It’s just before eleven on a Saturday morning. We’re standing with other skiers at the top of Sunburst Express. In spite of the chilly mountain breeze, 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, I had been easily lured by any terrain that was steep and deep. But that was then. Now, while hauling a few extra pounds and a lot less muscle mass, I have quandaries about doing anything high speed, especially descending. Fortunately, this second largest ski area in British Columbia, Canada, has come up with a solution.
Sun Peaks Resort, 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.
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, 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.
I might choose to ditch the adventure angle altogether, 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, après ski hot spots and pampering spas. There’s no doubt that I could idle here in relaxation mode for the majority of my stay.
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 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 and recently appointed Canadian Senator, Nancy Greene, meets, greets and guides weekend guests who visit the mountain. Her smile is instantly infectious, 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; 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. 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. 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; 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. 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. 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, 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. It has been awarded the Best Hotel Service by Ski Canada Magazine. After experiencing Nancy’s gracious hospitality, we can see why.
“Shall we head down and hit the hot tub?” Brent suggests, “My quads are ready to call it quits.” 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.”
Photos by Brent Cassie and Adam Stein.