Beyond Whistler

10 12, 2010

Skiing in the B.C. Interior

Veteran skiers surely recall when peak picking in B.C. was almost automatic, just a matter of flipping a quarter. Heads? Whistler. Tails? Blackcomb. But then after Intrawest worked their magic and snowballed the neighboring mountains into one supersized recreational haven in 1996 there was no more need for a coin toss.

Sure, Whistler Blackcomb’s 8,171 acres of deep powdery perfection may warrant multiple return visits, but if you are Whistlered out and want to avoid the extra throngs of ski bunnies and pipe riding snowboarders flocking to the staging grounds of the XXI Olympic Winter Games there are world class alternatives to explore in B.C.’s interior.

Mogul Ogling at Big White

Start your mountain adventure by flying nonstop from Toronto to Kelowna International Airport (both Air Canada and WestJet offer service). From there it’s just an hour shuttle to Big White Ski Resort where a winter wonderland awaits, offering everything from dog sledding and snowmobile tours to sleigh rides and spa treatments.

Of Big White’s 118 runs, “Exhibition” is the frosty Okanagen jewel’s pièce de résistance and it starts with a bang from the top of the Ridge Rocket Express. Its steeper gradient runs underneath the chair transforming your route into a stage for those who are comfortable letting their ski's rip for spectators’ overhead. The run then mellows as it meanders, leading into some wide-open terrain perfect for giant slalom turns on supreme corduroy.

As the slalom surface winds down, the final stretch provides a great roller to catch some air. When you’re tuckered out and have had your fill of blazing trails through champagne powder, unbuckle your ski boots and catch some R&R at Snowshoe Sam’s, voted Canada’s #1 ski bar by Ski Canada Magazine. Be sure to sip some of their famous gunbarrel coffee. The caffeine fix with a kick blends Oz brandy, dark crème de cacao, and Kahlua. What gives it it’s six shooter namesake is the Grand Marnier which is lit on fire and sloshed down the barrel of a Smith & Wesson before arriving in your sugar rimmed cup.

Another après ski hot spot to satisfy a case of the munchies or take in the sunset over the Monashee Mountains is the Happy Valley Day Lodge. In the evening you can order up a traditional horse drawn sleigh ride through Big White’s village with front door service to the restaurant of your choice. The Swiss Bear, Kettle Valley Steakhouse, and Coltino's Italian Ristorante are a few of the standouts. Afterwards journey into town to catch a performance of the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra which celebrates their 50th anniversary season in 2010. If this more of a buddy trip than a romantic jaunt you could instead opt for catching Kelowna’s hard-hitting WHL hockey team, the Rockets, in action. Sun Peaks Splendour With 3,678 acres of terrain, Sun Peaks, just under an hour’s drive from Kamloops airport (connections via Vancouver or Kelowna) to the heart of the resort’s village, is the second largest ski area in British Columbia. If you’re an advanced skier don’t skip “Spillway” accessible from the top of the crystal chair. It offers absolutely breathtaking views of the Sun Peaks valley below. Halfway down this cruisey black run, you’ll dip into the glades where you’ll find some amazing stashes of fresh powder.

For some quirky family fun pull out your pitching wedge and let loose with a friendly game of Bingo Bango Bongo at Sun Peaks 9-Hole Snowshoe Golf course. The green, er, white fee is just $25 for adults and includes club and snowshoe rentals along with easy to spot coloured balls.

In the evening board the Sunburst Express Chairlift to the mid-mountain Sunburst Restaurant where you can indulge your taste buds in a three-course fondue dinner while enjoying some live music. Burn off those calories with a guided tour down torch lit slopes of the five-mile ski run. The signature massage at the sun peaks spa is an ethereal hot stone treatment sure to relieve your sore muscles. Steamy lava rocks will glide over your skin, knead away your stress and caress your body. The pampering procedure includes scalp and foot massage. Try to schedule your trip around the 12th annual Winter Wine Festival, January 16-24. Three night ‘ski, sip & stay’ packages start at $480 per person. At last year’s Okanagan Wine Country’s premiere to-do oenophiles from far and wide made the trek to Sun Peaks to partake in the late harvest sip fest. While there are a myriad of delectable events on tap including a chocolate & wine pairing and icewine seminars, the main event is the Progressive Tasting with over 20 participating wineries showcasing the best the Okanagan region has to tipple.

Cruising in a Sno-Limo

If you have a non-skiier in your party they can now feel the exhilaration of racing down the slopes thanks to sno-limo, a new mode of mountain transport where a “chauffeur” on ski’s steers you down mountain while you recline in a comfortable sled and just sit back and enjoy the ride. The novel service was conceived by British Columbia brothers Paul and Guy Auger. Initially the limo, a redesign of sit-skis popular with athletes with lower body limitations, was a means of getting their mother on the mountain so she could see her grandchildren ski up-close rather than waiting for them in the lodge and hearing of their adventures afterwards. Heated seats and a vibration dampening system assure a smooth ride and thanks to a nifty tech, hitching a ride on the chairlift doesn’t mean having to get up from your comfy perch between runs. Tours range from an hour to an entire day of high-octane sightseeing (running anywhere from $90-400). The B.C.-bred service is available at Big White, Sun Peaks, Grouse Mountain and Whistler.

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