Powder King Opens

Trent Ernst, Editor

After missing the projected November 15 opening date due to not enough snow, Powder King Mountain Resort opened on November 22 to early season conditions.

Jim Salisbury says that there will only be a few runs open this early in the season. “There’s limited access,” says Salisbury, who owns Powder King along with his wife, Heidi. “But we’re getting 500 calls a day and so we wanted to get the mountain open for those people.”

Last year, the mountain opened the first week of November with a 175 cm base, which is mid-season conditions. “It was amazing,” says Salisbury. “It was the second year that we opened the first week of November, and now people expect I’ll be able to pull off that miracle every year.”

Unfortunately, this year nature didn’t cooperate, and the mountain is opening the third week of November, which is right smack dab in the middle of the usual start time for the resort. “Right now the base is about 75 cm, which is marginal, but we did some summer grooming, so the runs are accessible. There still might be some branches sticking up here and there, though.” And conditions today might change by tomorrow. “Every day, every week, the conditions just get better and better.”

The resort, located in the Pine Pass along Highway 97 is not the closest ski resort to Tumbler Ridge, but it offers some of the best skiing in the province. Indeed, says Salisbury, the mountain’s goal is to be a “boutique powder destination. You come here and we’re not as big as the resorts on the other side of the Rockies, but we have the best snow, and great staff who’ll know who you are after a couple days.

The mountain features 24 named runs and 597 skiable hectares. From the top of the T-bar, many skiers and snowboarders hike up into a large open area that offers some of the best powder skiing anywhere.

In the seven years since Salisbury took over the resort—a destination that many talk about but few people outside of the north ever visit—visitation has nearly doubled from 23,000 in 2005 to nearly 43,000 last season. “At this rate, we might have our first season in the black,” Salisbury jokes. At least, it sounds like a joke, but in today’s world, small resorts like Powder King are being squeezed out. “What we make on lift tickets barely covers the cost of keeping the lifts open,” says Salisbury.

Community hills like Dawson Creek’s Bear Mountain survive because there’s not a lot of infrastructure and often a group of volunteers run it. And the big resorts like Whistler, Sun Peaks and Big White survive because of the land sales. Powder King is taking a cue from these resorts and beginning to sell off some of the land for resort properties. Salisbury is hopeful that will cover the cost of building a new lodge.

However, for people looking for new lifts, Salisbury says it’ll be a fair wait. “You can already ski onto the lifts here, no line. Lifts are a capacity issue, not an access issue. People aren’t coming here for the lifts, they come for the great ski conditions. I don’t think you’ll see any fancy detachable quads here. We have a good idea where we’d put a new lift, but it’s not affordable. We don’t want to be the economy ski hill, but we want to offer great value.”