BY: Edith Rozsa PHOTOGRAPHY: Adam Stein, Kelly Funk & Royce Sihilis
Sun Peaks Continues to Inspire and Grow as a Leading Canadian Ski Resort with Innovative Expansions and Leadership
- A PLACE WHERE ONE LIVES; A RESIDENCE.
- AN ENVIRONMENT OFFERING SECURITY AND HAPPINESS.
- THE PLACE WHERE SOMETHING IS DISCOVERED, FOUNDED, DEVELOPED OR PROMOTED.
TRAVELLING TO SUN PEAKS has for many years felt like coming home. There are many aspects to that homecoming: the off-camber corner I instinctually and reluctantly slow down for; the sparkling lights on the eaves twinkling between the trees, beckoning hello, relax, come play; the smiling face at the front desk saying, “Welcome back, Edith – how was the drive?” or, sometimes, “Willkommen!” Regardless of where I stay, Sun Peaks has all the qualities of home.
Few towns boasting a year-round population of 500 welcome visitors so fervently. People who have the privilege of spending time in this resort municipality recognize that visitors drive the economy and the residents depend on tourism. It’s not the ball-and-chain kind of relationship, where need can force obligation, but a much freer connection: “Welcome to our home, what can we do to make your visit great? Will you come back and play?”
Predictably, locals champion their resort like Canadians back their hockey teams, and Sun Peaks is no slouch in this department. Vertical Café owner John Dormer sums it up: “Our community makes us successful, and we contribute to making our community successful – that’s the way it works.” In the 20 plus café’s, pubs and restaurants, and the multitude of shops featuring locally handcrafted soaps, jewels and other supremely creative wear, the passion for Sun Peaks is spellbinding. The people’s hearts and souls are kind.
As ski people, our world is small, which was proven to me once again during a recent visit to Jackson, Wyoming. During a couple of country dances (sorry about your toes, sir) and an engaging conversation, I learned that the person I was dancing and speaking with was a fellow mountain enthusiast and a visionary of the Sun Peaks resort plan. Mori Bergmeyer, once a Boston-based architect and firm owner, had purchased and breathed new life into Telluride Mountain Resort, which later led to a collaboration with a renowned Whistler-based mountain resort–planning company, Ecosign. Mori set off on a scouting mission to Europe to bring back ideas for the new Sun Peaks village at the base of the three mountains and returned with concepts from central European villages that Sun Peaks visitors enjoy today. Seamless ski-in, ski-out accommodations and dining, strategically placed underground parking resulting in a pedestrian-only village, gabled rooflines, colourful facades and a covered walking bridge are some of the highlights. If this all sounds quite magical, it is!
I believe part of the magic derives from the geography. Think of a snow globe on a fireplace mantle. Within the dome lies a quaint village cradled between snow-covered mountains. A horse-drawn sleigh slides through the snow-filled streets, and snow sparkles in the sky. Now expand that scene exponentially, and BAM! – you’ve got Sun Peaks. This quaint European village seems to be out of a picture book, and so it is perhaps no accident that the place makes the people here.
Sun Peaks Resort is surrounded by three unique mountains, all of which have double black to green runs: Tod Mountain to the north, Sundance Mountain to the east and Mount Morrisey to the north. To the west is the draw, which leads visitors to and from the resort and through which the evening sun often breaks through snow-filled clouds to filter golden light on the resort. That light is a small dose of the 2,000 plus hours of reported sunshine per year. The resort gets an average of six metres of annual snowfall. With the high number of sunshine hours, it must snow at night to make that equation work – every skier’s dream.
If you’re heading out to catch first tracks, you may ski through the village to the lifts with backpack-wielding kids and hoteliers and restaurateurs wishing their kids a good day. These kids coast up the platter lift to their one-room schoolhouse, which lies halfway up the slopes. In 2010, community parents banded together to raise funds for a resort school to avoid bussing the children an hour to Kamloops. It began with 19 children in kindergarten through grade 6. In five years, the school has grown to 65 students and now goes to grade 12 with full British Columbia curriculum and public funding. These fortunate mountain kids ski during their lunch break and are encouraged to be true explorers while aspiring to academic excellence. The resort school is a great draw for young families looking for a different kind of child-rearing philosophy and experience. Most of us would say, “Sure wish they had that when I was a kid.”
That being said, I am not one to complain about my growing up in Whistler, where the head of the Blackcomb Ski Club was Nancy Greene Raine. I spent considerable time with her boys: Their log home was my second home. Nancy understands what it takes to become the best in the world, and through my racing career, both she and her husband, Al, were important mentors. They were my first employers in a job that helped pay for my racing and later established a fundraising campaign when the Espoir Team collapsed. Al took me on my first foray into heli-skiing when scouting his dream project in the Cayoosh Valley.
Trading their log home in Whistler for a new hotel at Sun Peaks in 1994, Nancy became the resort’s director of skiing. Add female athlete of the century and senator to the resume, and Nancy continues to inspire.
Al was instrumental in attaining municipality status for Sun Peaks in 2010 and continues to be the acting mayor. He jokes that he needs something to do while Nancy is away in Ottawa. What a couple! They’re hard to miss on the hill, as they both so gracefully and still powerfully arc their skis top to bottom.
When I get the call to host an episode of Ski Television at Sun Peaks, or when I make the call to go for a visit, the scenic 2.5-hour drive from my home in Kelowna starts to bring to mind the special people in my life whom I will enjoy visiting there and the relaxed vibe at the resort. The skiing is an easy sell regardless of conditions or what I feel like: steep, moderate, deep, groomed, off or on piste. It is consistent, exciting and awesome! What else do you need from a winter getaway?
(yup, that’s me) tips:
Sticky buns at the Sunburst Lodge are to die for. I generally try to avoid having one on day one. Why? There’s no going back once you start.
Watch for the Christmas trees peppered throughout the mountain. They’re lovingly tended by Sun Peaks residents, many of whom hike the mountains during the summer to decorate.
Torchlight fondue on the mountain is a must – date night will never be the same. Think mid-mountain live music, incredible slow food and an adventurous ski (first tracks!) back to the village, where the fun can continue.
ALL MOUNTAIN SKILLS CAMP
Western Canadian mountains are a draw for many snow enthusiasts due to their accessibility, snow load and steep pitches. Along with the fun comes the potential for extreme danger for those who are inexperienced and ill prepared. Bodie Shandro, a certified Canadian ski guide, has created the All Mountain Skills Camp at Sun Peaks to educate people of all ages to enable them to enjoy more of the mountains in a safer way.
“Sun Peaks is taking a ‘preventative maintenance vs. crisis management’ approach by offering educational camps such as this,” Shandro explains. The two-day camps are offered Thursday to Friday and are designed for intermediate to expert skiers. In addition, skiers can enrol in the Beyond the Groomers camp, which was launched last year.
THE GILS OPENS UP, MORRISEY EXPANDS
Sun Peaks was rated second-best overall resort in the SBC Resort Guide’s Editors’ Choice Awards 2014 after Whistler Blackcomb. With an additional 522 acres added to its skiable terrain, the resort is now the second-largest in Canada with 4,270 acres.
Several years ago, I cat-skied at Sun Peaks in an area called The Gils on the upper reaches of Tod Mountain. Call it slack country or off-piste, but it is no longer out of bounds. You can find fresh lines days after a storm that blows snow from the south and southwest into the Gils – hike for maximum vertical and more freshies. Only venture into the Gils if you like incredibly light snow, perfectly spaced small trees, moderate to steep pitches and a ski out that goes on and on with varying terrain – code for “not a road.”