Canada’s Sun Peaks Resort has been on the radar for Australian skiers and boarders for many years, and with more terrain being added last season, it’s now the second biggest resort in Canada.
The silent night begins to give way to a new day; light changing the inky darkness to a velvety purple, then shapes appear as if in a hungover haze. Rooftops are covered in a thick icing of snow and beyond the village, we see beautiful, tree-lined ski runs that beckon us out of bed. It is our first day at Canada’s Sun Peaks Resort and we cannot wait to get out there to that mountain we viewed out our window, peeking out like children waiting for Santa on Christmas Day.
This little gem is full of surprises. Sun Peaks Resort is tucked away in the Shuswap Highlands of British Columbia, 45 minutes from Kamloops Airport and a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Vancouver. This part of British Columbia is known for the quality of its snow – very light and dry – and average winter temperatures are not bone-numbingly cold with the average minimum being -9°C in December, and -6°C in January and February.
The ski-through village is charming and has a very welcoming small-town ambience. There is something magical about being able to ski into the village for lunch or at the end of the day. There is a good balance of accommodation, shops and restaurants in the village, with no huge high rises. While not coming anywhere close to the amount of shopping in Aspen, Park City or Whistler, there are enough shops to do some damage on your credit card. Pick up some beautiful handcrafted jewellery or something from the Gjestal knitwear range in Fusion North Boutique. Grab a gift or two from Lone Wolf Gallery and for the latest and greatest snow gear, there are plenty of places to stock up including Helly Hansen and North Face.
On the mountain
There are three mountains cradling the village − Tod Mountain, Sundance and Mt Morrissey − with something for all levels of skier or snowboarder. There are 126 trails, 14 glades and 11 lifts and you can take your pick of two alpine bowls, corduroy green and blue runs, steep and deep terrain, glades and stashes. Very clever planning ensures that there are green, blue and black runs from the top of every lift, which is comforting. There’s nothing worse than finding yourself on a chairlift that leads to only black runs if you can only ski green ones.
I am pretty sure that I have never skied as fast as I did at Sun Peaks – the runs were glorious. My older teen loved disappearing down the glade runs and our youngest was as happy as Larry in the terrain park. On Sundance, we flew down Sunrise, Sun Down, Sun Catcher, Sundance and Grannie Greenes over and over. We also accessed Mt Morrisey from Sundance, down The Three Bears, which takes you through trees, down the black Peak a Boo, and the leisurely Rambler. All of these link up with the Mt Morrissey Connector, to the base of the Morrissey Express. On the way, stop at the Umbrella Café for a hot chocolate and a cinnamon bun – a sticky, dripping, delicious morsel that will have you mewling like a satisfied cat.
Mt Morrissey is just brilliant. I Dunno, Second Growth, Out of the Woods, CC Riders. Static Cling and Mid Life Crisis had us yahooing with pure glee. From Mt Morrissey, you can access the Burfield Chair which takes you up Mt Tod – a playground of blacks and double blacks, or you can access Mt Tod from the village, via the Sunburst Express and the Crystal Chair. Going up there for the first time was unforgettable. As we neared the top the trees were transformed into ghostly shapes – hence the name snow ghosts. There were so many great runs down from here – 5 Mile, the Crystal Bowl, Blue Line, Spill Way and Headwalls. We were as happy as pigs in mud.
The new expanded terrain in West Morrisey and Gil’s areas elevated the skiable area to 1700 hectares – making Sun Peaks the second largest ski resort in Canada. The new ski areas have increased the amount of terrain available for advanced skiers and riders and offer more off-piste opportunities for blossoming intermediates in a safe and avalanche controlled area. There are full-day private tours of this new backcountry area available.
The legend of Sun Peaks
Another of the huge pluses for Sun Peaks is not a run or a hotel or a bar. It’s a person – but not just any person. Nancy Greene is to Canada what Dawn Fraser is to Australia. Nancy was voted Canada’s ‘Female Athlete of the Century’, winning gold and silver medals at the 1968 Grenoble Olympics. Her total of 13 World Cup victories is still a Canadian record. Nancy and her husband Al live at Sun Peaks and Nancy conducts free tours from the top of the Sundance Chair on weekends and holidays – when she is not being a Canadian Senator. We didn’t want to pass up this chance to mix it with Canadian ski royalty and joined in her tour. Nancy is so stylish when she skis – so elegant and effortlessly fast. A highlight was when she took us down Mt Morrissey to show us some trees covered in Christmas decorations. She explained that some locals and regular visitors started choosing one tree that they would decorate every year. It’s a lovely tradition, and it is fun looking out for the decorated trees all over the resort.
