Story by W. Ruth Kozak of Planet Eye Traveler Magazine
SUN PEAKS, BRITISH COLUMBIA — You’ll find oodles of fun at Sun Peaks Resort, a family-friendly alpine village that’s a 45-minute scenic drive from Kamloops, nestled at the foot of three mountains: Mt.Morrisey, Mt. Tod and Sundance. Sun Peaks is the third-largest ski resort in Canada. It features 122 runs for skiers and boarders of all skill levels as well as cross-country ski trails and snowmobile areas. Skiers of various levels can explore them all in one day on a self-guided tour. Usually the runs aren’t crowded and you’ll feel as if you have the mountain to yourself.
The popularity of the resort is growing. Many Australians come to the resort to ski and work in the shops and hotels. Japanese investors (Nippon Cable) own the ski lifts and runs and there is a surge of development with new condos, chalets, hotels and shops being built in the resort and surrounding area. The population of full-time residents numbers about 500 but during peak winter months it swells to the thousands.
The most distinguished resident is former Canadian Olympic ski champion and member of the Canadian Senate Nancy Greene Raine. She is actively involved in the Sun Peaks community and her husband, Al Raine, is the mayor. On Sunday evenings, visitors can enjoy a complimentary ski with her or a fireside chat at the Hearthstone Lodge.
For families, there is a daycare where the tots can be left while parents ski. The daycare even provides ski lessons. Busloads of kids also arrive at Sun Peaks for ski and snow-boarding lessons. There are activities for teenagers at the Mascon Hangout located in the Sports Centre. Ski, snowboard, Nordic and terrain park lessons are offered for adults too. Information about the resort, activity reservations, equipment rentals, and alpine and cross-country tickets can be obtained at the Adventure Centre.
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From early morning when the slopes are bustling with skiers and snow boarders to the more tranquil evenings I enjoyed strolling through the village and browsing the boutiques and shops. Most of the restaurants do not open until 5 p.m., but there are a couple of popular pubs at the foot of the ski lifts where rosy-cheeked skiers chat enthusiastically over beer and burgers. The Bottom Line Grill and Masa’s Bar and Grill at the Adventure Centre both have a jovial atmosphere. Or, for a more sedate lunch dine at the Mantle Restaurant and Bar at the Delta Sun Peaks Resort.
While my family members were on the slopes I went on an adventure of my own: a dogsled ride at Mountain Man Adventures, the highlight of my stay at Sun Peaks. I was transported by mini-bus to the road that leads to the kennels. I could hear the howling and yelping of the dogs from a distance as I trudged down the snowy road. At the kennels I was greeted by Taryn Rixon, one of the new owners of the pack of 50 sled dogs. Each dog is chained to its own kennel with plenty of running room. “Far enough that they can’t fight or breed with each other,” she explained.
All the dogs are cross-breeds: Malamutes, Alaskan Huskies, Greyhounds and other breeds, Rixon said. They are trained as working dogs. Rixon and Chris Schwanke have only owned the Mountain Man Adventures for a year and a half but Schwanke, who is from Canmore, Alberta, has 10 years experience handling sled dogs. Rixon, his partner, gave up her city job to join him. They live on-site along with the dogs, several are retired from active work and usually sleep indoors with the owners.
As Rixon chose the six dogs to pull the sled, the others yapped and howled in anticipation. She picked Loki, a grizzled veteran and experienced dog-sled racer. He was paired with handsome blue-eyed Rodeo, one of the pack’s most promising mutts. A tawny pair, Comet and LJ took the middle positions and in the “wheel” position at the back were two of the strongest dogs: ginger-coloured Jackson and Lima, a German-shepherd cross. “We put the largest dogs in the rear, because they pull most of the weight when the sled goes uphill,” Rixon said.
I was given the privilege of helping to harness the dogs, a fairly simple task as they are co-operative and experienced. Then I settled myself in the sled, comfortably seated on cushions with a warm blanket to cuddle under.
“Okay, boys! Let’s go!” Rixon shouted and off they went, running full speed, yapping with excitement.
We headed down the narrow road shared by a some cross-country skiers, then turned off into the woods on a pathway hedged with high drifts of sparkling snow. Mid-way the team stopped to rest and Rixon gave them a biscuit treat. I got off the sled to investigate some interesting tracks left by a snow-shoe rabbit. When it was time to continue with the run, the dogs raced down the curves and up over the small hilly mounds of packed snow.
RESORT IS FULL OF WINTER FUN
The day after dog sledding, I snuggled up on a sleigh pulled by a team of sturdy Clydesdale’s named Zeus and Thor who took me on a jingle-bell ride around the resort and out into the surrounding countryside.
Other winter activities at Sun Peaks include skating, tobogganing, tubing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Book tickets for dog-sled, sleigh rides and other activities at the Adventure Centre just opposite the lifts in the village.
I spent four fabulous days at Sun Peaks, enjoying the crisp mountain air as sparkling snow fell over the tranquil village. Even though I didn’t participate in the activities on the slopes, there wasn’t a moment that I didn’t enjoy.
Location: 1280 Alpine Road Sun Peaks, BC (Tele: 250-578-7222; www.sunpeaksresort.com)
Directions: Kamloops is the closest large city from Sun Peaks and the nearest one with an airport serviced by Air Canada and WestJet. From Kamloops head northeast on Highway 5 (the Yellowhead Highway). Sun Peaks is an hour away and signs for the resort are easy to spot.