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The mountains of March Add to ...

Long johns, check; sweat pants, check; ski shirt, check; fleece, check; gloves, check; beanie, check; neck warmer, check; pants and jacket, check.

Reason to go out in the cold, absent.

I hate the cold, always have. I'm a summer boy, a beach bum, a surf-boy waxhead. The cold is not for me.

But I love the snow. And to enjoy the snow I must endure the cold, which is why I'm always fully prepared. Dressed to the eyeballs, no bare skin.

Over the years, in my native Australia, I'd heard the odd snippet about British Columbia's ski hills -- the ones beyond Whistler. Places of hidden delights with virtually untouched powder and no lift lines. The stories were told reluctantly, as if the storyteller had found a piece of heaven to call his own and didn't want anyone else to know about it.

The teller never gave directions and said only that the snow was the light, pristine, champagne powder that weekend warriors dream of. I decided to find my own way, with much success. And earlier this year I did just that. Here's what I found. The Sunowdown Whistler/Blackcomb Seven years as the number one ski resort in North America, Whistler offers a blend of cosmopolitan fair and backwards naiveté, big, wild mountains and world-class sushi. At the peak, check your bindings and your e-mail. This is tourist central. The Disneyland of ski hills. It's so big (2,828 skiable hectares, 55,407 skiers an hour lift capacity), it's intimidatng. There's almost too much to see and do.

But if you get past the consuming tourists, neon jump suits, fur-lined boots, goggle tan lines, whining kids, and snowboarders who wear blinders, the skiing is excellent. Both mountains have great bowl, cliff and gladed skiing for those who like to push it, and long, cruiser runs that give you a chance to enjoy the view.

The snow is wetter and not as light as the interior because it's so close to the coast, but there's plenty of it and enough clear, sunny days for those who like to ski in T-shirts and sunglasses. Whistler, the linchpin of the Intrawest ski empire, should be seen solely to experience what the fuss is about.

Season. Late November to late April.

Snowfall. 914 centimetres.

Lifts. 32 -- including 13 high-speed quads, the most of any single resort in North America.

Trails. 200+.

Elevation. Whistler: base 653 metres, top 2,182 metres, vertical 1,530 metres. Blackcomb: base 675 metres, top 2,284 metres, vertical 1,609 metres.

Prices. Adult $59, youth/senior $50, child $29, 6 and under free.

Services. Ski/snowboard school, 10 rental shops, snow hosts (guides), night skiing Wednesday to Saturday, 16 restaurants right on the mountain, 115 condos plus hotels and B&Bs.

Activities. Three half pipes, two terrain parks, 30 kilometres cross-country skiing, heli-skiing, sleigh rides, snowmobiling.

Location. 115 kilometres north of Vancouver.

Information. . Sun Peaks Resort With 2,000 hours of sunshine a year and award-winning trail design, Sun Peaks is popular with tourists and locals alike. Awarded Best Grooming and Best Weather by Ski Canada, it's a skiers' paradise -- though it can get a little icy if there's no new snow.

But when it snows, it dumps a dry, light snow that comes from the mountains of the interior. A light dusting on the well-groomed runs makes for "hero snow"; if you can't make a turn in Sun Peaks' hero snow, then you shouldn't be skiing anywhere at any time.

One problem with Sun Peaks is that it's a little flat. Apart from the cliffs and head walls at the peak, the mountain requires a lot of straight skiing to maintain speed. This, with the hero snow, makes it great for families and intermediate skiers. The extremists spend all day on the peak, which gives families and beginners a break from speedsters.

Season. Late November to mid-April.

Snowfall. 527 centimetres.

Lifts. Five.

Trails. 64.

Elevation. Base 1,252 metres, top 2,074 metres, vertical 879 metres.

Prices. Adult $44, senior $30, youth $39, child $26, 6 and under free.

Services. Rental shop, ski/snowboard school, snow hosts, small, compact village, excellent staff.

Activities. Snowboard park, skating rink, sleigh rides, snowmobiling, 40 kilometres of cross-country skiing.

Location. 50 kilometres north of Kamloops, a pleasant industrial town.

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