By Richard McGuire
Special to the Chronicle
The Okanagan Valley was covered with thick, grey clouds on New Year’s Eve Sunday, but high above at Baldy Mountain Resort the sun was glistening off the powder snow under deep blue skies.
Skiers look down on a dense ocean of clouds hanging over the valleys well below them.
The place was busy with skiers and snowboarders enjoying the slopes, but unlike some larger resorts, the line-ups at lifts are short and there’s little waiting.
Andy Foster, Baldy Mountain general manager, seems happy with all the activity. The main parking lot is full, he points out, and vehicles are now squeezing into the overflow parking.
All three lifts are operating, including the Eagle Chair, which climbs to nearly 7,000 feet elevation up the side of Mount Baldy. That lift only started running around Christmas as there was insufficient snow at higher elevations earlier in December.
That’s no longer a problem. Snowfalls last week brought another 33 centimetres to the resort and the base at the top of the Eagle is now more than a metre.
Conditions are ideal.
“We’ve been waiting for the snow,” said Foster in an interview on Thursday before much of the snow arrived. “We’re super happy that we’re starting to get some snow. That’s just what we need.”
December has gone well for the resort since it opened Dec. 8, but it’s hard to replicate the conditions of 2016 when abundant and early snow allowed the resort to open Dec. 1.
“We can always wish for more,” said Foster. “Last year was a real anomaly. That was a really good year. Historically, it’s been mid to late December that the mountain gets opened.”
All lifts are now running, including the Eagle Chair, which opened Dec. 23, but then had to close until Dec. 26 due to an electrical glitch.
When the resort opened in early December, only the Sugar Lump and Magic Carpet lifts were running. There wasn’t enough snow initially on Mount Baldy to open the Eagle Chair, Foster said.
“Anyone who’s been up there in the summer would know it’s a lot more rocky, stone type of terrain. A lot of boulders,” Foster said referring to Mount Baldy. “So you need that much more snow on the mountain to fill in those rocks and gaps and get the snow level up to where it’s safe for people to ride.”
For that reason, prior to the recent snowfall, Foster was recommending that only intermediate and advanced skiers use those areas.
He hoped that the expected snow would make it safe for skiers of all levels to use the upper elevation areas accessed by the Eagle Chair.
Meanwhile, seasons pass sales have been going well, he said, though he acknowledged that the resort didn’t expect to sell as many as last year when deeply discounted rates were offered to get skiers back onto the slopes after several years that the resort was closed.
“We’re really comfortable with our season pass sales,” he said. “It was a good call to do really cheap season passes last year and re-engage everyone. That has led to a good season this year.”
Meanwhile, Foster said he hopes more customers will take advantage of the Baldy Bus so the service can be offered again in future years.
The bus picks up people at Tim Hortons in Osoyoos and Oliver in the morning and leaves the resort at 4 p.m. for the return trip. Details are available on the resort’s website at www.baldyresort.com/baldy-bus.
“From our perspective, we’re doing this as a way to support customers,” said Foster. “It’s definitely not a profit-making initiative.”