Travel Journal — Baldy Mountain July 26, 2019 – Posted in: News, Photos
Words by Alex Henniffent
Photos by Ian Burns & Alex Henniffent
Growing up on a secluded island just east of Canada, I never had much to work with when it came to snowboarding. Although, whether I realized it at the time or not, this physical disconnect from the mainland allowed me to develop a sense of resourcefulness and an ability to appreciate what we did have, rather than dwell over what we had lacked.
During those younger years, I had always dreamt of one day being able to travel to and explore new places while riding my snowboard. The destinations which I had always seemed to fantasize about were those that you would often see in online videos and hear the most about. You know, the Whistlers, Banffs, and Tremblants. Those large-scale mega resorts that would grossly overprice their lift-tickets and attract high densities of fledgling ski-vacationers.
Although I’m grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to visit these places, I’ve come to realize that I’d much rather spend my time at a considerably smaller, pocket-sized ski hill where everyone knows everyone. Quietly tucked away from all of the hustle and bustle, there was something very special about these scaled-down, humble operations.
This past winter, a group of us embarked on a cross-country journey to uncover and highlight three relatively unheard-of, rurally located, and notably unique ski hills. We were working on a new video project with VOLTFUSE called “Finding the Biggest Little Hill.”
Basically, the premise of this video series was to explore where others have chosen not to – or simply didn’t know existed – while capturing the rich experiences, unique personalities, and thriving communities that have formed within and around these average, run-of-the-mill locations.
The first stop of our tour took us to the wine capital of Canada – the Okanagan Valley. Apart from its desert-like climate and abundance of vineyards, the region has been able to position itself as a world-renowned ski destination over the past few decades.
Contrary to this, the ski vacation that we were after took us much deeper into the valley and off the paved roads to a place that few people knew about. We were bound for Baldy Mountain – an inconveniently located, tightly-knit ski village which just so happened to be tapping into its 50th year of existence when we arrived.
Disclaimer; if you ever plan to visit this place, triple check your booking. For some reason, there are (at least) three separate ski resorts sprinkled throughout North America that each share the name of “Mount Baldy.” And believe it or not, I was told that there have been people who had actually booked vacations and flights to the wrong Mount Baldy…
After a long day of flight delays, I finally landed in Kelowna around 8pm. Of the two bags that I had brought with me, only one had showed up on the baggage carousel – luckily it was my snowboard bag.
Since the rest of the crew had arrived earlier that day, they had already begun making their way up to the mountain. Fortunately, Bowen French and Liam Noseworthy were also joining us for this trip – two Newfoundlanders who had been living in Nelson for the winter. Since the boys were driving down to Baldy, they were able to do a quick reroute and scoop me up from the airport.
The path to the mountain itself wasn’t necessarily the most straightforward. Many of the roads that our phones had led us down were unmarked, unpaved, and snow-covered – worsened by the fact that there were several roads sharing the same name. But after a series of wrong turns, dead-ends, and calls for direction, we eventually made a late-night arrival to our humble abode – a rustic a-frame cabin that sat just at the base of a staggering mountain silhouette, embedded deep within the forest.
On our first morning, we were instructed to be at the lodge for 6:00 AM sharp. After the long and dragged out cross-country pilgrimage the day before, we were a bit drowsy, but our eagerness to check out the mountain carried us through.
With a mixed crew of 8, we strapped in and rode our snowboards down from the cabin to the lodge to get our first good look at the mountain. There, we met with a chipper gentleman named Andrew, Baldy’s one-man marketing team and our point-of-contact for gaining access into this hidden ski village. He told us that he was going to fire up their old, rusted-out chairlift to shuttle us up to the peak for sunrise.
Fun fact; Baldy once serviced the longest and highest elevated t-bar in all of Canada. It no longer exists there now, but that’s a title that Baldy holds.
I opted to sharing a chair with Andrew on the ol’ double-seater, hoping to extract a bit more out of him about Baldy and its controversial history. He went on to tell me that the ownership and management structure of Baldy has almost always been in a constant flux. Over the years, Baldy has been through periods in which it was owned by Chinese investors, all the way to instances where the community had come together to outright purchase the mountain in order to avoid its closure.
Baldy may be one of the only mountains of its size that, despite continued efforts over the years, has never really caught traction with developing into the mega-resort that its owners had hoped for it to become. To the advantage of the locals, Baldy has remained a community-focused ski area through and through – whether the ambitious owners liked it or not. Despite all of the corporate restructuring in the past, the community at the base of the mountain and their deep commitment to Baldy has remained very much the same.
As our chair approached the peak and Andrew concluded his spiel, the sun was just starting to crest above the neighbouring mountain-ridge far into the distance. I reached into my backpack and grabbed for a bottle of Dominion Ale that I had smuggled inside of my snowboard boots all the way from Newfoundland. I had purposely brought it along for Liam, one of the Newfies who had picked me up in Kelowna. Needless to say, the treat from back home was pleasantly received with a whelp of joy, and then consumed on the spot (at 6:34 AM).
As far as it goes for terrain, Baldy has got it all. Barren alpine, sparse glades, steep cliffs, natural jibs scattered throughout, and when mother nature cooperates – incredible snow. Everything is easily accessible by lift, with only a short boot-pack separating you from some pristine slack-country terrain. Unfortunately, we didn’t strike into high tide while we were there, but the offerings that Baldy did provide us certainly didn’t disappoint – both on and off-hill.
After a week of rippin’-n-tearin’ around a practically deserted mountain, getting real close with the locals, and spending our evenings tippin’ over a shot-ski in the lodge bar – the first stop of the tour was pretty well wrapped up… until shit hit the fan.
On our last day of shooting, Liam (who seems to be the focal point of the trip by now) took a fierce tumble. It was a complete fluke – he just happened to land awkwardly after a cliff-drop and fell directly into a tree, puncturing his lungs and breaking some ribs. He was banged up pretty badly, but the judicious ski patrol and staff at Baldy moved quickly and got him taken care of. Throughout the whole ordeal, Liam was just as high-spirited as always – cracking jokes and even assisting the ski patrol with his own emergency evacuation. The funny thing is that he’s actually a nurse by trade.
Luckily, Liam was all good – and believe it or not, the doctors actually let him out of the hospital the next day. Had it been anyone else, I really don’t think they would have held it together and bounced back the way that Liam had done in such a short period of time. It was wild.
After thanking and saying our goodbyes to an incredible group of people who had welcomed us in just as if we were one of their own, we began making our way back towards Kelowna to scoop up our immobilized friend and then head on to the next stop of the tour – Falcon Ridge, Manitoba.
From fresh powder turns, sunrise runs, and helicopter evacuations, to shot-skis and sauna parties – I feel as if we were privileged to have experienced Baldy Mountain in its truest form… I just hope that we weren’t too much trouble for the innocent little ski village!
Stay tuned for the Baldy Mountain instalment of our #BiggestLittleHill series, coming this winter.