Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Scenic, Seamless, Sensuous and Singular Skiing at SilverStar

SilverStar Mountain Resort Boardwalk

Finally back to sensational SilverStar after about a decade! Once seen always remembered with it’s remarkable rainbow-coloured buildings. There used to be a five-colour minimum for exterior paintwork but, due to the rigours of keeping that up, the requirement’s been dropped to three – but many still sport more shades than that and the overall impression is of a beautiful paintbox array of prettiness. These are the million dollar properties but there are older condos around the resort that start around $100,000 – a fun opportunity to do a rainbow reno!

Cool Colours:Snowbird LodgeSilverStar

Capacious Kitchen at Snowbird LodgeSilverStar
If you want the best possible view right onto the home run, then Snowbird Lodge is definitely the place to stay. Seconds from the new Des Schumann gondola, overlooking the bunny run, you see skiers whizzing past, making you feel part of the view even when indoors. 

I could picture myself sitting writing, watching multi-coloured gondolas swing above equally brightly hued downhillers, all offset against the sparkling white backdrop, from the comfort our three bedroom apartment in Snowbird Lodge. Or perhaps, after a magical morning on the mountain, watching the action from the slopeside hot tub on our panoramic patio. This is exactly the kind of set-up on our winter wishlist for next season! We had a sumptuous and spacious apartment, just a quick walk to the resorts top hangouts such as The Den Bar & Bistro, Silver Grill and Red Antler. Renting for the whole season is, apparently, going to be difficult, though, as there’s 92 percent visitor occupancy from the Christmas holidays to March 1 and then around 75-80 percent occupancy for March.

Sunshine and Shadow at SilverStar
First day was a fast ski tour with Norman Kreutz, Technical Director of Snowsports SilverStar who’s been there since 1984. Bustling until mid-morning, the slopes unexpectedly cleared out around 11. “It’s because Vernon is very much a retiree town,” Norman explained. “Every morning the retirees come up for the first lift and ski until 11 and then make their way home for siestas.” Same thing happened the next day and we met a lot of said retirees on the chairlifts, chatty and loving life. Vernon is around 20 mins drive and most people connected to the resort live there.

Me with Norman Kreutz
SilverStar Serenity by Blake Jorgenson
Norman is a level 4 ski instructor and a trainer for the other instructors, traveling all over Canada with his work. “There’s a big leap from level 1 to 2, bigger still to level 3 and really big to 4,” he says. “When I passed level 4, it was only four of us out of 64. It is very expensive to do, too, probably about $3000 factoring in lost income.” Lucky to have such an experienced guide, we did a total resort overview that first day and found bumps runs to finish us off. 

Simon showing off his Elan Ripstick 96 skis which helped him
keep up with Norman
There was pretty much zero visibility that pm, but Norman found us plenty of tree runs to give perspective and it was a jealous joy to follow such an accomplished skier. When we asked him for one tip to work on this season, he suggested we try to retract our upper ski a couple of centimetres so that it was ready to initiate the turn earlier, making the edge transition quicker and smoother. It felt odd, and I seemed to be turning my toes up to achieve it – almost like we were telemarking! - but we worked on it on and off our whole trip.

SilverStar by Blake Jorgenson
Next day we skied Mineshaft, Christmas Bowl, Big Dipper, and the Back runs which had just opened, all in great soft snow, lots of bumps, undulations, trees, and interesting topography – in the most glorious views of course. The low cloud had lifted revealing lovely runs, interestingly intersected by Nordic trails, and the most colourful cartoon-like picturesque houses which dot some of the slopesides.

The Den Bar & Bistro at SilverStar
Lunch at The Den Bistro included my favourite fare: home-made tomato soup with gluten-free bread (actually tasty, a good one). There were plenty of vegan options for our son, Rupert, too, who was amazed to find and Rupert gluten-free vegan garlic cheese bread – definitely a first. The Den is a cozy place for evening, too, with its horizontal wood-clad walls, benches, high tops, sparkly bar with fairy lights and live music. Here we met up with Hospitality Director, Jesse Crockett who told us: “More of our team members are vegetarian, vegan or gluten free each season. At Red Antler, more than half of the staff, and the chef, are vegetarian. We have vegan poutine in the café, vegan burgers in the Red Antler and vegan treats. Our pastry chef has an emphasis on gluten free, including a popular chocolate cookie and we’ve introduced coconut milk lattes.”

