Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Sun Peaks Perfection, Pistes, Partying, and Personalities

In the West Bowl - by Sigi White

My window onto the Sun Peaks world at Sun Peaks Lodge
Sitting in a prime window niche at Sun Peaks Lodge having breakfast, watching people skiing down Main Street among the Tyrolean buildings towards the ski lift hub just 50 yards from my centrally-situated hotel. I’ll be out there joining them in half an hour but for now it’s a vicarious pleasure watching their Peak and Patagonia progress towards ski school and sensing their anticipation. My plan is a downhill day on the sunny slopes with Mayor Al Raine with coffee at Bolacco’s with Sun Peak’s skiing - and Senate - sensation, Nancy Greene Raine.

Day Lodge at Sun Peaks Resort

Skiing in to Sun Peaks Lodge
If you have never been to Sun Peaks, you must include it on your wintersports wishlist (and summer scenery bucket list). Wow factors are immediate from its authentic Austrian architecture to the horseshoe-shaped slopes surrounding the village. The central Main Street is wide enough for horse-drawn carriages, groomed for skiing to hotels, restaurants, bars and shops as well as to the ski lifts. The whole village is uniquely wrapped on three sides by the 4,270 acres of the ski map – the second largest ski area in Canada. 

With around 400,000 skier visits per winter and a resident population climbing towards 900, real estate prices are on the up with bidding wars starting over commodious condos and tantalizing townhomes. The town’s progress has been pioneered since 2010 by Mayor Al Raine, who has a varied background in ski racing, coaching and ski resort development. Always at his side, is wife and partner, Canada’s most recent Tourism Hall of Fame inductee and Olympic Champion, Nancy Greene Raine. With this kind of ski royalty at the helm, this ritzy-rural resort is being sensibly steered to create the perfect balance between residency and tourism needs.

Al Raine (right) with me and Rupert (left)
That first day we skied 9-2 with Al – it might be his last term as Mayor, but he still has oodles of energy! So slick and fast on his all-mountain skis, he’s impossible to catch or overtake. He was just recovering, he said, from a weekend of being skied out by his two grandsons who had come up from nearby Vernon. Mid-morning we had a coffee stop at locals’ fave, Bolacco’s to catch up with Nancy who had errands to run that day. Bolacco’s, tucked away in the lower level of the Sundance Coast Hotel since 1997, is favoured by the resort’s Aussie population drawn by the authentic Italian coffees. Full of ideas, potential projects, and acute observations, Nancy looked exactly the same as when we last saw her around 10 years ago. I want some of that mountain lifestyle to make me stay so lively and youthful!  
Nancy Greene Raine - courtesy of Sun Peaks Resort
Nancy Greene Raine tribute at Nancy Greene's Cahilty Hotel & Suites

Al had been recently watching a professional technician from Switzerland – one of the only people in the trade who can do this - splicing the cable for a new lift about to be launched for Christmas holidays. “They literally have to trim some of the threads from each end of the cable and then weave the remaining threads to make a perfect join,” Al described. Sounded like vein or artery surgery to me – and just as important! The new quad chair is only going up to the halfway mark this season but will go even higher in the future - guaranteeing that newer developments in the upper village will be ski in/ski out. Really important to keep that concept for all new accommodation here. New this season, too, is the trendy pod hostel, The Burfield; basic but beautifully furnished and finished, it also has suites and will be joined by a sister building next season.

Nancy Greene's Cahilty Hotel & Suites
To feel part of the history and persona of Sun Peaks, you can stay at the Nancy Greene Cahilty Hotel & Suites – Al and Nancy’s original condo-style hotel with 168 rooms which they built and operated. They still live there and also have a home in Kamloops. There’s a neat museum display of all Nancy’s racing achievements and also regular Sunday Welcome Receptions for visitors to meet both her and Al. 

Great groomers at Sun Peaks Resort
Second day we got to ski for an hour with Ski School Technical Director Ron Betts. His peak pedigree encompasses 17 years with Mike Wiegele Heliskiing and 15 years with SilverStar, before moving to Kamloops – the nearest big town to Sun Peaks - where his wife is from. A fellow writer for Ski Canada magazine, Ron met editor Iain MacMillan while working for Wiegele and went on to document gear testing for four years. If you’re a Ski Canada reader, you’ll recognise him as a regular feature writer, including a Crans Montana article in the 47th #2 issue. Ripping up some gentle pow on the Morrissey area, I could see that Ron has a similar quirky sense of humour to Iain – you can detect it in his writing as well as his personality on the hill. While sharing a chairlift with a renowned Sun Peaks’ skier, Ron pounced on the potential interviewee, employing all his powers of persuasion. But the guy turned the tables, asking us questions instead, and declining immortality in SPIN on the premise that it “might jeopardize a future run for political office”.

