It’s a quiet day on the mountain. You can see clouds below and sun reflecting off of snow. You’re the only one around.
Getting to indulge in the Big White scenery is only one of the perks millwright lead hand Darcy Arnold gets to experience at his job.
“It’s a pretty rare treat… you know you’re literally the only person at the top of this mountain right now – and it’s my mountain,” he said.
Arnold was one of many employees to be recognized at Big White Ski Resort for more than 25 years of service and his day-to-day tasks are to keep the resort in operation.
It’s a stressful, ever-changing job, but he enjoys it.
“I’m actually quite good at figuring out my way through challenges, that’s what makes us good here; the ability to deal with a curve ball. There’s so much variety in it. There’s no same day twice,” he said.
When the mountain resort was small, Arnold did every task imaginable.
He remembers one New Years he took apart a toilet to get an apple that was lodged inside.
Fresh out of high school in 1988, he applied to be a lift attendant at the mountain and stayed a part of the maintenance crew for the summer.
That summer, he remembers the first detachable lift that was installed. Also known as a high-speed lift, the lift slows and detaches from the cable at the station, before reattaching which makes the lift faster.
His also installed lights on what would be the first night run at Big White.
On the runs, they had an average of 100 to 200 people skiing in a day and he worked as an airport shuttle driver, built equipment and fixed Snowcats.
“When I started, you could get a fresh powder day and if you didn’t get fresh snow for the rest of the week, five days later you could still find fresh powder.”
The resort has 15 lifts that Arnold watches over, and they stop on a regular basis due to operator error and winter conditions.
Now, he mainly supervises the rest of the millwrights and ensures the conveyor equipment in running.
The ski resort has more than doubled in people, lifts and the carrying capacity of each chair since Arnold started 29 seasons ago.
At one time, there was only one safety system on a track, but now there’s three or four. He remembers how 70 people on the payroll climbed to more than 800.
As technology advanced, so did the chair lifts. Once run on a simple circuit where “the lifts took care of themselves,” said Arnold.
“Back in the day there was a simple safety circuit, now the new lifts have a fiber optic network and PCs at the tope and bottom of the lift,” he said.
The stress has also advanced.
“We get as many as 10,000 people on the hill in a day. It can be quite stressful. The pressure to get the lifts running is quite immense,” said Arnold.
Arnold has a home in Kelowna but spends the winters at Big White with his family.
His son and daughter attend the elementary school in the area while his wife works in the area.
He’s looking forward to working on the lifts, adding new bike racks as Big White expands into mountain biking.
Other than maintaining lifts, at Happy Valley Day Lodge, he monitors the tube park, grooming it for use and sets up the weekly fireworks.
“Even my skills evolved and developed. I can make the show look a little better than I used to.”
He enjoys doing the big Christmas and New Year’s shows and said he’s gained a local following.
The 46-year-old doesn’t snowmobile on his days off, he said the novelty of driving a snowmobile at work has worn off long ago.