The Black Mountain Ski Bowl
When it comes to downhill skiing and snowboarding, locals think first of Big White. But if you ask an area old-timer, you might learn that folks around here skied much closer to home -- long before Big White opened in 1963.
As early as the 1920s, hardy souls strapped skins to the bottoms of their wooden skis and climbed up the west-facing flank of Black Mountain, in order to enjoy the exhilarating thrill of swooshing back down through the soft, deep (then entirely ungroomed!) snow. Eventually a ski club formed, and the sport really took off. Locals toiled to build two rope tows, a cosy chalet, and even a ski jump!
By the late-1940s, the Black Mountain ski bowl was quite the happening place, with downhill and jumping events drawing competitors from far and wide. But all good things must come to an end, and the ski bowl shut down operations in the early-60s.
It's now history -- but one that continues to fascinate! Two local brothers, Neal and Graham Swett, are determined to figure out exactly where all the ski hill infrastructure was once located. With the help of GPS and volunteers from Friends of Black Mountain who once skied that very slope, they've made some headway.
Ski racer at Black Mountain, 1945. Image #3965, courtesy of Kelowna Public Archives
Local residents Graham (left, above) and Neal Swett have been trying to figure out exactly where the two rope tows used to be, along with other Black Mountain Ski Bowl infrastructure, including a warming lodge and a ski jump.
In the fall of 2022, Friends of Black Mountain volunteers Glen Wood and Don Wilson offered to bring their own first-hand experiences of the ski bowl to bear. And so they headed up the mountain with the Swetts, hoping that the detailed memories would come flooding back.
While it's tough to establish all the exact locations with absolute certainty, progress is certainly being made to map the historic ski hill.
Top images by Glen Wood: Top left, Don Wilson may be standing on the base of the smaller rope tow. Right, Don and the Swett brothers on the base of the main tow rope.
Left, Don as a boy with his father at the Black Mountain ski bowl.
Bench mystery remains unsolved
Despite the offer of a lucrative reward (a full-year family membership to Friends of Black Mountain!), no one has yet stepped forward with information leading to the solution of a big puzzle: Who installed the mysterious "Ski Bowl" bench?
The bench suddenly and inexplicably appeared earlier this year, high on the mountainside, affording a superb view of the park, Kelowna and Okanagan Lake. It carries a small plaque that claims the bench was made of wood from an old ski jump that once stood nearby, but that was decommissioned some 70 years ago.
Again, if you know who put it there, please get in touch with us to claim your reward. We might even throw in something bubbly and local!