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Skiing's Biggest Secrets: Rising Sun

Skiing's Biggest Secrets: Rising Sun

Features
By Susan Reifer
posted: 02/02/2004

On a wind-crisped but sunny winter afternoon, I find myself standing amid a posse of skiers on Top of the World. This is the highest point of the lift-accessed portion of Sun Peaks, British Columbia's next big resort. Sun glistens off hoar-frosted, wind-hammered alpine fir, which jab upward like sticks of white-flocked rock candy floating in rippled waves of snow. Behind us, the waves roll a mile and a half away toward the summit of Mt. Tod—and the resort's 400-plus acres of cat-accessed terrain. To our left, across the small valley that cradles Sun Peaks' pastel-colored ski-in/ski-out village, lie the forested humps of Sundance and Mt. Morrisey, the resort's two newest peaks. To our right, 5,700 feet below us, lies the arid basin that holds the city of Kamloops, backed by the Coast Range rising in the distance.

Our group numbers six—three locals, three visitors. Only a scattering of other skiers and boarders are around. We turn our backs on the obvious frontside descent and skate en masse toward Tod's West Bowl. I'd noticed this corner of the mountain on the map, but despite three days of skiing I'd yet to explore it. We snake through more rock candy trees, and the bowl opens before us, rolling, spacious, caked with powder and marked—48 hours after the last flake of fresh snow—with exactly two sets of tracks.

Before Sun Peaks was a 3,678-acre secret with a reputation for uncrowded family-friendly slopes, it was 1,800-acre Tod Mountain, a place where only the hardcore endured. The ride up the main lift, Burfield, took 40 minutes. "It was a skier's mountain," says Marné Bourbonnais, 28, who's been skiing Sun Peaks with her father Roger, 55, since age 3. Upgrades were sporadic until 1992, when the resort was bought by Nippon Cable, which makes chairlift cables.

Some $250 million dollars later, Sun Peaks features two new peaks and a serene base village of broad, stucco buildings. Where there used to be no place to stay, there are now 4,200 beds, including roomy condominiums and the luxurious Delta Hotel. Mediocre food service on the mountain itself is balanced by a stellar array of dining options in the village.

The skiing on the new terrain of Sundance and Morrisey is markedly different than on Tod. High-speed quads access long, wind-sheltered avenues. It's ideal for intermediates and a rush for experts who like to fly. But today there's plenty of untracked to explore, so Roger and his extended posse lead me to a hidden bounty of treeskiing, secreted in the balsam and spruce that line the groomers on both Tod and Sundance. The woods are kept intentionally thick at the top (to keep the hapless uninitiated from wandering in) but open into roomy, rolling powder glades. Once we wiggle our way in, Roger and his friends fan out, floating through the glades like giant winter birds winging from tree to tree. Soon they disappear down the fall line and I'm left alone in the woods, with only sunbeams glancing across the glittering snow and the sound of fresh, dry powder parting sweetly beneath my skis.

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