Friday, March 28, 2014

Silver Star

Silver Star by Louise Hudson
All ski resorts are by nature beautiful, with the snowy white blanket smoothing out manmade imperfections and fir trees adding dark perspective. But Silver Star near Vernon, BC, Canada, goes one step further to postcard perfection: The whole town is gorgeous with bright colours and pretty pastels adorning every building.
Influenced by San Francisco’s colourful rainbow row houses, the Victorian-style architecture reminded me of Whoville (from How The Grinch Stole Christmas). Porches and boardwalks, paned glass, cute window and door frames are all festooned in every shade of a kids’ paintbox, making for a vivid contrast with the monochromatic black-and-white of the winter backdrop.

Silver Star village centre
It’s not just the town centre that creates a rainbow effect. All the residences, hotels and delightfully different family homes which speckle the ski slopes are multi-coloured to conform to an architectural blueprint designed in the early ’80s. When you’re skiing, even the lift stations stand out from the white in their cheerful oranges and yellows.

And the skiing is as multi-faceted as the facilities at Silver Star, with 115 runs over 3065 skiable acres, a progression park, night skiing, Nordic and – brand new for the 2013/14 season – heli skiing over 117,000 acres with pickups from the resort. Averaging minus-3 in winter, the Okanagan resort is as temperate as European ski hills but with central B.C.’s dry, champagne powder.

As a newbie to the terrain, I was guided around the mountain by ski host, Brett Barker, who showed me his favourite powder stashes, giving me a local’s eye-view of the hill. I relished in the knee-deep snow on Gowabunga, one of the hill’s toughest double diamonds. And I loved the backside of Silver Star, dappled in black and double-black glades and bowls, accessed by the Powder Gulch Express and Home Run Tee.

Silver Star’s daily ski partner service means anyone can join free guided tours of the mountain every morning and/or afternoon. Brett is just one of the team of hosts who show skiers and snowboarders the best places to ski for every level. He recommends Paradise Camp as a mid-mountain stop-off for breakfast and lunch. For fine dining at high altitude, take a cat-ride up to the restaurant in the evenings. 

Courtesy Silver Star
So what type of skier or boarder would love Silver Star? Well, I do, and I am an advanced skier with a penchant for powder and glades. The hill also appeals to intermediates and families with young kids. The ability split is 15% easy, 40% more difficult, 35% most difficult and 15% extreme. There are well-spaced, gentle glades in the Silver Woods for intermediate skier progression. The area also boasts wide, undulating blues and greens. All of the runs, right up to the 1915-m summit, are tree-bordered, providing natural guidelines during snowstorms.

Staying on-hill doesn’t get better than at Snowbird Lodge. Voted best new slopeside accommodation by Ski Canada when it was first built, the two-bedroom apartments have every necessity and luxury, including heated bathroom floors and huge decks overlooking the slopes with private, roofed hot tubs. 

Part of Silver Star’s attraction is its compact community of dedicated staff working in an environment they love. Most came to ski there in their youth, lured by the reputation for 700 cm of 100 % snow per year, and found a way to stay. Under Australian ownership originally, 20% of the seasonal staff annually is recruited from Down Under, giving a lively multi-cultural panache to the customer service and merry après-ski. From the helpful shopkeeper at Valhalla Sports to the bakers at Bugaboos, everyone is cheerful and thoughtful of the guests — and without that robotic veneer characteristic of textbook North American service training.

Courtesy Silver Star
The compact village centre has every facility a skier could need whether you enjoy downhill or Nordic or are just there to take in the mountains. Silver Star communications manager, Tim Fitzgerald plays ice hockey regularly on the village’s skating pond and takes his two daughters snowshoeing around the town. He also loves the 58 km of Nordic trails which punctuate the alpine area and are linked to the separate Sovereign Lake Nordic Club, which offers another 40 km of international competition-level trails.

