Growing up as a skier in Montreal, I can never recall getting excited for opening day at my home hill of Owl’s Head. That’s because opening day meant skiing one run was open and it was always icy and mostly artificial snow. The real exciting day was when they finally got every trail open – that meant you could go flying down everything, rocks be damned.
This Saturday marks opening day number six at Revelstoke Mountain Resort (and number four for me) and, if anything, it’s becoming even more of an event. Starting two years ago, people started camping out overnight, which I guess means people are officially obsessed.
In line, there’s seven months of pent up excitement, even for those who have been out touring already. Do I still remember how to ski? Will my ‘secret’ stash be tracked out yet? How’s the snow?
The answers: Yes, probably, and good – very good.
The skiing is always good to start the year. It’s been snowing for weeks and its barely been skied. It’s a giant canvas for people to paint their turns on.
For that reason, for the past few weeks I’ve been keeping an eye on the weather, checking the snow reports daily and eyeing the web cams, hoping that Gnorm is buried every time.
The only question now is, ‘What time should I show up?’
What’s new This year?
Opening day will mark the beginning of a new era at RMR, sort of. The first phase of development is largely complete. All three phases of the Sutton Place Hotel are finished and the on-mountain development has plateaued, for now.
There’s also new management – Rob Elliott has replaced Rod Kessler as the head of operations and Mike Verwey is in charge of mountain operations. Steve Bailey is still heading up skier services and Dan Sculnick is running the Revelstoke Outdoor Centre. Steve Whale and Don Robertson are managing the ski patrol, while Troy Leahey and Chad Hemphill are the lead avalanche forecasters.
Elliott took over as the resort’s general manager only a few weeks ago, and he said so far he’s been working out of the office, getting to know all the staff and helping them get ready for opening day.
Despite his new job, or perhaps because of it, he hasn’t been out skiing yet.
“It’s killing me. I was talking to some of the patrollers in the last few days and they mentioned face shots,” he said. “I’m excited about this year, I’m trying to get up there as quick as I can. Especially this year because I haven’t had a chance to go skiing yet.”
Now that the initial development is done, “The key is to take what we have and make it better, make it more personal,” Elliott said. “My impression is we make it a fun place and realize the potential that’s already here.”
A lot of what happened this summer is comparatively minor compared to the first five seasons. The Sutton Place Hotel complex, which was finished in February, will be open for the full season for the first time. Wino’s and La Baguette will be open at the base and the new beginner area and tube park will open once there’s enough snow down low.
On the mountain, most of the work done will be beneath the snow surface. Many of the runs on the front side of the mountain have been trimmed, taking the brush down to a few centimeters high, meaning less snow will be needed to open those runs and groom them. Over at the Ripper Chair, the glades have been thinned out and cleaned up.
The entrance to Sweet Spot in North Bowl has been fixed up to make it less hazardous. A new bomb tram has been strung up over Powder Assault to assist ski patrol in doing avalanche control work there and hopefully speed up the opening of some areas.
For beginners, a new terrain progression system has been established. Level 1 will take place on the beginner area, Levels 2 and 3 will be from the gondola mid-station down, and Level 4 will take people up to the upper mountain.
Tumbelina, a lower mountain run, has been re-graded to make it beginner friendly. The number of ski instructors has also nearly doubled, said Elliott.
All that said, the most welcome change – especially for the ladies – just might be new bathrooms at the bottom of the Ripper Chair.
Revelstoke’s reputation as a big mountain will be cemented when it hosts two major freeride events this winter. In January the mountain hosts the the Freeride World Tour, which will once again take place on the Mac Daddy face on the backside of Mount Mackenzie. In April, the North American Junior Freeride Championships will held here. Both events feature skiing and snowboarding events.
What’s being worked on? Elliott said there were still water and drainage issues with the snowmaking system on the lower mountain that need to be dealt with. There also haven’t been any new cabins added to the gondola this year, despite speculation that might be done to help alleviate morning crowds on a powder day.
“There’s always going to be days that have the crazy rush and lineups,” he said. “If we’re consistently strained, then gondola cars are a way we can speed up. The capacity we can grow quite a bit, it’s just a matter of if we can justify the expense.”
What about the weather?
According to Doug Lunqvist, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, the forecasts models are indicating there’s a 60 per cent chance this winter will be warmer than normal. He wouldn’t make any predictions for precipitation, but warmer weather means that freezing levels will be higher, so what does fall is more likely to come as rain in the valley.