If Nancy isn’t around, do a free guided mountain tour with the Mountain Host guides – for anyone who can ski a green run or better. Complimentary tours depart twice daily and cater to all ability levels and terrain preferences. For women skiing on their own, choose to spend a day on the mountain with the Ski Sister program. Laurie White, a certified CSIA instructor and veteran mountain host takes groups of ladies out to experience the mountains at their own pace. Participants can choose to cruise, opt to improve skills, or simply learn how to access more terrain.
Going to the dogs
There is a range of other things to do if you want to give your legs a break from the slopes; twirl around on the ice rink, slide down the tube run, go snowmobiling, try the new Segway tours, go riding on a fat tyre mountain bike or go for a sleigh ride. For something different, we booked in to go dog sledding with Mountain Man Adventures Dog Sledding, just out of the village. You could choose to sit in the sled and be driven around, or you could mush your own team. We chose the latter. The dogs were all so well trained and well treated, and after we had been taught the various commands – we were off. I sat in the back like Lady Muck while my son Josh did all the hard work behind me, using his feet to lean into the turns and running up the odd hill to help the dogs. The scenery was so spectacular, and it was quite peaceful moving along with the winter wonderland with nothing but the quiet hum of the sled runners sliding through the snow and the odd bark. All too soon we were heading back to base, enjoying the afternoon light shining on the mountains.
Being a musher – or a mushee – builds up an appetite and a thirst and there is no shortage of places to go. For an après mush or après ski beverage, call in to Bottom’s Bar and Grill at Coast Sundance Lodge, Morrisey’s Public House – an Irish style pub at Sun Peaks Grand or at Cahilty Creek Bar and Grill.
For dinner, book in at the Steakhouse at Sun Peaks Lodge, Mantles at Sun Peaks Grand, Voyageur Bistro at Kookaburra Lodge or if you are into sushi, Oya at Hearthstone. If you have any energy left after dinner and want to boogie the night away on the dance floor, try The Club at Sun Peaks Grand.
For something extra special book in for the Fondue Dinner and Evening Descent on Thursday and Friday nights. Board the Sunburst Express chairlift for a twilight ride up to the Sunburst Mid Mountain Restaurant where you will be treated to a delightful fondue accompanied by live music. After dinner cruise down the lantern-lit slopes of the 5 Mile ski run with a guide and a headlamp. The starlit sky is the perfect backdrop for the ski down, and is a great way to end your day on the mountain.
Sun Peaks Resort also has two fantastic events that add to the winter experience – the Winter Okanagan Wine Festival and the Family Cup. Wine buffs will love taking cool, white wines or full-bodied reds and marrying them with crisp, white snow and cosy, fireside restaurants during a series of events to show off delightful British Columbian wine, food and hospitality. The Family Cup consists of a variety of family-focused activities, events and all-ability ski and snowboard competitions open to any individual, family or team from any country, in both ski and board. Age is no barrier – they’ve had people aged from two to 80 compete.
That’s the thing about Sun Peak Resort; it has something for everyone and no matter how old you are, you will want to come back.
Just the thought of going back makes me dream about those cinnamon buns…
Photography by Sun Peaks Resort and Helen Hayes
Air Canada flies direct to Vancouver from Sydney and from there to Kamloops with Air Canada Jazz, Kamloops is just a 45-minute drive away from Sun Peaks Resort. United has connecting flights from San Francisco to Kelowna, then it’s just under a three-hour drive. If you want to visit another resort there are inter-resort shuttles available from Whistler, Big White and Silver Star.
Where to Stay
Sun Peaks Grand Resort has prime position in the village and is about as ski-in, ski-out as you can get. sunpeaksgrand.com
Kookaburra Lodge has very chic apartments and was established by a Sydney couple who went to Sun Peaks Resort and fell in love with it. sunpeakscondos.com
Nancy Green’s Cahilty Lodge is slopeside – just walk outside, strap on your skis or snowboard and you’re on a run. cahiltylodge.com
Sun Peaks Resort’s ski season runs from late November 22, to early April. sunpeaksresort.com
Skimax has some fabulous early-bird packages to Sun Peaks Resort covering accommodation and lift tickets or they can tailor-make a package to your requirements. 1300-136-997, skimax.com.au