In British Columbia, Skiers and Forest Conservationists Work in Tandem

It’s a groundbreaking initiative. “Planting trees is the opposite of what ski resorts usually do,” Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation of Canada president Randy Moody tells me later, by phone from his home in the nearby mountain town of Kimberley. Case in point, Panorama spends about $150,000 every year cutting down trees at the resort, for a variety of reasons that include creating new ski runs, optimizing the spacing in the glades to create ideal tree-skiing conditions, and maintaining overall forest health and safety. But Whitebark pines are entitled to special protection due to their endangered status, and ski resorts need to be paying attention—particularly as of 2020, when a judge ordered Lake Louise Ski Resort in Alberta to pay a $2.1 million fine for cutting down 38 healthy Whitebark pine trees. 

Moody is optimistic that what seems like an unlikely pairing between ski resorts and tree planting will become the new normal. Many of Panorama’s neighboring resorts along British Columbia’s famed Powder Highway, including Revelstoke, Whitewater, RED Mountain, and Kicking Horse, have also begun working with the Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation of Canada to better protect the endangered pine. Meanwhile, Moody is courting backcountry ski operators, whose tenures encompass millions of acres across interior British Columbia, much of it prime Whitebark pine habitat. Sorcerer Lodge in Golden was an early adopter, buoying Moody’s confidence. Now he’s in discussion with CMH—the world’s largest heli-skiing company.

Panorama Mountain Resort in British Columbia has partnered with the Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation of Canada. 

Brendan Paton

Nelson suggests I take the aptly-named “Get Me Down” run, a lone blue route in a sea of black diamonds. It happens to slice straight through a stand of Whitebark pines as well. The seminal trees line the route on my right, offering peek-a-boo views of the sharp, triangular face of Mt. Nelson across the valley. To my left stretches a stark cliff band where nothing grows save a few scrappy Whitebarks. As I admire their verve, I realize I already know these trees. I’ve encountered Whitebark pine before, in California’s Sierra Nevadas, where they grow windswept and gnarled at precarious heights in rocky terrain. I stop and tell Nelson, who confirms my suspicion. “There’s some really charismatic ones out there that you’ll see in photographs,” he says, “They grow where nothing else can. The worse the environment, the more they like it.” 

I dub Whitebark pine trees “the dirtbags of the conifer world,” and we share a chuckle then point my skis back down the mountain. Turn after turn after turn, the Whitebark pines give way to the lower-elevation Lodgepole, their two-needle cousins. I’m suddenly aware of the massive vertical drop at this resort, and slow down, relishing a long, languid descent. But as soon as I hit the bottom, I’m already thinking about getting back up to the top, to the realm of the Whitebark pine. 

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