It's just before eleven on a Saturday morning, and we're standing
with a handful of skiers at the top of Sunburst Express. Though the mountain breeze brushes my face and bites through my woolen toque, both hands feel hot and clammy. I know it has nothing to do with the weather. This is clearly fear factor. A decade or two ago, skis had been as comfy on my feet as a pair of well-worn slippers, and I had been easily lured by any terrain that was steep and deep. But that was then. Now, while hauling a few extra Rubenesque pounds and a lot less muscle mass, I have quandaries about doing anything high speed - especially descending. Fortunately this second largest ski area in BC has come up with a solution.
Sun Peaks Resort, just forty five minutes from Kamloops, also caters to those in search of less adrenaline-pumped activity. Instead of taking this downhill plunge, I could strap on some cross country skis or snowshoes. As well as the 28 kilometers of groomed trails that lace this destination's contours, there are an additional dozen that meander through the mellow backcountry. That'll surely keep my pacemaker happy. Or maybe I'll rely on some other sources of energy to do the job. There are huskies for dog sledding, Clydesdales for sleigh rides and even a gravity-driven downhill transporter that goes by the name of sno-limo. This eco-friendly joy ride will provide the ultimate descent, and without any self-propelled effort from moi. While the operator maneuvers the ski-framed contraption over lumps and bumps, I'd be able to take it easy and enjoy the scenery. Yes, this form of exploration sounds right up my alley.
Or I might choose to ditch the adventure angle altogether and go totally slow-mo. Nestled at the base of these embracing peaks is a Bavarian-like pedestrian village that even Heidi would love. A selection of shops and bistros hug up to top-notch lodgings, aprés ski hot spots and pampering spas. There's no doubt that I could idle here in relaxation mode for the majority of my stay.
But first and foremost, I have to find a way to get down. Sweat begins to bead on my brow as I ponder my options. Will I be able to absorb the mogul mounds and fresh cache of powder that waits before me? Is there a winding cruiser that offers an easier way out for the less courageous?
I've heard that every lift at Sun Peaks has a variety of choices, but what happens if I find the simplest cat track impassable? My heart races at the thought of take off. And then, thankfully, just as there seems to be no hope, help arrives.
As well as the Director of Skiing and Ambassador for the resort, the acclaimed Olympian, Nancy Greene, meets, greets and guides - and usually twice every day! (an added bonus with each day pass!) Her smile is instantly infectious and her energy is super-sized. After simple introductions, she's memorized everyone's name and knows our level of ability. "There are over a hundred and twenty runs here at Sun Peaks," she says with pride, "so we have lots to choose from. Just follow closely and we'll check out a few together." My quivering knees slow to a mild tremor and before I have time to dwell on the inevitable beyond, we're off!
The guided tour soon doubles as a group lesson, and I feel privileged to be getting tips from one of the best. "Shift your weight on each turn, put more pressure on the balls of your feet, and relax those arms." The principles sound simple, as Nancy coaxes and coaches, but initially I feel as awkward as a new born calf. Then, whether due to some kind of magical synchronicity, or effective prayer, the moves all gel together. And before we're down from the first run, my 'Big Easy' Head ski rentals are delightfully living up to their name.
Nancy keeps us in tow for a few more runs then unleashes us to check out Sun Peak's three embracing mountains. Together they boast a total of 12 lifts, 880 meters of vertical, and 3,678 acres of ski-able terrain. And from every unloading platform, we discover a fine balance of expert, intermediate and beginner routes that trail back to the energized hub.
The original Tod Mountain had always been a mogul magnet in my youth and although it still takes the cake for challenging bowls and perilous fall lines,
there's now Five Mile Run that delivers us safely back home. Sundance is the queen bee for groomed trails and terrain parks, and on its lower levels we spot little tykes who are having a hay day at Kids Ranch. Mt. Morrisey is the newest kid on the block and offers us everything from gravity-defying chutes to glade skiing between frosted evergreens. Every inch is draped in epic powder and each journey we take is uncluttered and serene.
While I remain riveted to cruisers, aptly named, Mid Life Crises and Second Growth, Brent tackles the untracked gullies where Static Cling, Agitator, and Spin Cycle hang out. And just like a typical laundry day, they are truly unruly and rigorous. Although he generally beats me to the base, we both arrive totally spent of energy and craving for more.
From the top of Morrisey Express, we have a picturesque vista of the village below. Camouflaged amongst the pastel coloured condos, hotels, and recreation rivals is Nancy Greene's Cahilty Lodge. The family run property, operated by her husband and general manager, Al Raine, provides us with all the comforts of home and has been awarded the Best Hotel Service by Ski Canada Magazine. After experiencing Nancy's gracious hospitality today we can see why.
"Shall we head down and hit the hot tub?" Brent suggests, "My quads are ready to call it quits." He says, while shifting his weight. I check out my pocket map and trace the route that leads to the challenging terrain at Tod Mountain. "How 'bout just one more?" I reply. "The run called, Back In Time, will lead us to Top Of the World, where we're sure to find some steep and deep."
Jane Cassie and husband-photographer, Brent, have been featured in Northwest Travel Magazine, North American Inns Resorts & B&B Magazine, Spa Life Magazine, and INNspire Magazine as well as Canadian and US newspapers. Jane is co-owner/editor of Travel Writers' Tales
Brent Cassie and Adam Stein: Sun Peaks village from the lift, dog sledding, Nancy Greene, Steep and deep.