Pedestrian Main Street at Sun Peaks Resort
The next day we skied with Anne Terwiel - a CSIA Level 4 ski instructor at Sun Peaks, ski tester for Ski Canada mag, and a professor at Thompson Rivers University at Kamloops. Coincidentally, she is considering using our book, Winter Sport Tourism for her new mountain adventure course coming to TRU next semester. If her tourism teaching is anything like her swift-but-smooth skiing, then she must be a very motivational and accomplished prof.

Snow Ghosts at Sun Peaks Resort
Meat feast at The Steakhouse at Sun Peaks Lodge
Dinner that night was with local Rachel Roberts - who works as Media Relations and Communications Specialist for Tourism Sun Peaks - at the sizzling Steakhouse at Sun Peaks Lodge. The Sun Peaks Lodge, itself, epitomizes the resort’s Tyrolean theme, designed by Ecosign’s Paul Mathews, with a delightful European feel from the chalet-style exterior to the charming olde-worlde ambiance and the German accents of the owners. 

The Steakhouse at Sun Peaks Lodge
We indulged in a feast of fabulous cheeses and charcuterie, followed by tender Canadian beef tenderloin medallions with beautiful BC wines, including a full bodied cab sav from Black Sage Vineyards. Having a gluten-free vegan with us didn’t faze the meat specialists - they customized the risotto for him, adding lots of vegetables. Although they couldn’t help with vegan desserts, next morning Rupert was able to find a GF vegan brownie at Vertical Café which is really specializing in today’s new food and wellness trends – for example, paleo powershots, energy bowls, and chocolate quinoa cake. We also found gluten-free pizza later that week at Mountain High and GF handcrafted crepes at Tod Mountain Café – Tod Mountain being the original name of the resort before becoming Sun Peaks.

Untrammeled Sun Peaks' snow by Sigi White
Tod Mountain Café proprietor, Meagan Mason, also owns Twisted Goat Coffee Roasters in Kamloops which provides the private label coffee for the café. Entertaining visitors from all over the world, Meagan is amazed at how far people travel to the sunny ski hill. “I think that really says something about Sun Peaks,” she says. “We have great snow conditions, three mountains with a variety of runs to choose from, a beautiful village with lots of dining options and the hill is perfect for families looking for a winter vacation.” These international visitors partly inspired the café’s private label coffee: “After owning the café for a year we really wanted to serve a coffee that was local to the area. We have many customers coming to the hill with very high coffee standards and did not want to disappoint!”

Bushwacker organic coffee from Tod Mountain Café  
Roasted fresh and delivered weekly to the café, the coffee sports names of popular Sun Peaks’ runs such as Bushwacker, Lone Fir and Tighten your Boots. They already offer several milk alternatives and are looking to add more in the future in order to cater to the growing lactose-free trend. “Our café has been in the village for about eight years, we took over ownership in 2016. We made some changes to the menu when we purchased the café to provide more options for people looking for gluten free, vegan and vegetarian meals,” Meagan explains. “I believe people are looking for healthier options when they eat out, so we like to be able to provide these items as part of our menu.”

Cahilty Creek Kitchen & Taproom
One of my fave places to après was Cahilty Creek Kitchen and Taproom. Recently refurbished with a modern motif of metal, wood and grey tiles, it has $5.50 appies, sliders, fried tofu, and drinks during the 120-minute ‘happy hour’. Very animated and friendly, the upgraded décor really stood out, especially the horizontal wood cladding and grey marbly subway tiles around the bar (which has wine on tap) and the revamped washrooms sporting lovely jeweled soap dispensers, square sinks, and more trendy tiling. As you can tell, I’m an HGTV addict!

Bottoms Bar at Sun Peaks Resort by Kelly Funk 
What would a ski resort be without an Irish pub? Sun Peaks has Morrisey’s which attracts local workers with its lively comedy nights, pub fare (including amazing fries: crinkly and to crave for), and the usual array of beers and bottles. Bottoms is another youthful hangout, with a panoramic patio right off the slopes at the main gondola base. “The cheapest wine in town,” said Sydney, the chatty bar server. The people next to us were drinking tequila bowls with upside down beer bottles in them – what I discovered were called Bulldogs. It looked as lethal as it sounds – a Mexico beach party on the pistes. For dinner, it took us a couple of nights to get a table, but Powder Hounds was worth the wait – particularly the curry which had the vital vegan and GF allure for my son.