Three cheers for no chains, since all the restaurants at Silver Star are individually owned and managed, with great chefs and differentiating cuisine. The Den is calm and cozy early evening, when you can tuck up on leather sofas by the fireplace and peruse the extensive exchange library. As diners start arriving, the atmosphere evolves into animated party mode with live entertainment and activities, such as Salsa dancing. The blackboard menu changes daily with a mix of carb fixes, such as nachos and wings, and culinary highlights, including paella, pork tenderloin and top-shelf steaks. And, of course, wash it down with local Okanagan wines.

Visit or call 1-800-663-4431 for ski and stay packages. If you like ski safaris, combine it with a visit to neighbouring Big White

Friday, March 21, 2014

Spring Skiing in Canada

Heating Failure

Seirus Heat Touch gloves
As my regular readers will know, I am somewhat reliant on heated accessories to keep me cozy during all my ski trips. So you can imagine my horror when my boot heater charger broke in Kimberley, BC. It was 5 pm and I was about to do the overnight re-charging for my heated gloves, heated vest boot heaters and camera battery before heading out for après ski.

Therm-ic boot heaters
As I plugged everything in at various sockets around our Trickle Creek condo, all the red lights came on apart from the boot heaters. Assuming it was a faulty socket, I changed the charger to another outlet – still no red lights. At this, I decided to investigate closer, fumbling around for my reading glasses, only to discover that the miniscule copper wires were hanging out of the wiring.

When tweezers and Band Aids didn’t work, emergency! I had to find a hardware shop – that night. A bit of a challenge at 5 pm in a ski resort in a remote part of Canada’s East Kootenays, you might think. But heading out to the Pedal and Tap bar and restaurant in downtown Kimberley to meet friends as planned, I found the perfect hardware store right next door to the restaurant! 

Bavarian Home Hardware Kimberley
Although it was closing at 5:30, the owner, Mr George Wood managed to splice and re-wire my charger in next to no time, charging me a paltry $5 for his vital work! The Bavarian Home Hardware store, smack dab in the middle of Kimberley’s Alpine-themed Platzl entertainment district, basically saved my ski trip. It would have been quite an ordeal for me to ski all day long in every temperature - researching for my various articles and blog entries - without my trusty Therm-ics to keep my toes toasty.

Kimberley Capers

Before the boot debacle, the first obstacle had been getting to Kimberley. Road closures via the usual short and scenic Radium route - due to avalanche control issues because of continual heavy snowfalls and warm temps - meant a longer route. Staying at Trickle Creek Lodge right on the ski slopes was a wonderful treat after the driving difficulties: fully kitted out condo with balcony overlooking the bunny hill and a fabulous complex of steamy outdoor pools and hot tubs surrounded by snow. 

Kimberley's Black Forest Glades
Three sensational spring skiing days were topped off with some great restaurant re-visits. Three minutes down the road is a wonderful Bavarian restaurant called the Old Bauernhaus, a farmhouse built over 350 years ago and dismantled and brought over to Canada to be reincarnated as an Alpine eatery - my fave for fondu. 

A further five minutes away, the town of Kimberley is equally delightful with its quaint entertainment district, an eclectic collection of Bavarian-themed buildings serving as restaurants, shops, town hall and other amenities. The main street is pedestrianized with decorative streetlights and trendy pavement cafés. Although very ‘olde-worlde’ looking, Kimberley is pretty progressive with an emphasis on gluten-free, veggie and vegan food, yoga, and healthy outdoor pursuits. I feel so at home there!
The Platzl, downtown Kimberley

Lions and Lambs

Back to the subject of spring weather, in the UK they say that March “comes in like a lion and out like a lamb”. This weather adage sort of holds for March skiing in Canada, too, except that the lion and lamb aspect changes on a daily basis!

