Editor’s note: Around this time last year, we piled the kids into our car in Calgary and headed west through the Rockies towards Sun Peaks Resort. It’s Canada’s second largest ski village after Whistler when it comes to terrain (4,270 skiable acres), and a hill that, frankly, I’ve been hearing about for years from die-hard ski pals in British Columbia.
Turns out, this weekend was a highlight in our 2014 travel year (which we shared with listeners on CBC Radio in January). Here, friends, is why we’d return to Sun Peaks on a family ski trip in a heartbeat.
Chasing Nancy Greene: Let’s cut to the chase. We got to ski with Olympic gold medalist and Canadian Athlete of the Century Nancy Greene Raine – the youngest senior my son insists he’s ever met. At 72, Nancy, who won her 1968 gold in the Giant Slalom category, comes across as an energetic mountain snow sprite.
She was an absolute blast to ski with—a volunteer service she provides for anyone visiting the resort—and she lives here with her husband Al Raine, the village mayor, when she’s not in Ottawa working as a senator. Nancy is a force of nature and I can’t recommend this experience highly enough to anyone who wants to polish their ski skills. The only challenge? Keeping up with her. (That’s Nancy, below, in the red jacket.)
Family-friendly set-up: Anyone who’s ever travelled with children knows how awesome it is NOT to have to jump in your vehicle at every turn when you’re on holidays. This is where Sun Peaks nails it. Not only did we stay in the village (at Cahilty Lodge), but we were located right at the base of the mountain so we could ski directly to the chairlift. There’s nothing like downing your coffee, jumping on your skis or snowboard and cruising through the heart of a European-inspired ski village in the warm, sunny glow of morning. It’s the kind of experience that paints a silly, face-crippling grin on your face. To be sure, we weren’t the only ones smiling.
Diverse restaurant scene: After all that fresh air and exercise, finding good meals was essential. There was lots to choose from but the three places that stood out for us were Oya Restaurant (super-delicious sushi and excellent service), Bolacco Cafe (one of Nancy’s favourites, featuring hand-knit toques for sale and mouth-wateringly yummy sausage sandwiches) and the Canadian-inspired Voyageur Bistro. The latter features everything from Canadian whiskey and maple syrup mojitos to tortiere and Caesar salad with bannock croutons. Owner Kevin Tessier will personally introduce you to his collection of Canadiana—vintage beaver pelts, historic Canadian maps and even a museum-worthy birch bark canoe—if you show any interest.
Everything under the Sun: There is so much to do in this village, it’s mind-bending—perfect for families like ours who enjoy active vacations. During our three-day visit, in addition to tubing on the hill, skiing and taking snowboard lessons, we also squeezed in a snowshoe nature tour of the area (Discover Sun Peaks Adventures) and went dog-sledding (Mountain Man Dogsled Adventures). This was our first experience being swaddled in blankets and towed at high speed through sun-dappled, snowy forests by a howling pack of glacier-blue eyed dogs. Dog-sledding was exhilarating, and we loved it even more because our guide Chris showed such reverence for his pups. We also loved our midnight cross-country ski with headlamps where we travelled through a heavy snowstorm, following our guide to a small cabin in the backcountry. We were greeted by a woodburning fireplace, a tasty chocolate fondue and a guitarist strumming in the corner for our listening pleasure.
A warm, receptive community: The overall vibe at Sun Peaks is one of ease and comfort. Word has it that people just have to visit once and they’re hooked. No surprise. It’s a happy, healthy place to be. If you’re someone who delights in a wintry environment (like the Australians we met who, every year spend their entire Aussie summer in the village), you’ll find a place here. Locals, of which there are about 500, mix well with visitors, and a strong sense of community abounds.
What would we change up next time around? We’d avoid the TransCanada highway’s treacherous winter driving conditions and hop a plane instead. Anything else? Uh, I’d make sure my goggles weren’t askew when I had a photo taken with my personal ski hero.
Note to reader: Our writer Kim Gray was a guest of Sun Peaks Resort. The resort did not review or approve this story before publication.