Animated Après at SilverStar
Jesse has worked at SilverStar for eight years, commuting up from the Okanagan Valley. “We’ve got four kids under 8, who have grown up skiing at SilverStar,” says Jesse. “I went away from the area for university where I got a Hotel and Tourism Degree, and then worked on Vancouver Island at the Fairmont where I started as a bellman. That really taught me everything about service. As a bellman, you hear everything, see everything, and learn everything from the bottom up.” 

My fave SilverStar house 
Over a flight of whiskeys, we tried one from nearby Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery, another hopped BC whiskey, and a single malt. “Okanagan Spirits is a local family distillery,” says Jesse. “And we’re partnering with local BC wineries, too. We already have most of their wines, and we’re talking about branding our own SilverStar beverages. We want to focus on the unique to represent SilverStar.” Wineries are burgeoning in the Okanagan region, leading SilverStar to set up wine festivals and educational Winemasters’ Dinners: “It’s all about learning why we pair certain wines with which dishes, learning about the Okanagan wine scene,” Jesse explains. “Most of these wines are very boutique – they make only 300-400 cases of it. 

This year’s spring wine festival – part of the Seismic Spring Mountain Festival Mar 22-31 - has attracted the attention of David Hawksworth: “He is Canada’s number 1 chef and he’s coming this spring to our newest festival. We’ll have between 750 and 1000 wine tastings this March, all outdoors around firepits. There will also be wine spirits, craft cider, craft beer, and lots of competitions – 10 whole days of spring festival activities.” These will include the Big Drop Competition, held just above Snowbird Lodge. “It’s off a cliff, the first of its kind anywhere in Canada,” Jesse enthuses. “They go in with little speed and it’s all about what trick they can pull off in the drop 30ft drop - unique for the industry.” Another novelty is downhill mountain bike racing on snow. Not on fat bikes, that would be much too easy. No, this is a fun spectator sport, Jesse points out: “There are not many things you get to watch with that much carnage. And they’re not falling on rocks and sticks, but on snow which is kind of a luxury for the riders.”

Cherry Hill Coffe at Coffee+ SilverStar
Red Antler Après at SilverStar
Another popular eatery at SilverStar is the Coffee+ café which Jesse dubs ‘Melbourne Plus’ due to the amount of Aussie workers who hang out there. “Melbourne is apparently the coffee centre of the universe,” Jesse explains. “We take coffee as seriously as our whiskey here.” The watering hole for SilverStar is the Red Antler where we had drinks and dinner the first night. Live music, open mics, pub food, fun atmosphere – and the chef is vegetarian so there are lots of veggie, vegan and GF options among the meaty menu.

Pork Belly at Silver Grill, SilverStar
Silver Grill, SilverStar
Second night was topnotch dining at the Silver Grill  - think elevated and elegant, intimate with just 34 seats and, if it is still light enough, beautiful views over the Okanagan Valley. This is the sort of place where the chef comes out to greet you and check on your meal. A mouthwatering menu of specialty artisan options and posh pours from local wineries. 

This is where the Wine Dinner Series is held with dates in Jan, Feb and March – a great excuse for locals to keep going back for more. 

New this season is the Live Art Experience which showcases Jaide Fox’s powerful paintings. Jaide paints in front of the audience, deciding spontaneously on her design direction based on music and mood. Locally she is also known for "functional art" which includes mugs and ceramics painted with ink.

Decadent desserts at Silver Grill, SilverStar
Paradise Camp, SilverStar 
During skiing on SilverStar’s back side, we checked out The Paradise Camp, perfect for a coffee break, leisurely lunch or afternoon snack. With a western shack-style façade, it’s really cosy courtesy of a cast-iron fire and, with great service, tasty cookies and huge cinnamon buns, it was understandably pretty full. 

This is where they hold high-altitude cat dinners at night, with diners taken up in 15-person relays. Here we bumped into Scott Sanderson, SilverStar’s roving Executive Chef, who was supervising the first day of the season for Paradise Camp. Also on-mountain is Lookout Café, an old forestry cabin measuring just 10x10, serving fancy grilled cheese and latte at weekends.

Paradise Camp, SilverStar
This could also be a first in Canada (or anywhere for that matter) – a season pass that also includes free access to Nordic, snowshoeing, skating, tubing and night-skiing. “With My1Pass you get to try everything wintersports-related in the best place to do it, with incredible views, amazing snow conditions, great grooming, and all these beautiful colourful buildings,” says Jesse. “Cross country is starting to be sexy again – it’s great for the health but gentler on the body.” 

