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Perfect Panorama

Vast B.C. resort is great alternative to Whistler-Blackcomb

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Panorama, comprised primarily of double-black diamond runs, lived up to its billing.

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Panorama, comprised primarily of double-black diamond runs, lived up to its billing.

Being a firm believer in second chances, I jumped at an invitation to revisit one of B.C.'s most scenic mountain resorts.

A weeklong stay at Panorama Mountain Village in February 2010 left me longing to explore the vast, impressive terrain that poor snow conditions had prevented me from touring.

I'm thrilled to report my return in January coincided with a much-appreciated dump of fresh powder, enabling me to rip the groomed runs, dip into the trees and dive into the resort's ample offering of black diamond challenges. The awesome conditions, friendly resort staff and fun companions on this media trip contributed to a terrific weekend of skiing.

I awoke Saturday morning to a beautiful site: the huge flakes that had begun falling from the sky the previous night continued to spread joy across the vast terrain. The scramble was on to down some grub, grab the gear and hit the slopes.

After riding the three chairlifts required to reach the summit, I chose to venture down the aptly named View of 1,000 Peaks in the resort's Extreme Dream Zone. What an experience. A perfect pitch with untracked powder galore and just one other person in sight. The smile on his face mirrored mine, and this stranger and I took turns cranking turns while hooping and hollering. Wow, fresh pow, no crowds on a Saturday. Unreal.

A couple more solo runs and it was time to meet up with the rest of the media folks from across the country who were invited to check out the resort. We were quickly separated into groups based on ability and preferred terrain.

Some decided to stick to the groomers, and Panorama has plenty of runs suitable for beginners to intermediates among its 120 named trails.

Several of us jumped at the invitation to check out Taynton Bowl. This former heli-ski terrain is not for the faint of heart, what with its 750 acres of steep, gladed runs. But with 15 to 20 cm of fresh pow, it was just too good to pass up. Good thing we did — the area was closed the following day as the ski patrollers deemed it too much of an avalanche risk.

The area, comprised primarily of double-black diamond runs, lives up to its billing. Our group, thankfully guided by some resort staffers, eventually all made it down to an area known as the Landing Strip. From there, the lengthy Taynton Trail ski-out takes you back to the base area of the village, where you can ride the chairlifts back to the top for another round.

As we caught our collective breaths after surviving our trip down Taynton, a call was put in to the ski patrol for one poor fellow, not among our group, who lost a ski in a creek that runs alongside the strip. After a quick lunch at the Summit Hut, located (you guessed it) at the top of the mountain, Panorama marketing employee Jamie Hurschler took four of us media types back into Taynton territory. But this time, we didn't take an easy route in. Hurschler decided a hike up and along a ridge to a run named Ktunaxa was in order.

With winds of 70-80 clicks forming cornices before our eyes, the thought crossed my mind that maybe we'd bitten off more than we could chew. Almost losing one of the snowboarders in our group of adventure-seekers — the snow gave way underfoot during the hike and sent him slipping down a steep slope for a few metres — really got our attention.

Not to worry. The brave boarder managed to climb back up and we all took an alternate route to our destination.

Needless to say, our effort in getting to the top of Ktunaxa was rewarded with some of the sweetest turns anyone could expect from an in-bounds run. And it was all ours. While we could see the odd skier or snowboarder off in the distance, this run was exclusively ours. We made fresh tracks through thigh-deep powder, dodging trees along the way.

We stopped partway down to take a break and take in the beautiful surroundings, and Hurschler took the time to explain the resort's tenure includes hundreds of acres of undeveloped territory beyond the 2,847 acres of managed terrain.

While Panorama doesn't get the crowds or snowfall of North America's top-rated ski destination, Whistler-Blackcomb, it offers similar terrain, great fall-line runs and considerably fewer people tearing it up.

After a fulfilling day on the slopes, it's nice to get the gear off and relax with a beverage and soak in a hot tub. Being this was a working weekend, we opted to visit with members of Canada's para-alpine ski team, who were at Panorama to ski in an Internationale Paralympic Committee alpine skiing World Cup event and prepare for the Sochi Paralympic Games coming March 7-16.

I was inspired speaking with Josh Dueck, who on Feb. 3, 2012 became the first person on earth to perform a backflip on snow in a sit ski. (Google the amazing feat). The Vernon, B.C.-based athlete is a multi-medallist at the X-Games, won a silver medal in the slalom sit-ski event at the 2010 Winter Paralympics, and is hoping to medal again in Russia. Dueck's been confined to a wheelchair since suffering a spinal cord injury that paralyzed him from the waist down when he overshot a jump in 2004. (Google it but be warned it's a nasty video).

No media tour would be complete without sampling some of the dining options available at a resort, and we were in for a treat. We enjoyed delicious appetizers and main courses during our meet-and-greet at Wildfire Rustic Grill upon our arrival Friday evening.

Saturday evening was reserved for Grey's Restaurant, a fine-dining establishment located at Earl Grey Lodge, which is an upscale bed and breakfast. Proprietors Clair and Phil Marshall spoiled us with a scrumptious gourmet meal. What's cool is the open-kitchen concept that allows you to watch the chef in action.

The next morning, we were booked for a buffet-style breakfast at Choppers Landing, a restaurant and lounge that also houses RK heli-skiing. We got to chow down while listening to a presentation from the heli outfit's lead guide, who explained RK has been treating people to single or multi-day powder adventures on over 900 runs in the Purcell Mountains since 1970. The operation provides several different packages and is open to suggestions to cater to their customers' wishes and desires.

Being a family-focused resort, Panorama doesn't have a huge selection of nightlife options. The T-Bar & Grill is the prime place to meet up with friends, make new acquaintances or catch some sporting event on the big-screen TVs, while the cosy Jackpine Pub is popular with the locals.

Panorama offers twice-daily tours of the mountain with members of the ski school. They're free and highly recommended as they're eager to show you the best of what the mountain has to offer.

A new development at Panorama is the PanoPass, which is included with the purchase of a lift ticket. It gives you unlimited alpine and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, tubing and tobogganing.

What else is new and/or in the pipe at Panorama? A new terrain park is being built, an expanded beginner area is in the works, more gladed trails are coming, along with improved snowmaking and a new chairlift serving the Trappers Ridge real estate development.

In 2010, the resort came under new ownership by a group of local investors who have decided to redirect all profits for the first decade back into the resort.

rob.knodel@freepress.mb.ca

Rob Knodel is a Free Press copy editor who often daydreams about getting in over his head on the slopes.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 1, 2014 E1

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