SKIING is the major outdoor winter recreational activity in BC, involving hundreds of thousands of local enthusiasts along with visitors from around the world (see TOURISM). The province's mountainous terrain provides a wide variety of areas with ideal conditions for downhill, cross-country and heli-skiing. BC downhill facilities are considered to offer some of the best skiing in the world. The WHISTLER area, for example, is routinely chosen among the top 5 ski resorts internationally.

Recreational skiing developed in conjunction with ski jumping, a sport brought to Canada by Scandinavian immigrants. In 1891 Scandinavian newcomers at REVELSTOKE created BC's first ski club, principally to encourage jumping. The first national ski jumping championship, held in ROSSLAND in 1898, was won by local jumper Olaus Jeldness. During the 1920s Revelstoke's Nels NELSEN held the world distance record and played a key role in promoting the sport in the province. By this time alpine skiing was becoming more popular. Ski chalets opened on the North Shore mountains opposite VANCOUVER during the 1920s, and in 1946 a lodge opened at DIAMOND HEAD in GARIBALDI PROVINCIAL PARK, attracting the more adventurous backcountry skiers. But it was really in the 1950s that new equipment and new facilities encouraged an explosion of public involvement in the sport. This in turn led to the emergence of BC skiers in international competition, most notably Nancy GREENE of Rossland during the 1960s, Dave MURRAY, leader of the "Crazy Canucks" on the Canadian men's ski team in the 1970s, Rob BOYD of Vernon in the 1980s, and Gerry SORENSEN-LENIHAN, Canada's outstanding female athlete in 1982. There are 3 dozen downhill ski facilities in BC, along with several more family-oriented centres offering limited facilities.

There are several cross-country ski areas, including Mt Washington near Courtenay, Whistler, Manning Park, 108 Mile Ranch in the CARIBOO, the Kane Valley east of MERRITT, Larch Hills near SALMON ARM, and many others. BC also has become one of the world centres for heli-skiing since wilderness skiing on undeveloped MOUNTAINS began gaining popularity in the early 1960s when the availability of helicopters and snow cats brought previously inaccessible slopes within the reach of the general public. Hans Gmoser, a guide and filmmaker, did much to publicize the sport and in 1962 Michael Wiegele, a ski instructor, produced a feasibility study showing that areas of the CARIBOO, MONASHEE and BUGABOO Mts offered some of the best snow conditions and longest runs to be found anywhere in the world. By 2000 heli-skiing operations out of such centres as BLUE RIVER, GOLDEN and Revelstoke were employing 700 people and producing annual revenues of $70 million. See chart listing BC's main skiing areas.