Big White, BC’s Master Plans Up to 2089: Doubling Lifts, Skiable Terrain, & More

Liam Abbott | | Industry NewsIndustry News
The master plan for Big White Ski Resort. Image courtesy of Big White via the Government of British Columbia.

Big White is known by many as one of the go-to destinations for skiing and snowboarding in British Columbia and Canada. Its proximity to a Kelowna, family-oriented resort-style, large skiable area, and year-round operations make it stack up against any other major ski resort. With Big White now unveiling their master plans until 2089, all of these aspects will only become more true.

Location map of Big White Ski Resort. Image courtesy of Big White via the Government of British Columbia.

With Big White submitting a 37-page proposal to the Government of British Columbia, there is a lot to breakdown. There are nine main sections:

Skiing:

Currently, Big White offers 16 lifts servicing 119 designated trails on 1500 acres (607 hectares) of skiable terrain with a total uphill capacity of 28,700 skiers per hour. They also offer the largest night skiing terrain in western Canada, with 38 acres (15 hectares) of lit-up terrain. In the proposal submitted to the Government of British Columbia, Big White proposes increasing the number of lifts they have from 16 to 25 by adding two new double chairs, nine new fixed quads, nine high-speed detachable quads, a new eight-person gondola, and one new pulse gondola. These new lifts will bump the 1500 acres of skiable terrain to 2523 acres (1021 hectares), almost doubling it.

Red lifts indicate proposed lifts, black lines indicate preexisting lifts. Image courtesy of Big White via the Government of British Columbia.
An alternative viewpoint of potential ski development of the East Peak. Red lines indicate proposed lifts. Image courtesy of Big White via the Government of British Columbia.

All in all, these new ski expansions will increase Big White’s comfortable carrying capacity (CCC) by over 200%, from 9,390 people to 25,624 per day.

Current Big White Trail Map. Image courtesy of Big White.

Lack of Diversity in Ski Runs:

Big White has acknowledged that one of the biggest current problems with their ski resort is the lack of terrain diversity. Currently, Big White comprises of 18% beginner runs (greens), 54% intermediate (blues), 22% expert (blacks), and only 6% extreme (double blacks). This is great for families, but as Big White continues to expand, they want to appeal to all skiers types. Within the new expansion, Big White is aiming to expand more on difficult and expert terrain.

Other Winter Activities:

Big White plans to expand its ski operations in the winter and a variety of other winter activities. For example, Big White plans on increasing Nordic skiing (cross-country skiing) capacity by 300%, add 50% carrying capacity to ice skating, doubling the capacity of snowmobiling, while also introducing ziplining, fat biking, spas, an alpine coaster, winter camping, and horseback riding (equestrian).

Current Nordic (Cross-Country) Skiing Trail Map. Image courtesy of Big White.

Summer Activities:

In 2017, Big White opened its lift-serviced mountain bike trails, and since then, they have been expanding them each year. In their 2089 master plan, Big White plans to continue this expansion with mountain biking and a variety of other summer activities.

Big White also plans on building two new 18-hole golf courses, one based in Happy Valley and the other one in East Peak Village Base. The Happy Valley golf course would incorporate the use of Lara’s Gondola to return players to the village at the end of the course.

Current Big White Trail Map. Image courtesy of Trail Forks via Big White.

Village Expansion:

One of the most important stats that Big White currently has is that 100% of their overnight accommodations are considered ski-in, ski-out. In comparison, Whistler’s is only 20%. Big White has stated that even as the resort continues to expand, they want to keep 100% of their ski-in, ski-out accommodations.

Big White is currently requesting for approval of an additional 20,600-bed unit, which would almost double the current amount of bed units to 44,555.

Nine proposed development areas around Big White Ski Resort. Image courtesy of Big White via the Government of British Columbia.

In addition to the expansion of overnight accommodation, Big White plans to double ski-related spaces (ski school, ski rental, lodges, & other ski-related facilities) from 215,133 square feet (19,986 square meters) to 485,965 square feet (45,147 square meters). Big White has also acknowledged that they will need to transform their ski village into an actual fully functioning town with such a large expansion. This means adding essential services such as a grocery store, liquor store, post office, hardware store, theatre, and other essential retailers.

Besides adding essential services, Big White also plans to expand tourist-oriented businesses such as restaurants, bars, cafes, sporting goods stores, and specialty stores. All of these new buildings will be built to have the current Lower Village as the town center.

Current map of Big White Village. Image courtesy of Big White.
Rendering of potential village expansion. Red buildings & lifts represent the proposed expansion. Image courtesy of Big White via the Government of British Columbia.

Short-Term Goals:

2089 is a long time away, and the reality is most people reading this article won’t be skiing by that point in time. Big White has outlined some of the short-term goals within the outlined proposal they want to see complete.

These include:

  1. Obtain all high-level approvals for development.
  2. Improve the existing on-mountain and base area facilities.
  3. Expand summer operations.
  4. Develop the East Peak as a Cat Skiing operation.
Overview of proposed expansion areas. Image courtesy of Big White via the Government of British Columbia.

Working with the Local Indigenous People & Environmental Impact:

One of the first things Big White said in their proposal was how they have and will continue to work closely with the local indigenous group, the Westbank First Nation, on making sure the plans and proposals are okay with them and that they will not only benefit the resort itself but the people who live there.

When it comes to environmental impacts, Big White has taken this opportunity to do several environmental studies, which concluded that “climate, geology, and vegetation did not present any obvious constraints to development” (Big White Ski Resort Draft Master Plan, October 2020 Edition). Nevertheless, Big White has committed to expanding in an environmentally cautious and sustainable way.

Interactive Model:

If you are still curious about learning more about Big White’s new plans, I would highly recommend checking out the interactive model Big White has put together. It lets you explore the ski resort and what they plan to do in a comprehensive 3D model.

Image courtesy of Big White via the Government of British Columbia.

Conclusion:

Big White may not be the biggest or most extreme resort in the Rockies, but it sure is fun. This family-oriented all-season resort is only going to continue to improve, offering more facilities and activities to fit anyone’s needs. If everything in this proposal is complete, Big White’s Comfortable Carrying Capacity (CCC) will increase to 25,624 skiers per day, with an additional 4,151 guests per day for other various activities bringing their total daily winter capacity to 31,825!

While working with local indigenous groups and making sure they expand in a sustainable and eco-friendly way, Big White will serve as a hallmark of skiing in North America.

What are your thoughts on these plans? Is Big White biting off more than they can chew, or are these changes a sign of a strive towards a better resort community? Please let us know!


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