Story by Michelle Hopkins
SUN PEAKS, BRITISH COLUMBIA — Scarcely a cloud in the sky, fresh powder snow and pristine backcountry trails to myself — sounds perfect, doesn’t it? Those were conditions that greeted me while on a two-hour Sun Peaks Snowmobile Tours.
Experiencing untracked fluffy bliss on a snowmobile is every bit as magical as stories make it out to be. As I sat atop this powerful machine, dashing through the snow-capped alpine, it brought a whole new level of excitement to my winter adventure.
My snowmobiling guide picked me up at the Adventure Centre for a short drive to the base camp where I was outfitted with balaclavas, boots, helmets and all the necessary gear required for the 20-kilometre (7.5 miles) tour into the backwoods of Mt. Morrissey on McGillivray Lake logging roads (at an elevation of 4,000 feet).
Our group of riders ripped into a meadow where we could let loose. One fearless driver even remained unfazed — and grinning — when she flipped her snowmobile into pillowy snow. The snowmobile outing was a highlight of a sun-soaked, fun-filled family adventure weekend at one of North America’s finest ski resorts, Sun Peaks.
Growing up on the east coast, my father often took me on one winter adventure or another, so the idea of three days of non-stop, snow-filled activities was enticing. While British Columbia has a reputation of being a rainy destination in winter, the interior of the province is not hindered by the gloomy coastal conditions in Vancouver or Vancouver Island. The area around Sun Peaks is known for sunshine throughout the year and good powder when it counts.
After checking into the Crystal Forest townhome, it was time for dinner at the village’s popular Classic Canadiana eatery, The Voyageur Bistro. Before I even sat, I was taken by the décor — the walls are adorned with a collection of Canadian artifacts including a 1930’s Peterborough canvas cedar strip canoe and a richly woven tapestry depicting a Hudson’s Bay fur trapper.
The owner of the eatery, Kevin Tessier, is an affable French-Canadian. His roots heavily influenced the concept for the eatery. The cuisine is focused on traditional ingredients such as bison, bannock, peameal bacon, maple syrup and root vegetables. The elk wellington was a hit with my table.
For breakfast, head to Mantles at the Sun Peaks Grand Hotel & Conference Centre, the resort’s only luxury hotel. The lower-lobby restaurant offers a hearty morning breakfast buffet, which was great given I had a full slate of pursuits lined up for the day. Before departing, I wandered through this magnificent sprawling estate. Although built in 2002, it has the airs of a grand old dame with its rich wood panelling, large foyer and stellar service.
Skiing Thrills at Sun Peaks
I’m a big fan of cross-country skiing. It’s cheap, there’s no need to wait for a ski lift, you get a great workout and at Sun Peaks you can choose from more than 135 groomed, track-set trails, some of which can lead you back to the village. The McGillivray Lake Outpost is the hub of many of the trails. From that spot, you can choose your return route via beginner to advanced track-set trails. I stayed mostly on the intermediate trails, traversing through woodsy terrain for about two hours.
First timers to the mountain may want to opt for the Sun Host Mountain Tour. It’s a complimentary service where you are paired with a guide who takes you for three hours on a tour of the mountain runs. The guides provide knowledge that helps with traversing from one side of the mountain to the other while also delivering some interesting facts on the history of Sun Peaks Resort.
Another of Sun Peaks’ unique features is its relationship with one of Canada’s greatest Olympians. Nancy Greene is among the strongest advocates for Sun Peaks. During lunch at Bottoms Bar & Grill, a spot recommended by locals, I chatted with her about the resort. Better known today as a Conservative Party of Canada senator for the Thompson-Okanagan-Kootenay region, Greene first rose to prominence in the 1960s when she made history on the slopes. She was Canada’s top ski racer through that decade, winning gold and silver medals at the 1968 Grenoble Olympics and overall World Cup titles in 1967 and ’68. The feisty, athletic Greene is now the director of skiing at Sun Peaks.
In December 1994, the owners of Sun Peaks Resort asked if she was interested in helping to shape the new ski destination. At the time, Greene was in Whistler, where she and her husband, Al Raine, had built a lodge bearing her name.
“I was happy in Whistler, but I saw the potential of Sun Peaks and moved there the following winter,” she says over homemade soup and its signature fish tacos.
That was in 1995 and Greene is still there.
“I love it here … the snow is powder, there is great terrain, long runs and no crowds like in Whistler,” adds Greene. “You can walk everywhere and ski right down into the village.”
When she isn’t in Ottawa on political business, Greene can be found chatting and welcoming visitors and locals on the mountains she loves.
Dogsledding a Must in British Columbia
While Greene is a big advocate for Sun Peaks’ skiing experiences, the highlight for me was the Bark at the Moon Dogsled Tour. Chris and Taryn Schwanke, founders of Mountain Man Adventures, have a team of about 50 Alaskan huskies. The dogs are as good-natured as pets and relished the challenge to lead me into the snow-covered wonderland. It’s not just a job for these dogs; racing through the woods is in their DNA going back thousands of years. You can hear it in their yelps of excitement as they tugged on their tethers awaiting their adventure and mine.
I can’t properly describe the rush I felt being led on a blanket of the white stuff, hugging the edges of tree-lined trails, up and down some hilly terrain while my team of huskies raced to catch up to the sled ahead of them.
After burning a portion of their 6,000-12,000 daily intake of calories — the equivalent of 12-24 Big Macs — the dogs were rewarded with a big tasty chunk of beef fat. As I petted these beautiful dogs, Taryn Schwanke told me their diet consists of Trout Farm fish, Aldergrove chicken, and dry mix produced in Saskatchewan and Alberta.
On our last soiree, I dined at Powder Hounds Restaurant in the Fireside Lodge. Dating to 1998, it is one of the oldest privately owned restaurants in Sun Peaks with a German-influenced carte du jour. There’s a cozy rustic pub atmosphere and the menu is small but well curated, featuring a delicious schnitzel and west-coast seafood dishes. I recommend the grilled B.C. wild salmon and drunken prawns.
MORE ABOUT VISITING SUN PEAKS
Mountain Stats: According to Sun Peaks Tourism, the resort’s amenities include the following:
- Three mountains with 4,270 acres of skiable terrain
- 12 lifts and 135 trails with 16 gladded areas
- Over 37 kilometres (23 miles) of groomed and track set Nordic trail
- Over 2,000 hours of annual sunshine.
More Info: Visit www.sunpeakstourism.com.
Where to Stay: Nightly rates at Crystal Forest part of Bear Country (#47 – 6005 Valley Drive Sun Peaks, BC; Telephone: 1-800-811-4588) start at $312 per night in winter.