Skating at SilverStar by Blake Jorgenson
Tube Town, SilverStar by Blake Jorgenson
It’s actually pretty unique, too, to have the cross country ski tracks intersecting the downhill trails - reminded me of Courchevel in France which is connected to Meribel where I worked for a winter season eons ago. I like the way cross country and downhill gets integrated in that way. We didn’t get to do any this time – and anyway we’re absolute nuggets at Nordic – but we did go for a few laps on the lovely rink near Tube Town. All the après activities are centred by Brewer’s Pond - the huge skating and ice hockey rink - surrounded by cute colourful cafés. 

Night time Nordic at SilverStar 
Powder Stash at SilverStar 

Mountain Stats
Skiable Area
  • 3rd Largest Ski Area in BC
  • 3,282 Skiable Acres (1,328 hectares)
Number of Runs
  • 132 marked runs
  • Longest run 8km
Total Vertical Drop
  • 760 m (2,500 ft)


Variety of Terrain
  • 15% Easiest + Silver Queen Beginners Area, with Quad Chair lift access
  • 40% Intermediate
  • 35% Most Difficult
  • 10% Extreme
Annual Snowfall
  • 700 cm+ (275 inches+), 100% natural – no snowmaking required
Average Daytime Temperature
  • -5 °C (23 F)
SilverStar Rippers 
Lifts
10 - with a total uphill capacity of 14,000 skiers per hour

Nordic Skiing
  • 105 km (60 miles) of trails including Sovereign Lakes
  • 4 km lit track for night skiing
  • Lift access to upper trails
  • 2 certified biathlon ranges
Night Skiing
  • Fridays & Saturdays from mid-December to end of March
  • 4 km of lit trails accessed by the Gondola and Silver Queen Chairs                 
  • 4 km of lit Nordic trails seven nights a week
SilverStar Terrain Park & Snow Cross
  • 16 acres of beginner, intermediate and advanced lanes with rails and jumps
  • Course that can be tuned for regional, national, and World Cup events
Night skiing at SilverStar 

WHAT'S NEW FOR 2018/19

  • New Gondola Opens For Winter – opening for its first winter season the new Gondola provides quicker access to Alpine Meadows, Vance Creek and Powder Gulch. The Gondola will also offer improved access for Beginners, and warm access to the upper XC Trails. Dogs will also be welcome in Summer, however not Winter due to limited Trail access. See Gondola Fast Facts for more info
  • The Lookout Cafe Opens for Winter 
  • In-Room Aveda Spa Products 
  • Adventure Centre Expansion Continues -- Gain an enhanced skiing or riding experience at the Adventure Centre for kids with expanded magic carpet and new training tools
  • Touchscreen Check-in for Rentals -- Get on the slopes faster with new streamlined touch-screen electronic rental check-in process
  • New Winch Cat Groomer Added
  • Widened Skiway Access -- Easier access to the Comet Chair with the new widened Easy Street ski-way from the village
Pristine Piste at SilverStar 
  • Night skiing just got a whole lot better with the prospect of a warm and dry ride on the Gondola
  • The Terrain Park -- 4 new rail features this season
  • New Program: Master’s Monday – a new weekly Snowsports Program running January, February, and March for ladies and men 50 years of age and older (drop-ins welcome)
  • A new Digital Grooming Board added at the top of the Gondola
  • Increased investment in Summer Grooming enables enhanced early season ski conditions
  • The Zone Beginner Area is now bigger and better for those new to the sport or for that warm-up run.
  • New Scanners at lifts added to improve efficiency
  • New Snowshoe options -- a new trail at the top of the Gondola and New Snowshoe Tours
  • Improved handicap parking access has been added by the NATC
  • New Espresso Machine at Paradise Camp added, serving Cherry Hill Coffees
  • Silver Grill now hosting two Wine Masters Dinners per month  
  • Elevate at SilverStar, the Aveda Concept Spa, will have extended winter opening hours and offerings.

Holiday fireworks at SilverStar 
Awards and Accolades
  • Multiple award-winner in Ski Canada magazine's annual Best of Category: "Best Family Resort," "Best Grooming," "Best Terrain Park," "Best Sun," and "Best News for Tree Skiers" 
  • Voted the #5 cross-country ski resort in North America by USA Today's 10 Best. SilverStar and Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre were jointly nominated by three former US Olympians
  • Voted the Best Ski Resort in the Okanagan region for the fourth consecutive year, SilverStar was also voted the Best Family Resort, Best Tourist Attraction and Best Place for an Adrenaline Rush in the North Okanagan. Check out other awards here.
  • Awarded a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence based on the number of positive reviews. Check out TripAdvisor page here.

The Retreat at SilverStar 
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SilverStar Sunset by Blake Jorgenson