This month, tens of thousands of sports enthusiasts will make their way to Whistler and the Coast Mountains of British Columbia for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Millions more will be glued to their television sets watching dozens of winter sporting events.
Meanwhile, a couple of hundred miles east of this commotion, a tiny fraction of those percentages will indulge themselves in many of the same activities but without the hype or crowds. And they probably will enjoy better weather, better snow conditions, better scenery and a mellower ambience.
I almost hate to share this location, but Sun Peaks is too good to keep secret. Still undiscovered by most of the snow sports community, this area offers all the amenities of mega-resorts without being overdeveloped and losing its character in the process.
Until some of the folks who helped put Whistler on the map moved here to take part in developing Sun Peaks, the area was known as Tod Mountain. Nothing wrong with that name unless you speak German, which translates “tod” into “death.” Not too endearing a moniker for a place you are wanting to expand and cultivate into something that takes central stage in a winter sports-lover’s fantasy.
Lifts ascend three mountains in a semi-circle from the pedestrian-only Village. The upper reaches of Mt. Tod are littered with black diamond runs and the powder-drenched, snow-ghost decorated Crystal Bowl. Aptly named 5 Mile Run meanders down the draw between Sundance Ridge and Tod Mountain. Across the way, Mt. Morrisey is a network of cruisers carved through the glades. Snowboarders love how the trails flow together without pesky traverses. And everyone appreciates that nearly all the runs drift artlessly back to the base areas.
Uphill capacity exceeds 12,000 people per hour thanks to three express quads, two quads, a triple and five surface lifts. About the only time I encountered a lift line was the morning after a six-inch deposit of fluff as light as I’ve ever encountered in Utah or Colorado. Eager sliders started gathering at the Sunburst Express about 20 minutes before they cranked up the bullwheels, and within fewer minutes than you can count on two hands, the lift line had disappeared. They didn’t seem to be on the trails either, as my first three runs garnered me first tracks on three different black diamonds.
A nine-acre terrain park includes separate zones for novice, intermediate and expert riders. Start out in the beginner section with five rails and two small jumps. When you’re comfortable with that, progress to the blue-level area with at least eight rails and a variety of other features. Once that is mastered, try the back-to-back 60-foot jumps. Or pat yourself on the back, wipe the grin off your face, and go find some more powder stashes.
Nordic enthusiasts have 28 kilometers of track-set trails and 21 km of ungroomed backcountry paths. The Morrisey Express lift provides access to the groomed and track- set Holy Cow trail, winding its way off Mt. Morrisey towards McGillivray Lake. Here you will find the McGillivray Lake Outpost, open daily as a rest stop and warm-up cabin.
Sun Peaks has thoughtfully provided day lodges in strategic sites so a break for downhill snowsliders isn’t out of reach. The mid-mountain Sunburst Lodge has great food and a sizable outdoor deck. The Village day lodge includes restaurant, bar, retail and rental shops, Adventure Centre, and ski school and guest services desks. Bento’s offers a cafeteria and boot change area. The Burfield day lodge contains a restaurant, bar and boot change area. Most importantly, all have restrooms.
If you have non-snow-sliders in the group or just desire a change of pace, you can go dog sledding, catch a sleigh ride, or explore the backcountry aboard a snowmobile or on snowshoes. The Sports Centre has an outdoor pool as well as a lighted outdoor ice rink with skating, hockey and broomball. A tube park and bungee trampoline also help work off excess energy.
Restaurants run the gambit from outstanding pasta dishes at Bella Italia Ristorante to an eclectic blend of tasty offerings at Macker’s Bistro & Bar. The Sunburst day lodge serves up cinnamon rolls to gratify a connoisseur. Mantles Restaurant offers a nice selection in the breakfast buffet. Family dining in a relaxed pub atmosphere can be found at Masa’s Bar & Grill, where the après ski crowd gathers in preparation for live music later in the evening.
Memorable variations on dinner can be found by signing up for the Fondue Dinner & Evening Descent where, after dining at the Sunburst Restaurant, you follow your guide back to the Village along a torch-lit trail using headlamps and glow sticks. Or hop aboard a snowmobile and head for a wiener roast at McGillivray Lake.
Instruction in skiing, snowboarding and racing is offered by the Sun Peaks Sports School. It also provides snow bike rentals and lessons for an adventure that skiers and boarders really need to experience. Day care is available for children 18 months to five years.
The choice of lodging includes everything from studio rooms to deluxe suites with kitchens and fireplaces and fully equipped condos. There is also a parking area designated for self-contained RV camping. The Village has an assortment of stores selling clothing, jewelry, snow sports apparel and equipment, and native artwork. Complimentary bus service runs throughout much of the Village, making it simple to get around.
The snow is wonderful. The crowds are few. The ambiance is low-key. Give this resort a try and I think you’ll agree Sun Peaks rates a Gold Medal.
Vicki Andersen is a freelance journalist specializing in adventure travel, skiing, snowmobiling and motorcycling. She lives in Portland, Oregon.
IF YOU GO
Sun Peaks is a four-and-a-quarter hour drive from Vancouver and a five-and-one-half hour drive from Seattle. It is 45 minutes north of Kamloops, which has daily airline service from Vancouver, and Greyhound bus and Rail Canada terminals.
At the resort, parking lot P4 is designated for self-contained RV camping. Situated close to the Village, it is next to the Sports Centre, where RV guests are welcome to use the pool, hot tub and shower facilities.
Information resources: central reservations, (800) 807-3257; guest services (250) 578-5474; Adventure Centre (250) 578-5542; Kamloops snow phone, (250) 578-7232; website, sunpeaksresort.com.
Ski season runs from mid-November to mid-April, conditions permitting.
Skiable area: 3,678 acres.
Skiable vertical: 2,891 feet.
Summit elevation: 7,060 feet.
Village base elevation: 4,117 feet.
Alpine terrain: green (novice), 10 percent; blue (intermediate), 58 percent; black (expert), 32 percent.
Nordic terrain: green (novice), 33 percent, blue (intermediate), 50 percent; black (expert), 17 percent.
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