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Dates: February 2004
Basics: About 200 miles from Calgary (4 hour transfer) in the British Columbia Rockies. Operated by Intrawest (who also operate Whistler/Blackcomb and another nine resorts). Travel from the UK is monopolised by Inghams http://www3.inghams.co.uk/ski/CAN/PAN/index.html.
Lift system: Only six lifts - 2 baby ones, three high speed quads, and a somewhat slower triple chair. Two of the quads are brand new and have dramatically cut the time needed to get up the mountain. There are some queues at the base station lift (Mile 1) when it's busy, but lifts are loaded with typical North American efficiency and anyone prepared to use the singles queue will be on a chair in no time at all.
The terrain: There's a lot of skiing. For beginners and early intermediates, a nursery slope and some wide/long groomers. Upper intermediates, however, need to learn to ski bumps and through the trees - as most of the more challenging terrain is unpisted and tree skiing is the norm the higher up the moutain you go (some runs are gently gladed - others just plunge straight through the forest). Even the most confident/competent skiers will be stretched by the more extreme skiing - especially in the Tayton Bowl which was, until recently, only open to heli-skiers. A terrain park, too.
The snow: Snow may be Panorama's Achilles heal. Conditions this year are reported to be better than in previous years - but the resort has currently gone almost a month without significant fresh snow. On Tuesday, the upper slopes were really really icy and bump slopes across the mountain had plenty of rocks, bare patches, hunks of vegetation to dodge. It wasn't so bad - but I don't think most people would want to be there if conditions got worse. Two further worrying factors: (1) One of the resort staff told us that Panorama was known as the doughnut for its ability to stay clear while snow fell on mountains all around. (2) The website snow report (http://panoramaresort.com/report.asp) is over-optimistic about conditions - reporting powder in Taynton Bowl, a good fortnight after all fresh snow has been thoroughly skied out (the Ski Club Snow Report is less benevolent - but still kinder to the conditions than they deserve).
Off-piste: After a snowfall, the in-boundary off-piste must be pretty awesome and there's a lot of it to be skied. NB most of the steeper terrain is not avalanche-cleared. Otherwise, it's heli-skiing with RK Heli-Ski, who operate from the village and serve mostly day skiiers. They have rights to an absolutely vast area (which the provincial government is thinking of building a new resort on) and appear able to more or less guarantee fresh powder on any day the helicopter can take off. You'll be high up and on the glaciers when it's fine, lower down in the trees when it's not. True to the doughnut theory, it's often snowing in their area when it's fine in Panorama. RK offer 3 and 5 run packages and will take intermediates with no off-piste experience on the 3 runs. Warning: highly addictive.
The resort: Panorama is a pretty boring place. Intrawest doesn't operate all the businesses on the mountain - but seems to exert some control over most of them. There's one understocked ski shop (very few helmets left, for example), a ski hire place that serves excellent coffee, a really really awful general store, a few bars, a handful of restaurants (see below) and a club. Service is always friendly, but usually incompetent - and with teenagers being paid 8 dollars (less than ¬£3.50) an hour, what do you expect? Remember to tip everyone - ski instructors, waiters, bar staff, room cleaners, the guy who drives the bus transfer etc.
The food: The food is pretty mediocre, with the few restaurants sharing a supplier and thus offering weirdly over-lapping menus. Those staying in condos will find that the only shop has little to offer in the way of fresh food - with most Canadians bringing produce with them. The evening bus to the nearest town, Invermere (30 mins), gives you just enough time to get a good meal - though Intrawest tries to force you to go to six restaurants that have paid 600 hundred dollars for monopoly status. Lie about where you're going and you can head for the excellent Portabella instead. The best food on the mountain is at the very top - a Chinese Take-Away serving the only healthy food you'll see all holiday.
Accommodation: Condos are nice. We stayed in the budget Pine Inn which is a little shabby, but is excellently located and has good sized rooms.
Costs: Food and drink is cheap. Head to Inghams for package prices. A 6 day lift pass costs about ¬£120. Heli-skiing costs a little more than ¬£300 for 5 runs, a little less than ¬£300 for 3 runs.
Conclusion: Lots of great skiing - especially if you're prepared to ski bumps. Some exceptionally tough marked runs. A big question mark over the snow record. Dull resort - suffocated by the corporate dead hand. Heli-skiing a blast. If you're going for some time, consider excursions to Kicking Horse, Lake Louise etc (about 2 hours away with buses provided).
BTW - read about the Improve Your Skiing course I was on here: http://snowheads.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?t=462
Last edited by A snowHead on Sun 29-02-04 14:30; edited 2 times in total