do you define a community ski hill? Must the vertical stay below 1,000 feet like Tucson's Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley? Should the area be just a few blocks from downtown like Ski Santa Fe, or contain seven rope tows like Detroit's Alpine Valley? Big White Ski Resort, one of the largest areas in Canada, stretches over six miles, but the Kelowna, B.C. ski area includes a two-room schoolhouse where locals attend school through eighth grade. Now that's local.
Growing up on a local hill in western New York, rural Maine or West Virginia engenders a confidence of ownership unlike that of someone raised in the big resorts of Vermont, Colorado or California. We know the "lifties," often neighbors or even siblings, by name. Families come together like kids at summer camp, filling the simple day lodges every night except Fridays, when the areas are overrun with teenagers who swarm from buses, expressing their first whiff of independence, perhaps en route to their first romance and subsequent heartbreak. The local ski hill may spread out for only 100 acres, but the memories of lodge lunches, lighted runs and tackling that first 100-foot black diamond last forever in a skier's memory.
Big White, Kelowna, British Columbia
OK, perhaps Big White's 16 lifts and 2,765 acres don't really qualify as a community ski hill but unlike most major North American resorts, people actually live in this village, as exemplified by the two-room schoolhouse that holds up to two dozen students, kindergarten through the eighth grade. The sense of community is palpable; much of the town gathers in the evenings to skate on the huge outdoor ice rink and speaking Australian (the owners hail from Down Under) is almost required. Several excellent restaurants, including the impressive 6 Degrees Bistro, also serve as gathering spots.
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Have a barrel of fun on Snowshoe Mountain's many slopes.
Snowshoe Mountain, West Virginia
The mountains of West Virginia occupy a unique place in American folklore. Less known are the ski areas, including Snowshoe, whose scores of runs probably wouldn't qualify as a little hill if it weren't in the South. Snowsports enthusiasts are a determined lot. They'll find a slope to ski in metropolis like Detroit's Alpine Valley, or carve tracks down the side of a mountain south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Snowshoe is clearly the South's biggest ski area, and favored by those who drive north to get there. But Timberline and Canaan Valley, in Davis and Winterplace respectively, both located in the wonderfully-named Flat Top region, also deserve mention for making a go of the snow in the hills and hollers of West Virginia.
Alpine Valley Resort, Detroit, Mich.
Technically, Alpine Valley is in White Lake, but the idea that this 300-foot tall, 118-acre ski area is within the limits of metro Detroit limits is way too much fun to escape mention. Like many Midwestern "peaks," Alpine Valley provides a great place to learn, if not the best terrain to tear up. Still, no less a skier than Olympic gold medalist and British Columbia Senator Nancy Greene, Canada's Female Athlete of the 20th Century, says any slope, regardless of length or angle, provides an opportunity to become a better skier. Alpine Valley also boasts lots of terrain variety, from nice groomers to a 350-foot half pipe in one of four terrain parks.
Bottineau Winter Park, Bottineau, N.D.
Trekking west to Big Sky or Whitefish, Mont.? Why not take a breather in North Dakota, where Bottineau Winter Park offers 200 feet of vertical on 40 acres. This way, during those inevitable chairlift boasts about Telluride, Whistler and Stowe, you can wow your "quadmates" with tales of North Dakota's slopes. Now that's hardcore! Of course, you might just cancel that trip to the Rockies once you learn that there's 425 feet of vertical at Huff Hills Ski Area, outside of Mandan, N.D. Either way, you'll have tales of finding alpine in the prairie that few skiers can match.
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