Sunburst Lodge Starlight Fondue - by Adam Stein
My absolute favourite meal at Sun Peaks, though, was the three-course fondue up the mountain at Sunburst Lodge. Reached by a 6pm gondola, it really is three courses of fondue: big cheese fondue starter, followed by fondue chinoise with various meats; and then chocolate fondue with fruit and shortbread dippers for dessert. The speed of the ski down should have been augmented by the weight of all that food, but I think we were all being careful due to the darkness and the amount of vino consumed at the convivial communal table with a Brit, Canadians and Kiwi mix.

Dazzling Decor at the Sun Peaks Grand
The Sun Peaks Grand dominates Main Street, with the sumptuous entrance near the ski slopes and the hotel rooms and residences stretching from Mantles to Morriseys. We went in for the Artisan Holiday Market and were entranced by the grandeur of the two-floor foyer linked by a sweeping staircase, ancestral-home motif, ancient looking pillars and flagstones, huge chandeliers and fabulous fireplaces. Originally a Delta, it was bought by the owners of Sun Peaks four seasons ago and they’ve already spent a fortune on the 200-plus room renovations. We got to check out the room renos, all done in a modern grey/cream/natural colour palette, with fur throws decadently decorating the beds, and marble accents. The two-bedroom suite with full kitchen and dining room was definitely a winner, with enviable views onto the slopes. Could certainly imagine spending a very luxurious entire season there, hosting a grand Christmas dinner for the whole family, having guests visit regularly, throwing cocktail parties for locals. Dream on: at $300 per night, one can only imagine what it would be for the whole season! Show me the workers’ accom so I can get real!!

Sun Peaks Chape by Sigi White

Another fun evening activity is the Cat Trax Groomer Ride which I did with Sun Peaks’ youngest groomer, Lukas Meertens. Just 18, Lukas loves his job – especially the 2pm to midnight shift to which he was promoted after completing his snowmaking apprenticeship on the more arduous midnight to 10am shift. Son of Sun Peaks’ Mountain Operations Manager, Lukas has already had an impressive five years’ experience working as a liftie and has been traveling in snowcats all his life. “Ever since I was young, it has been a dream of mine to get in one of these things as the driver. I have been doing it as a passenger with my dad since I was a baby of one or two. The other operators are all older than me, in their 30s, and they say they are grown men in big toys” – so, I guess I got the ‘toy boy’. Despite reservations about his experience, I was impressed with his professionalism and ability with the monstrous machine. Totally immersed in his operations career, he’s also an expert in snowcat techie trivia. His short term ambition: to groom during a full moon. And longer term: to move up the ladder to winch cats on the steeper slopes like Sting and Spillway which I had skied that day. “It’ll be three years of driving free cats though before I can move on to winch cats,” he explained.  

Masa's mac cheese with short ribs
Sun Peaks' Sun Dog by Sigi White
With a complete menu makeover - featuring veggie burgers with GF buns and caramelized onions, guacamole, mac and cheese with short ribs and a sensational goats cheese salad - Masa’s was a fun spot for a leisurely loquacious lunch with Aidan Kelly, Chief Marketing Officer at Sun Peaks. Right by ski school, it’s easy to drop in during or after a ski day. Aidan used to ski at Sun Peaks as a visitor but has now been working there for five years. With a background in business and tourism marketing, general management, event promotion and execution, he instantly discovered a ski hill home truth: “Transitioning from general tourism to the ski world, I realized that it doesn’t matter if I am the smartest marketer in the world, it is all about the snow.” All ski resorts across BC, he contends, are somewhat dependent on the snow conditions at high-profile Whistler as the perception is that whatever Whistler has will be the same across BC. However, the weather and snowfall is actually very regional across the mountainous province.

Skiing down Main Street at Family Friendly Sun Peaks Resort
Sun Peaks has always been really big on the family market,” says Aidan. “We’re branching out with third party events, expanding that brand vision.” It has a huge advantage in that there is no chasm between residents and tourists. “There are many resorts which have places where locals hang out and different places where visitors go. I’ve yet to find or see that here. Sun Peaks is ‘where you belong’ whether you live here or got off the plane last night.” The culinary focus is important, he says, as après and dining is where people cement their mountain memories: “People are increasingly making decisions about skiing based on food. It is really important now. Sun Peaks was a little behind the curve than some other resorts, more focused on the on-mountain experience, but now we’re catching up with a decent range of diversity – Japanese sushi, German, Canadian, Italian, handful of cafés.” And it is these independently-owned restaurants that are giving Sun Peaks its character, charisma, authenticity and, ultimately, a better guest experience. “Our staff are like guests, too,” Aidan acknowledges. “They are here on a long holiday and are recycling their wages back into the system. We hired an employee experience manager a couple of months ago as we know that if an employee has a good experience here that will translate to the guests as well.”

