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Snow boarders make their way down the hill at Sasquatch Mountain Resort in B.C. The resort on the northeastern edge of B.C.’s Lower Mainland, has gained a reputation as a cheaper skiing alternative to Whistler, but this is likely to change with a planned $2.5-billion expansion.Supplied

With our new (and government-mandated) snow chains stowed in the trunk of our rented SUV, we leave the paved lower section of Hemlock Valley Road and shudder onto the pothole-strewn logging route leading to Sasquatch Mountain Resort.

What started as a father-daughter trip to celebrate the end of Grade 12 midterms has morphed into a family affair fuelled by FOMO, $69 adult lift tickets and remarkably cheap flights from Toronto. This forces us to purchase the discount airline’s “big bundle,” which includes one carry-on bag and one larger checked bag. “The more you wear on the plane the more you can bring,” I tell my spouse and two teenage daughters, adding that being mistaken for the Michelin family is a small price to pay for a smaller price to pay.

As a last-minute winter destination, the little-known ski area – which spans two nameless summits on the northeastern edge of B.C.’s Lower Mainland – has plenty going for it, affordability being merely the start. But it may not stay that way forever. In March, 2022, The resort’s owners received regional approval for a $2.5-billion, 50-year expansion plan to boost daily visitor capacity to more than 16,000 from the current 1,600. Such ambition must be based on something special, and if I’ve learned anything about special places, it’s that they tend to be best explored before they turn into something else.

The resort is just an 80-minute drive from Abbotsford International Airport, but we’re forced to make a pit stop at Canadian Tire. On the plus side, the B.C. Ministry of Transportation’s unusual requirement that all vehicles must “carry chains or tire traction devices” on a ski resort access road leads me to hope that lift lines are short and powder pristine. After all, the head of the Hemlock Valley reportedly averages 13-plus metres of snowfall during ski season.

We head east across the Fraser Valley’s tidy fields toward the confluence of the Fraser and Harrison rivers. Here the highway also splits, with signage along Morris Valley Road repeatedly reminding us that our $128 chains will soon be mandatory.

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The resort's 50-year expansion plan looks to boost daily visitor capacity to more than 16,000 from the current 1,600.Supplied

Mandatory but not necessary in our case. Like the approaches to the four other ski areas in and around Metro Vancouver – Cypress and Grouse mountains, Mt. Seymour, and Whistler-Blackcomb – Hemlock Valley Road transitions from mossy rain forest to snow-clad evergreens in strikingly sudden and scenic fashion. We arrive in the wake of a series of storms that dumped nearly two metres of snow on Sasquatch, allowing the resort to finally open on Jan. 12 – five weeks later than planned after an unseasonably warm and wet December that wreaked havoc on ski slopes across the Lower Mainland. I can only imagine what the steeper sections of Hemlock Valley Road would have been like in the midst of that frosty deluge.

Lift tickets in hand, we don rental gear and head up the recently upgraded quadruple chairlift. From the resort’s 1,371-metre summit, we look back down the Hemlock Valley, its evergreen-clad slopes and rocky outcroppings seemingly tailor-made for future ski runs. As it stands, the meandering Timber Cruiser trail helps us rediscover our ski legs, and while I’m sorely tempted to veer into the surrounding glades, another storm or two is needed to cover the alders poking up through the snow. Next we slide over to the lift that takes skiers to wider groomed runs such as Abominable and Bigfoot.

If everything goes according to the official community plan put forward by Sasquatch’s owners, the resort will look radically different should I ever visit with any future grandchildren. The Berezan Hospitality Group hopes to add 19 lifts, 247 runs and more than 1,000 hectares of skiable terrain to the current four-lift, 36-run and 147-hectare configuration, which would put Sasquatch among Canada’s 10 largest ski areas today.

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The hot springs pool in the evening at Harrison Hot Springs Resort. The resort's steaming pools are filled by a thermal spring set on the picturesque shores of Harrison Lake.Supplied

For now, we’re enjoying it as is. Punctuated by meals and après sessions at Molly Hogan’s Bar & Grill on the second floor of the day lodge – where smoked pork belly bao buns and coconutty lamington squares make repeat appearances – skiing the fraternal twin peaks helps us forget southern Ontario’s snow-challenged winter. That is, until the rain returns with such a vengeance that Sasquatch is forced to temporarily suspend operations.

Our final ski day scuppered, we extend a planned stop in nearby Harrison Hot Springs by hitting the resort town’s Spirit Trail. Part hike, part art installation, the two-kilometre loop winds through a mossy cedar forest where dozens of locally carved wooden masks are affixed high on the trunks of trees. After a late lunch at the Black Forest Steak & Schnitzel House – I will yodel the praises of its “schnitzel Madagascar” for anyone who cares to listen – we check into our poolside digs in the town’s eponymous luxury resort and savour a well-deserved soak in steaming pools filled by a thermal spring similarly set on the picturesque shores of Harrison Lake.

Waiting in line to check our suitcase before our Flair Airline’s red-eye to Toronto, I consider how little effort, time and money will be needed to revisit Sasquatch once it returns to its true snowy self. I already have chains, so that’s one less box to tick.

That’s when the check-in clerk interrupts my reverie. “Sir,” she says, “your suitcase is overweight.”

Snow chains, it turns out, make quite a fetching scarf.

If you go

  • Flair Airlines runs daily direct flights between Abbostford and Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto. The latter start at less than $125, with “big bundles” of luggage starting at $65. WestJet offers an Abbotsford-Calgary route. Several rental car agencies operate out of the airport terminal.
  • Steps from a chairlift, the self-catered Snowflake Resort Chalets accommodate groups of up to 12 in clean, comfortable units with speedy wifi and fully equipped kitchens. Many of the vacation homes in the community of Hemlock Valley, including the slopeside Alpine Aire Chalets, are available through Airbnb and VRBO.
  • Halfway between Sasquatch and Harrison Hot Springs, the River’s Edge Clubhouse at the upscale Sandpiper Resort serves locally sourced charcuterie boards, pan-roasted B.C. salmon and other dishes that can help take the edge off an impending red-eye flight.

Special to The Globe and Mail

The writer was a guest of Destination British Columbia. It did not review or approve the story before publication.


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