Hit the powder at Sun Peaks

Published on Wed, Nov 18, 2009 by Pat Grubb

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Riders at Mt. Baker are a notoriously loyal and fanatical bunch but sometimes even their eyes wander and thoughts of other challenges cross their minds.

Enter Sun Peaks, the answer to their wanderlust. Just a little over four hours away from Vancouver (and less from the Sumas border crossing) Sun Peaks is Whistler with drier snow and way smaller crowds. Located just outside of Kamloops in the B.C. interior, Sun Peaks is a three mountain complex that provides challenge aplenty regardless of your skill set.

It has 122 runs on 3,700 acres plus 25 miles of Nordic trails and is British Columbia’s second largest ski area. Twelve lifts service a variety of terrain from powder-filled bowls to glades to long cruiser runs up to five miles long. Three terrain parks and four children’s learning areas provide thrills and safety.  The summit tops out at 7,060 feet and there is 2,891 skiable vertical feet to play on. The slopes are classified as 10 percent novice, 58 percent intermediate and 32 percent expert.

One great thing about the resort’s design is that riders can access slopes of varying difficulty from the same chair, meaning family members of different ability can still spend time together. Bring your sun tan lotion - the area gets over 2,000 hours of sunshine a year. Speaking of which, the configuration of the slopes means riders can follow the best light. No more flat light!

The village is an attractive, low-key affair that is comfortable for singles and families. Restaurants, shops and lodging are situated right by the slopes. Best part? Throughout the season you can strap on your snowboard or skiis and slide right to the lifts.

Apart from the slopes, there are lots of activities to keep everyone occupied. Moonlight guided snowshoe tour? Check. Want to mush your own dogsled team? Check. Play pickup hockey on the open air ice rink? Check. Horsedrawn sleigh? Yup. Lift-accessed tube park? Natch. Heated outdoor pools and hob tubs at the Sports Center. Why, of course.

Throughout the season, there are special events that will make it difficult for you to pick the best time to visit. In January, there is the annual Sun Peaks Icewine Festival. Canada and B.C. in particular are famous for their icewines, wines that are made from grapes that have been allowed to freeze on the vine. Later, the resort holds the Velocity Challenge, a FIS World Speed Skiing World Cup series. Every March, close to 100 of the world’s fastest skiers hit speeds in excess of 100 mph on a straight downhill course.

Getting back to the slopes, there’s a lot to cover, especially for first-time visitors. The resort hosts complimentary mountain tours daily that provide an excellent overview. Even better, director of skiing Nancy Greene can usually be found at the top of Sunburst Chair at 1 p.m.  to take visitors on mountain tours. Be prepared to ski fast - Nancy is a Canadian  Olympic gold medalist and two-time overall World Cup title holder. Don’t bother asking for ski equipment recommendations. She swears by Rossignol, always has, always will.

Getting There:
Driving:  Take the Trans-Canada (Highway 1) from Vancouver to Hope then the Coquihalla (Highway 5), a fast, all-weather highway to Kamloops. Follow signs from there.
Flying: There are regularly scheduled flights to Kamloops from Vancouver and Calgary. Shuttle buses will take you to the resort.
Where to Stay:  You have a multitude of choices from charming inns on the Continental plan, to over-size houses that accommodate multi-family groups. Sun Peaks offers a central reservation service (800/807-3257) or you can make arrangements online (www.sunpeaksresort.com). We stayed at Sun Peaks Lodge in the heart of the village. Very friendly staff, great food, reasonable prices.
So, there you have it. Great facilities, beautiful terrain, super powder. What more could you ask for?