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LOUISE HUDSON

, Last Updated: 6:13 AM ET

Finding a network of 80 great runs and glades can be a bit of a surprise at Kimberley.

Often overshadowed by Fernie, the 'little sister' resort is more extensive than many skiers anticipate.

From five lifts, the diverse terrain covers 1,800 acres in the Purcell Mountains. To put that into perspective, Fernie has 2,504 acres with 114 trails. Nakiska, another Resorts of the Canadian Rockies hill, has 28 runs over its 750 acres.

First-timers are continually impressed by Kimberley's diversity.

Will Smit, a feisty, 13-year-old snowboarder from Calgary, visited the resort during March and loved the skiing.

"I liked the natural features in the glades, and the spacing of the trees was great," Smit said.

"You can carve between the trees, and there are lots of tree jibs and pillows. It's like a huge, natural terrain park."

There's also a supervised, man-made rail park with 16 different features.

The skiing is intrinsically recreational with no precipitous ridges or death-defying cornices to intimidate skiers.

There are wonderful cruisy groomers for beginners, making up 20% of the terrain, with substantial snowmaking capacity on the frontside.

Intermediates have 42% of the Purcell Mountains' topography to challenge them, and there are intricate glades, long mogul runs and copious chutes for more advanced riders.

Parents can feel relatively safe giving their teens free rein to roam the slopes and the park. If they miss the last lift back from Easter Bowl, there's a winding cat-track leading them back home.

Resort guest guide Murray Johnson has been skiing Kimberley since he retired there eight years ago.

"Many of the runs are long and challenging," said Johnson, who is amused by the first impressions of Canadian and international skiers he guides around the hill throughout the season. "They all say it's much bigger than they expected."

Having raised an Olympic freestyle competitor, Ryan Johnson, the gregarious guide often skis Kimberley with his grandchildren.

"It's the perfect place to retire to, and my grandkids love coming here," said the elder Johnson.

After a morning of guiding, Kimberley's team of 15 hosts groups at Kootenay Haus for lunch and guitar jams every Thursday.

The timbered, mid-mountain day lodge is accessed by the Kootenay Connector from the Northstar Express Quad and is a great spot for bagged lunches and laid-back patio pauses.

Another Kimberley icon is the man-made Sun Pit, carved from snow each year at the top of a short hike from the Vimy Ridge run. Constructed by locals to resemble an open-top igloo, it has tiered-seating and a corner stage for impromptu musical displays. The adult-only area is used for beer breaks and suntanning sessions, with a fun ski down at dusk after the lifts have closed.

The four-season resort is centred around Trickle Creek Lodge, which houses Kelsey's restaurant as well as a breakfast lounge famous for its delicious do-it-yourself waffles.

The rustic, timbered balconies overlook the slopes and the outdoor pool and hot tub area. The roomy ski-in/out condo apartments access golf as well as fly fishing, hiking, biking, kayaking, rafting and spas in summer.

Kimberley's village centre is indicated by the Alpine-style clock tower above the main apres-ski spot, the Stemwinder Bar & Grill.

Next door is Slopestyle Cafe with its obligatory Starbucks fix, plus a self-service restaurant and base daylodge facilities.

Guest services organize an activity schedule, which includes night-skiing, moonlight mountaintop snowshoe fondue tours, nordic skiing, heli-sightseeing, dogsledding and snowmobiling. Although crowded at Christmas and February Family Weekend, Kimberley is tranquil most of the four-month season.

"You get lots of dry, light powder here," Johnson said.

"And because it's so quiet, you get to ski fresh tracks even several days after it falls."

Non-skiers, as well as skiers and boarders, could win a holiday to Kimberley by taking part in an online survey. Everyone taking part gets a $10 Starbucks voucher.

The survey is being conducted by marketing researchers at the University of Calgary in order to study the barriers and motivations related to winter sport participation in Alberta.

The researchers are specifically focusing on Anglo-Canadians and Chinese immigrants (those born in mainland China and speaking Mandarin), so the survey is available in both English and Mandarin.

All respondents will be entered into the draw for two three-day ski holidays next season, courtesy of Kimberley Alpine Resort and the new condo development at Northstar Mountain Village.

Entrants also get 50% off Discover and Next Step Skiing and Snowboarding Packages at Canada Olympic Park -- just $25 this weekend.

To complete the online survey, go to skikimberley.com/survey.

CAL-SPORTS@SUNMEDIA.CA 


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