Hawaii Hot Spot In The Canadian Cold

Familiar faces at Big White: Billy V., Howard Dashefsky, Stacey Loe, Tannya Joaquin and Malika Dudley | Photo courtesy Stacey Loe

Familiar faces at Big White: Billy V., Howard Dashefsky, Stacey Loe, Tannya Joaquin and Malika Dudley | Photo courtesy Stacey Loe

Las Vegas may be known as Hawaii’s ninth island, but there’s another popular vacation destination for kamaaina.

I mentioned it in last week’s column. It’s a ski resort in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada, called Big White. Over the past few years, I would hear about Big White from friends and see Facebook photos of their trips. This year, we joined them.

While many people flock to Hawaii for a sunny spring break, it’s a growing tradition for many locals to go play in the springtime snow in Canada. Why Canada and not, say, Lake Tahoe or Colorado?

Schewe Travel Associates used to rotate resorts for groups every few years among Tahoe, Park City and Colorado, but Canada emerged as the most popular destination.

That was somewhat surprising to me because of the extra steps you have to take with international travel. Think passports, picking up your checked bags to clear customs and the long trek to Canada.

I asked Linda Schewe why Canada became a Hawaii vacation hot spot. She traces the beginnings to the late 1990s. Schewe explained the attraction, saying, “When we first started going, the exchange rate made trips to Whistler a bargain. Back then, we were paying 68 cents to the Canadian dollar, a third cheaper than Mainland re-raised room rates. Resorts also hiked prices for rentals and lift tickets. Big White Ski Resort saw an opportunity to cash in, and courted Hawaii travelers to try it “just once.”

There was just one problem. Travel agents like Schewe had never heard of it, so, in her words, “How could I sell it?”

After a summer exploratory visit and good introductory pricing from Big White, plans were made in 2008 for the first Hawaii Spring Break group. The price was right, about half of what Whistler was going for those days.

Another difference between the old favorite Whistler and new option Big White is size. Big White is a smaller village. It’s so small, you run into people you know at lifts or in the lodge all the time. It’s also very family oriented with a kids center, day care and après ski activities for children.

Six years after that first trip, Big White is booming with bundled-up kamaaina charging the runs and relaxing in the lodge. Whistler also still is thriving with Hawaii vacationers. Canadian ski resorts are so popular with locals, it’s almost like hanging at home. With snow.