Heading out from Vancouver my first destination would be where I’d settle for the winter season, Canada’s Second Largest Ski Hill, Sun Peaks.
It’s a pretty town, built in the saddle between three hills, one of the few resorts in Canada to offer a ski-in ski-out town, no driving each morning. The main street is pedestrian and during winter kept snowy which certainly adds to the festive feel of the village. There’s just enough amenities that it’s possible to survive without a car, or tripping down to Kamloops for groceries too often, a corner shop, liquor store plenty of restaurants and a nice handful of bars.
The ski hill is definitely more of a hill than I was expecting, the mountains of Canadian dreams are either on the west coast or the Rockies on the border with Alberta. However that doesn’t mean there’s not plenty of interesting terrain, and one thing that sold me on the location was the full top to bottom snow park along the length of one of the main chairlifts. A good range of steep and mellow trails, tree runs and groomers and the park meant no matter what the weather there was something to ride. The snow was generally pretty good, with fresh dumps every couple of weeks or so, although not always enough to cover the old tracks, but there were a good few powder days.
The small Village has plenty to offer those who are on holiday, but after a few months in resort the cabin fever starts to set in, but with Kamloops less than an hour away a trip to the movies was very possible. The location in BC also meant that several other resorts were accessible within a few hours drive, as well as the Wells Grey Provincial Park which is an absolute must do if you’re in the region. A park full of beautiful waterfalls and incredible valley hikes, it reminded me somewhat of the Blue Mountains in Australia. In winter there’s not a whole lot accessible, just a few of the most popular stops – Spahats and Helmcken falls, and if you have the right footwear Dawson as well. Despite the snow the trails are usually pretty well tramped and it gives a certain unique look to the park, huge waterfalls thundering into the centre of what looks like a volcano of snow and ice built up as the spray freezes around the edges. Often the pools at the top also freeze over, so it seems as though the water is flowing straight from a slot in the cliff side. Be careful with your vehicles and stick to the roads that have been cleared, it’s easy to see tracks in the snow and think it’s passable, but it’s not worth the risk, as I found out; twice.
The other resorts nearby include Silverstar, Big White and Revelstoke, all within a few hours drive, and each offering good deals for Sun Peaks season pass holders. Revelstoke is the furthest away, so we did a two day expedition to fully appreciate the mountain. Despite a lack of fresh snow, there were still some patches of powder in the trees, and the tree runs themselves were very enjoyable. With a bit more space between the obstacles it was possible to relax a little more and have time to plan your turns compared to other hills where you often get trapped in tracks.The lift lines were blissfully short, although all across Canada I really had any issues with queues. The park is pretty small, but Revelstoke is much more about the off-piste and powder riding and it certainly delivers, with just a couple main chairs accessing a large chunk of mountain terrain. The gondola also gives quick access to the mountain, and means there’s only one time you need to have your ticket scanned. The facilities are a little limited, with everything on the hill owned by the resort, but with the outskirts of town only 5 minutes from the bottom of the Gondola that’s really no issue.
Another trip covered Silverstar and Big White in one. Silverstar, close to the town of Vernon has a similar set up to Sun Peaks, with the small village right on the hill with a selection of shops, restaurants and bars. The hill has a lot of chairlifts, but they have a lot of overlapping area, with one exception the Powder Gulch Express chair which accesses what is supposed to the most advanced and interesting terrain, however due to poor snow quality and weather it was pretty disappointing while I was there. The park set up was reasonable, with a good variety of features set up in fairly inventive ways. I feel on a nicer day the overall impression would have been much greater, but sticky snow and a touch of rain dampened the spirits somewhat.
Big White however had ideal conditions, the rain that fell on Silverstar was snow on Biggie and with the clouds empty the skies were a spotless blue. Again, there are a lot of chairs, but the skiable area felt much larger, feeling bigger than Sun Peaks due to the breadth of the mountain. There wasn’t time for park laps this time around as trying to explore the whole hill took most of the day. The terrain felt more similar to Revelstoke, with long runs and a good incline through the trees, spacious with enough fresh snow to carve through. The village again had a nice collection of the usual suspects but was a fair drive up from Kelowna, there nearest city.
Kelowna was where we spent the night between the two hills, and had a nice bit of charm to it, Kamloops is somewhat industrial and with big shopping malls appearing on the outskirts the downtown is suffering a little. Kelowna however felt alive, with recently modernised and renovated areas alongside the lake. Our accommodation, the Same Sun hostel was in a great location to explore the downtown as well. It of course also has its own commercial area on the outskirts which include the impressive One Boardshop, a sizeable store with a huge collection. The food options in Kelowna certainly beat the choices on the hills, which while pretty reasonable didn’t offer anything too spectacular and certainly not under-priced. At the bottom of the hills there is a wide range of choices and cuisines to suit pretty much any budget, and finding a good Mexican place at very good prices was a definitely bonus for the trip.
Certainly worth the drive, and nice to get away from Sun Peaks melting pot for a while.
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