Me in the Monster Glades Area at Nakiska
At the beginning of my two-week ski safari, I arrived in Calgary to lion-weather: minus 17 Celsius with considerable wind-chill lowering into the minus 20s. A day later I was skiing at Nakiska, Calgary’s closest ski hill, in lamb-like spring temps, blue skies, and winter powder in the Monster Glades. I was researching for an article for the Dallas Morning News on tree skiing, so Nakiska was a perfect place to start. Although well known for both amateur and professional race training programs on polished pistes, not everyone realizes Nakiska has such great glades accessed from the upper chairlift.

Ain’t no Sunshine when you’re gone…or when you’re there!
Tim and Deuce Dore at Sunshine's Goat's Eye
Next two days, I hit gold at Sunshine Village which had accumulated 70 cm that week and continued snowing all weekend! Although ground temps were warm – slated to go up to plus 10 in the valley - windchill justified me wearing all my latest heated accessories. Luckily I never go anywhere without my heated accessories so I could adjust my temperature according to lamb or lion variations. The sublime skiing all weekend more than made up for the freeze. Much of Sunshine is open bowl skiing but there are plenty of treed areas under Tee Pee Town Chair, off Wawa, Wolverine and particularly Goat’s Eye. This was a great day for the steeper terrain skier’s left of the Goat’s Eye chairlift onto the long double diamond from the top. No rocks, easy entry and untracked pow most of the day.

Free hot chocolate at Sunshine Village
That Saturday was a bumper day for skiers at Sunshine with 6000 people congregating there from Banff, Canmore, Calgary and further afield. Despite the carpark crowds, the hill didn’t feel busy, especially in the black and double diamond areas. Sunshine’s inbounds backcountry area, Delirium Dive opened mid-morning yielding even more fresh tracks – like catskiing without the price tag. An extra bonus: Sunshine has taken to issuing free hot chocolate in the carpark – felt like Colorado-style pampering!

Epic Snow at Lake Louise

Hoiking me out of bed, dressed for skiing, by 7 am takes some doing – unless it’s going to be a powder day. With 30 cm of fresh at Lake Louise on my last Sunday and then a further 20 falling that night, I was in the 8:30 am lift line champing at the bit for first dibs both days. The Sunday was relatively busy with the Calgary crowd but as the lifts started to open up across the mountain following avalanche controls, I managed to get fresh lines in all the ungroomed runs and glades all day long. Best of all, the back bowls off Summit Poma did not open that day. Disappointing to the weekend warriors, but I knew I was coming back Monday so I was happy to wait.
Waiting for Brownshirt to open at Lake Louise
By the time the area opened next day around noon there was 50cm of new snow in there and a gaggle of locals gagging for it! A huge cheer as the patroller opened the rope and we all struggled to climb through the thick snow and traverse, climb, stagger and pole to the pristine powder. The jostling felt like boarder or skier cross – good-natured but with deadly intent. So rather than compete for long with hefty hardcore hikers, I jumped out of the queue to nab my own line before others cobwebbed my snow with their tracks. I got 50 consecutive perfect turns in, admiring my wiggly pattern for quite a while from the ski out before the gungho gang scribbled it out with their boards and skis.
First Track Frenzy at Lake Louise
 Having skied every inch of powder around the resort, I had my first decadent dining experience at the newly re-vamped Whitehorn Lodge on the front of Lake Louise. Always an anomaly, the resort has finally reincarnated Whitehorn as the fine dining panoramic restaurant its position deserves. With views over the Victoria Glacier above the actual Lake Louise, it is a picturesque setting to enjoy the vista. Up until Boxing Day 2013, Whitehorn was used for a few après ski parties and a bagged lunch venue for ski clubs.

Cheese fondu at Whitehorn Lodge

Now, the upstairs has been remodeled HGTV-style, getting rid of the unglamorous utility décor and replacing it with a mountain modern motif, a metal, wood and slate combo. Tables are white-clothed, black-napkined, some low and spacious, others high with tall stools, plus a few intimate booths. A bar, good selection of international wine and beer, and a small but bijou menu finish off this ideal spot for reminiscing over radical runs skied all morning. The glacier-gazing and lake-view deck is all ready for spring sunbathing sessions. Just needs a champagne bar and some heated lamps and you would think you were in the Alps or Colorado!

