Story by Doug Ward
SILVER STAR MOUNTAIN RESORT, BRITISH COLUMBIA — On a sunny day in late November, we skied away from Silver Star Mountain Resort’s cute Victorian-themed village and flew down a long cross-country ski trail. There was plenty of early-season snow and the effortless gravity-fed descent down the gentle slope gave us a sweet buzz.
“How great is this?” said Guy Paulsen, head of Silver Star’s Nordic program, stopping briefly to point out glaciers in the distant Monashee Mountains in central British Columbia, not far from the Okanagan Valley. “Nordic skiing can be cathartic. We can relax doing it because we’ve been walking all our lives,” Paulsen noted. “We can look around, take in nature and appreciate the fitness aspect. And there is a general sense of ease.”
Until there isn’t.
Soon we were heading up a short hill on Bridal Path, one of Silver Star’s so-called easy trails. I powered up the hill — pleased with my quick acceleration — then wham! My heart rate went into overdrive.
I was suddenly so breathless I had to stop and wait for a few minutes to recover. My initial euphoria had been replaced by frustration.
Cross-country skiing can leave you blissed out on endorphins, the magical quiet and the beauty of snow-covered branches. But poor technique can quickly leave you exhausted.
Things did improve, however, over my next few days at Silver Star’s 27th annual cross-country Supercamps. My technique advances, though slowly, in increments that take long for me to achieve. It takes time before I find a rhythm and am able to ski without having to halt often and lean on my poles for support.
It’s for gains like this that Nordic skiers from across North America converge on Silver Star for the Supercamps every year in late November and early December. The skiers in my group this past November came from Chicago, Seattle, Newfoundland and Saskatoon.
They arrived for expert instruction, which they hoped would elevate their Nordic skiing — classic and skate — to a higher plane. And they came to this resort near Vernon, BC, for the early snow conditions and immaculate grooming that often aren’t available elsewhere (certainly this was true in British Columbia at the start of this season).
Where Olympic Athletes Come to Train in Canada
For these reasons the Canadian and USA National Cross-Country and Biathlon Teams use Silver Star as their early-season training centre. And it’s why several Olympic Nordic teams came to Silver Star prior to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
While you can find all the bells and whistles of a modern-day ski resort here — quad lifts on big-mountain downhill runs, ski-in/ski-out accommodation, fine dining, espresso bars and a few raucous après-ski boites — cross-country skiers can also enjoy 105 kilometres (65 miles) of lonely, meandering trails at Silver Star and the adjacent Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre.
Paulsen said Silver Star’s Supercamps are about turning people on to the glories of gliding through snow.
“We just want to see people more active in the winter. When we stopped and looked at the mountains today, what did you feel? It was awesome, right?” Paulsen asked over lunch later in Silver Star’s village. “We don’t want to see people sitting in front of TV screens. We want to see them active, being healthy. We live in a snowy climate. Don’t run away from it. Embrace it.”
And it’s easier to embrace Nordic skiing when you glide and are not simply muscling yourself along the trail. The Supercamps’ instructors emphasize the importance of getting on a flat ski and committing yourself to that ski before pushing off to the other ski.
In one of my sessions, instructor Lisa Perry tried to give each skier one or two key technique tips. She told me, for instance, to get more bow-legged, with my feet arched to the outside, when I am skate-skiing.
“When you roll your arch and go bowlegged, it puts that knee out and you get onto a flat ski. And with flat ski, you can glide longer. And you get a nice strong push-off to the other ski, rather than just falling to the other ski, which is what beginners do.”
Saskatoon resident Wendy White and her husband, Dick, have been coming to Silver Star’s Supercamps for the past three winters.
“There is always beautiful snow here and great temperatures,” said Wendy White. “Back in Saskatoon, we have great snow but it’s minus 28, or minus 38 [Celsius] with the windchill. So it’s great to come here early season and the instructors are fabulous.”
White said that she has picked up one or two pointers at each of her three Supercamps, which have helped her ski longer and faster on the golf courses and riverbank trails back home on the prairies. “We learn stuff and can practice the rest of the season.”
Silver Star’s reputation for high-level Nordic instruction is sterling enough that the resort entered a partnership this winter with Mountain Equipment Co-op to start the outdoor recreation giant’s new “Nordic Newcomer Program.”
MEC members who purchase Nordic equipment from the cooperative retailer receive discounts on the costs of equipment and Supercamps registration, which starts at $275 per person.
“But it’s not about promoting Supercamps — it’s about getting more people active in winter,” Paulsen said. “It’s to get MEC’s four million members, along with other Canadians, to start skiing Nordic more often.”
Especially people moving into their 40s, 50s and 60s, who want a sport that is easy on their bodies.
“MEC has seen the shift in demographics,” added Paulsen. “And the people who come to the Supercamps are a testament to that.”
Paulsen said that Nordic skiing is more age-friendly than most outdoor sports. “I’m turning 50 this June and there are guys who are my senior by 25 years who still glide more effortlessly than I do. I look at them in absolute awe.
“They’ve just taken the time to learn the skill. To learn how to glide. Most of us do things that reward us. When you get good glide — that is an absolute reward. You just feel like you are on top of the world.”
MORE ABOUT SILVER STAR
Location: 123 Shortt Street, Silver Star Mountain, BC
Telephone: 1-800-663-4431 (toll free)
Ski Rates: Nordic skiing rates start at just $16.50 per day for an adult. Alpine rates range from $25 for Friday and Saturday Night Skiing to $79 for Day Skiing from 8:30 am-3:30 pm. See the Tickets webpage for full rates.
Supercamps: Cross-country skiing training sessions start at $275 per person for a 2.5-day course (half days) and $335 for full days. The course takes place on the weekends early in the season and includes trail pass, coaching, lunches, camp souvenir, stretch class, shuttle transportation and fitness room access.
Hotel Rates: The average nightly rate for a weekend in January starts at $240, based on a recent search on the resort’s website.
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