Sun Peaks has Canada’s best major resort ski in/ski out value, and plenty more besides as Travel Editor Dave Windsor reports in the first of his #BigFatBCRoadie series.
“Drive safely and have a great time skiing”, the friendly Budget car rental agent at Kamloops airport wished me.
My GMC Terrain still had that new car smell, though my bag, boots and skis loaded in the back would soon take care of that. With iPhone synced I hit play and commenced a 1,020 km journey of the big 4 Interior BC ski resorts, plus a Kingfisher Heli detour.
The timing was perfect – in the middle of a great BC season, it just kept dumping!
Following a short 46 minute Air Canada flight from Vancouver I hit Highway 5. An easy one hour commute from Kamloops Airport brings me to the ‘quaint little drinking village with a skiing problem’, as the souvenir t-shirt says.
The skiing problem is enormous.
Sun Peaks is the second biggest resort in Canada, boasting 4,270 acres of skiable terrain
. Three peaks – Mt Tod, Mt Morrisey and Mt Sundance – are serviced by 12 lifts feeding 135 runs and 16 gladed areas which funnel their way back to the pretty ski-in lift-out village nestled in the valley floor. Walking around town and taking in the vastness of the resort it immediately strikes me that this place has more ski territory to explore than beds that can fill it.
Easing my way into it with a bunch of afternoon warm up laps on the wide open groomers was the plan, until I hooked up with local Kyle Taylor. He kindly introduced me to a selection of sunny cruisers, then suggests “Let’s check out the Morrissey area.”
We shoot down a black run and hit the Mt Morrissey Connector, which bounds the eastern edge of the village. The journey impresses upon me two things – Sun Peaks is large, and it’s very well planned.
Better judgement would have had me skiing down the lift line on Mid Life Crisis, a nice straight blue run, but my personal mid-life crisis has me following Kyle instead, in a highly technical area of well-formed moguls and steep steeps. So much for the easy ‘warm-up’ afternoon.
For a welcome change of pace, a leisurely snow-shoe walk in the moonlit environs was next on the agenda. I joined Ash and Marius for a surprisingly enjoyable walk, occasional jog, and stumble adjacent the Nordic tracks and into the woods. Ash points out wildlife tracks including snowshoe rabbit, fox, lynx and cougar. Past snow caves through a forest we reach a picnic area of sorts, where we build a fire and drink hot apple cider and feast on s’mores (chocolate & marshmallow sandwiched between biscuits and melted by the fire).
I slumbered like a hibernating bear and wake to fresh snow. A delicious yogurt, fruit and granola breakie at Bolacco Café, with a proper double shot macchiato, expertly brewed by Conrad, energises me – something I need today, hooking up with Bodie Shandro, Sun Peak’s Off-Piste Camp Coordinator, how’s that for a job title?
A former flat lander who took up skiing at 35, went pro at 47 (instructing and heli guiding), he now lives the mountain life guiding guests in Gil’s Backcountry and running a variety of all mountain and heli/cat ski warm up camps.
Gil’s is a mission fit for the fit, capable and keen. It involves hiking, which keeps the crowds away (not that there are many to begin with), and a pain because I’m 47 and lazy. The first couple of hundred of metres are pretty flat, and by the time we get to the avi noticeboard my XTM jacket’s unzipped. Skis on and we have a brief glide down to the next incline up to Skunk at 2,100m. This is like climbing 10 flights of stairs, without steps or hand rails, and had me questioning my sanity and testing my fitness. Alternative easier routes are there too, but you miss dropping in from the top and getting a closer look at 2,152m Mt Tod.
This tranquil area is devoid of people. Bodie and I did 4 laps and saw 5 other people all day long. Our effort is richly rewarded with untracked boot to knee pow. Countless lines are available off the top as we hit the 38° Main Face and Inner Gil’s glades. Little fluoro tags on branches mark the various ways down. From the top, with regular stops to drink in the endless views of plains and mountains spanning the horizon, it’s a good 40 minute round trip. Hitting the cat track and heading back to the Elevation quad and onto the Crystal triple to do it all again makes for a great day out. Bodie’s a font of knowledge which he generously shares. He constantly keeps an eye on the weather and warns of the dangers of tree wells.
Staying at the deluxe Coast Sundance Lodge from the look of the relaxed guests, and around town, I get the sense that many are fair weather skiers. This is confirmed next morning after a 15cm top up overnight and it’s lonely for first lift on the Sundance Express quad. I meet fellow first lift tragic Aiyana O’Shaughnessy, from Prince Albert Saskatchewan, and we hit the powder rich glades of Lonesome Fir and Grannie Greene’s first lift away from the base, then explore, working our way round the in bounds options then out to Gil’s Backcountry, and finish off with a top to bottom 8km cruise down 5 Mile through 825 vertical metres.
‘This is by far my favourite resort,’ says Aiyana, ‘I’ve been here lots and there’s still so many runs I haven’t done.
There’s so much to explore, but you feel pretty safe. Grannie Greene’s and OSV would be my go to on a powder day. The people are awesome too.”
Ditto that. A big day deserves a big dinner, and the best place in town is Voyager Bistro. I wash down a legendary Bison Burger with a sampler of 4 x 5oz ales, watching the ice hockey on the tele. A couple of Jägermeister shots had me sleeping like a winter bear again.
Sun Peaks info
Getting to Sun Peaks is easy – the Air Canada non-stops from Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, connect to Kamloops, 1 hour www.aircanada.com
Ski holiday Packages to Sun Peaks www.mogulski.com.au www.travelandco.com.au www.travelplan.com.au www.mysnow.com.au www.snowcapped.com.au
Resort www.sunpeaks.com BC/Canada info www.hellobc.com www.canada.travel