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Snowboarders make up half of Apex's afficianados

The little resort that could

Skiing at Apex

April 3, 2000
Web posted at: 4:24 p.m. EST (2024 GMT)

PENTICTON, British Columbia (CNN) -- The runt of British Columbia's litter of ski resorts has somehow survived.

Bankruptcies and blockades once seemed destined to bury a wonderful little ski resort called Apex Mountain under an avalanche of bad publicity, but no longer. These days, Apex, 300 miles northeast of Seattle, fits comfortably in its niche as a small-sized ski gem after its operators realized the folly of trying to make Apex too big for its britches.

Back in 1961, ambitious locals carved a few trails down Apex Mountain in the Okanagan Valley. It seemed like a perfect spot for winter sports, because the valley is Canada's equivalent to the Deep South: hot in the summer, sunny and cold in the winter, with snow decidedly drier than the slush that slogs skiers in coastal mountains to the west. Two-hundred days of bright sunshine every year also meant the original investors were out skiing on days when others were huddling under umbrellas. The little resort did well.

The view from 7200 feet

In the late 1970s, the Whistler/Blackcomb ski area 240 miles to the west mushroomed into an international megaresort. Seeing dollar signs, new investors at Apex announced plans for a $16 million expansion. But just as construction was to begin in 1981, the North American economy tumbled; the skiing industry took a spill, too.

Within a few years, Apex was in receivership. And the worst was yet to come.

Most of British Columbia skiing rebounded in the 1990s, encouraging Apex investors again to try duplicating the success of the big resort to the west. But this time, members of the Penticton Indian Band, which controls the major access road to Apex, were wary. They wanted a voice in decisions that would affect traffic, water quality and wilderness protection. When negotiations turned nasty, the Pentictons threw up a blockade, going so far as to dig military-style foxholes along the road. The roadblocks came down after 35 contentious days, but bad feelings lingered for years.

Apex Ski Resort

The ugliness prompted the provincial government to call in an $8.6 million dollar loan; once again, Apex was on the ropes. But in 1997, a new consortium of local owners emerged, quickly made peace with the Pentictons, then turned its attention to the resort.

Content to stay small, the owners focused on doing the little things right. Only one of Apex's three ski lifts is high speed, but provides access to almost all parts of the mountain. Runs to the west include several hair-raising double-diamonds, while the broad runs to the east are impressively varied.

The elevation at the base is nearly a mile above sea level, while the summit rises 2,000 feet -- all the way to 7,200 feet. On average, Apex gets 19 feet of snow per year. In a recent trip, we noticed that some snow at the summit was man-made, making it uncomfortably icy as the sun bore down. Otherwise, the early-spring snow was squeaky and dry.

Facilities in the village are clean and new without being fancy. The Gunbarrel Saloon, for example, has won several awards in competitions for Canada's best ski bar.

The view of Apex Village from on up on the mountain

We took refresher lessons at the ski school while our 16-year-old daughter learned to snowboard. Lift tickets are $38 Canadian -- $26.50 US.

The Coast Inn chain runs a fairly new lodge on the mountain, too. We stayed in the town of Penticton, a scenic 40-minute drive to the east, where the Ramada Courtyard Inn offers large rooms -- ours had a view of the neighboring golf course. The Kettle Street Station is a reasonable brew pub located in the middle of the inn.

By staying small, Apex is big on our list of places we'd recommend.

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Apex Mountain Resort
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