Corduroy Carving at Sun Peaks Resort
Sun Peaks is booming, too, from a real estate perspective. “ Going back three or four winters, townhouses - really nice places – were sitting on the market literally for four-five years,” says Aidan. “Then overnight, someone just flicked the switch, in came multiple offers, it all went like gangbusters. No matter how much money you have I don’t think there is a single townhouse on the market now in Sun Peaks.” There’s also a lot of construction going on including a 48-unit complex in east village, condos and townhomes to the west of the resort, and 80-bed staff accommodation which is nearly finished. “There are single family homes too. Any vacant lots have big houses going up,” Aidan adds. “We need to keep building – there’s a bit of a challenge on rentable beds, which is good news, but also challenging for growth.” 

Kiddie Capers - Courtesy of Sun Peaks Resort
Unlike many BC resorts which were communities first and ski resorts second, Sun Peaks is a purpose-built tourism destination which is now also evolving into a community. “It’s cool, it’s giving the place character from this growing group of year-round residents,” Aidan says. “To keep up, we have to build more and have to do it in sustainable way so it doesn’t impact the destination in the longterm. We’re the second largest ski area in Canada, but not the second largest bed base – so we have the opportunity to build a lot more accommodation before the experience gets degraded.” The controlled recreation area is 10,000 acres so there is plenty of space for all this expansion. Although half the resident population is retirees, lifestyle relocators of all ages are attracted to Sun Peaks and one of the next projects under consideration is a co-working space. They’ve already got an Elementary School – ski in/ski out, like everything else in Sun Peaks, it is situated at the top of the magic carpet. With the school motto ‘Why walk when you can ski’, every day’s a snow day here.

Ski in/out School at Sun Peaks Elementary
Social Media Links

Sun Peaks Resort

Mountain Stats
Winter Season
Opening Day, November 17, 2018
Closing Day, April 14, 2019
Ski Area
4,270 acres of terrain
Second largest ski area in Canada!
Mt. Tod Summit Elevation
2,152m (7,060')
Burfield Chairlift Summit Elevation
2,080m (6,824')
Village Base Elevation
1,255m (4,116')
Skiable Vertical
882m (2,894')
Sunburst Express Chairlift
Base Elevation 1,255m (4,117')
Top Elevation 1,850m (6,069')
Sundance Express Chairlift
Base Elevation 1,255m (4,117')
Top Elevation 1,730m (5,679')
Elevation Chairlift
Base Elevation 1,550m (5,085')
Top Elevation 1,863m (6,112')
Crystal Chairlift
Base Elevation 1,766m (5,794')
Top Elevation 2,061m (6,762')
Morrisey Express Chairlift
Base Elevation 1,277m (4,189')
Top Elevation 1,675m (5,495')
Orient Chairlift
Base Elevation 1,277m (4,189')
Top Elevation 1,525m (5,003')
Burfield Chairlift
Base Elevation 1,198m (3,930')
Top Elevation 2,080m (6,824')
West Bowl T-Bar
Base Elevation 1,903m (6,243')
Top Elevation 2,069m (6,788')
2 alpine bowls
Longest Run
Up to 8km (5 miles) long
Trails & Glades
137 trails, including 17 gladed areas
Terrain Type
10% novice (green circle)
58% intermediate (blue square)
32% advanced and expert (black diamond and double-black diamond)
Rockstar Energy Terrain Park
10 acre terrain park with zones for all abilities
Types of Lifts
13 lifts, including 4 high speed quad chairlifts, 2 quad chairlifts, 1 triple chairlift, and 6 surface lifts
Lift Capacity
13,600 riders per hour
Annual Snowfall
6m (237") of powder
Nordic (Cross Country)
37.8km of groomed and track set
17km of backcountry trails
On average over 2,000 hours of sunshine per year!
Average Temperatures
December -9.5ºC / 15ºF
January -6.7ºC / 20ºF
February -6.1ºC / 21ºF
March -3.9ºC / 25ºF
April -1.1ºC / 30ºF