Three free weeks skiing at Red Mountain, BC
… and I’m talking about free of charge, not all mountain skiing. If you buy a season pass for next season right now at the earlybird prices, you get three free weeks skiing this season until the resort closes. Now is a great time to start investigating season passes for next winter. I know it seems a lot of money to fork out so far in advance, but it always saves money and when the 2014/15 season starts, you will be able to ski right from the first day to the last, maximizing value for money. Savvy skiers plan ahead!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

St Patrick's Day on the Slopes

Guinness tasting at Big White

It’s funny how St Patrick’s Day is celebrated so fervently in ski resorts around North America - much more emphasis than in the UK. Ireland, of course, does a great job of gunning the Guinness and recounting Leprechaun lore. But Brits usually let this “holiday” pass them by – that is until they encounter St Paddy’s festivities in the mountains. Then they're donning the green and downing the grog like everyone else – any excuse for a party!

So, here are a few green-themed celebrations coming to the slopes this weekend:

Bud Light Sham Rock festival at Mt Snow, Vermont

Mt Snow, Vermont has a whole Bud Light Sham Rock weekend planned as well as $17 lift tickets on Monday. Events include green eggs and kegs, live music and beer gardens and a treasure hunt on the hill called the Pot 'O Gold with a season pass for next year as the prize.

Irish Dancing at Beaver Creek - photo courtesy of
Beaver Creek Resort Company

Beaver Creek, Colorado is famous for its daily 3 pm cookie event for which over 500,000 cookies are baked each year. For St Paddy's Day, there's a themed "Cookie Time"with special Green Shamrock Sugar Cookies made freshly that day as well as the regular Chocolate Chip confections - and they are free! There'll also be Irish dancing in the village as well as green drink specials in bars and restaurants.

St Paddy's fireworks at Copper Mountain

Copper Mountain, Colorado hosts a jam style contest on Sat March 15 dubbed Go Huck Yourself. Using Woodward's 22 ft quarter pipe, the action starts at noon with skiers and riders competing for free gear from Analog and Woodward. Later on there's a Celtic music event, a themed firework display and free moonlight snowshoe tours. Everyone is encouraged to wear green!

Blarney Stone breakfast

Big White, BC, Canada does everything big, including St Patrick's Day. They have a head start with an Irish Bar, owned by an Irishman from Strabane, Northern Ireland. The Blarney Stone Irish Tavern serves all day Irish breakfast, traditional Irish stew, Steak 'n Guinness Pie, Black Pudding, Shamrock decorated lattes and beer and whiskey cocktails. There are three Guinness bars with servers dressed in traditional costume. And there are prize draw tickets for every Guinness sold.

Blarney Stone Tavern, Big White

From noon to midnight five different acts will entertain the apres skiers with Celtic cants and there will be a live DJ and BBQ on the patio unless it is plummeting down with snow. Traditional Irish dancing starts at 6 pm and there is also an Irish Bodhran Drum Workshop for kids and adults from 7 pm. Other events include a Pot of Gold treasure hunt, complimentary house-made Guinness ice cream and shamrock tattoos provided by Leprechauns. During the day on March 17, a skiing Leprechaun will be handing out candy and taking photos as well as getting a few runs in.
Blarney Stone TavernBig White 

Panorama, BC, Canada is hosting The Running of the Leprechauns, a St Patrick's Day Pub Crawl encompassing eight different venues around town. This includes games, prizes, Irish stew for lunch, photos and priority entry to the Jackpine Pub. There will be themed drinks and prizes for the most eye-catching costumes.

You get two chances at St Paddy's day at Whistler Blackcomb, BC, Canada. March 10 there's a Saint Practice Day warm-up event followed by March 17 festivities which include live music at the Dubh Linn Gate Irish Pub all day and night.

Dubh Linn Gate Pub - photo courtesy of
Tourism Whistler/ Robin O'Neill