lifestyle

"I haven't been skiing since I was 17, was this a huge mistake?"

The plane touches down and I look out the window at the snow capped mountains behind us. It has taken upwards of 18 hours to get to Kamloops, the gateway to British Columbia’s second-largest ski resort, Sun Peaks.

When I left Sydney it was 28 degrees and sunny. In Kamloops, it’s grizzly and cold. Really cold, like Sydney never gets. I think the pilot said -2.

Before we get off the plane, I have a moment of doubt and zip my jacket right up to my chin. But the temperature shock is temporary, turns out I’m plenty warm enough.

I grab my bag and head for the shuttle that takes us to Sun Peaks. It winds up the mountain past a frozen lake – the first one I’ve ever seen. As we get higher, snow begins to fall. Thick, heavy snow unlike anything I’ve seen outside of that one time my plane landed in a blizzard in New York.

It occurs to me briefly that skiing in Canada may be a vastly different proposition to skiing at home (something I haven’t done since I was a teenager).

We pull up outside the Coast Sundance Lodge and I head for my room, where I am greeted by the simultaneously amazing and terrifying view of a relatively steep mountain covered in snow.

This place is right at the heart of the village, an easy walk (or ski) to the major chair lifts and all the action (on and off the slopes).

My first morning out on the slopes I’ve chosen to get a lesson, because I am pretty rusty. My ski instructor Meg assesses me in a couple of quick sweeps down the gentlest run on the mountain (it’s called Gentle Giant) and then she decides I can ascend, and try something bigger.

I am overwhelmed pretty quickly by just how beautiful Sun Peaks is.

That’s Meg.

Look at it.

It is freaking gorgeous.

I still have to get down the mountain though, which proves more challenging than I first thought.  As I gingerly snow-plow along, a bevy of six-year-olds with no ski poles sail past, laughing.

I’m not bitter, I swear.

I bite the bullet and force myself to focus. “You’ve got this,” I whisper to myself and attempt to let go and stop worrying so much about stacking it.

There are a few things more satisfying than making down a longer ski run than anything I’ve seen before without falling over, and under Meg’s watchful, patient eye I manage it.

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I look ridiculous, but seriously this is sooooooo much fun.

Sun Peaks is essentially three mountains, each one with different terrain and a wide variety of runs. The longest is also the oldest, Five Mile – a green run that comes off the resort’s first ski lift, which takes 20 minutes to get to the top of.

Fifty-eight percent of the terrain is intermediate (blue), but there’s a good share of beginner (green) and expert (black) runs too. The resort usually gets six metres of snow or so over the season. So it’s nothing like skiing back home.

The runs are longer, the snow is fresher, and even though there might be 6000 people on the mountain, you are often alone (or nearly) and there are no long lines for the lifts.

I ski all day, ignoring as best I can the ache that’s developing in my legs, and all told, at the end of it I’ve only fallen over four times. (Come on, that’s not so bad.)

That night I venture out for snowshoeing and s’mores organised by Discover Sun Peaks Adventures.

Our group is made up of young families  from all over the world – Europe, the United States, Asia and Australia. It is reflective of something I’ve noticed since I got here. Sun Peaks is a real “family friendly” place.

We strap the snowshoes on and head into the darkness, headlamps illuminating our path, trying not to stamp all over the cross country skiing tracks.

It begins to snow as we head into the trees, past the snowed over golf course – a destination in its own right come springtime.

Along the path we stop and learn the finer points of snow survival.

“Once you’ve built a snow cave, you have to make sure you keep an air vent open throughout the night,” our guide explains.

I don’t really think much of this, until she pauses at the end and says: “last year two people died because they didn’t.”

Which terrified me sufficiently to wish I’d been paying proper attention at the beginning when she was talking about trench depth and all that.

I make a greater effort to stay mid-pack for the rest of the walk.

We reach a shelter that we’re told used to be a bus stop. Which seems completely bizarre as we tramped halfway up a hill with no apparent road in snowshoes to get there.

Our guide makes a fire, and hands out graham crackers (sort of like a cross between bran biscuits and Nice biscuits), marshmallows and dark chocolate squares.

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Those are my snowshoes, and that’s a s’more.

I set my marshmallow on fire to get my preferred level of char (completely blackened), and sandwich it between the crackers and the chocolate. I’ve never understood s’mores. I’ve read about them in books (yes, I mean The Babysitters Club, what of it?) but never got what the hell they were.

Now I do. They are delicious.

After a mug of hot chocolate, we head back towards the village. Stopping only to contemplate a run down a hill in snowshoes – which is way harder than it sounds. We all stack it.

I am completely soaked by the time I get back to my room, exhausted, sore and cold to the bone. But it has been one of the best days of my life. And, with no time for jet lag all day I am ready to sleep a full night. Which I do.

The next day I get some time on the slopes with Laurie White, who runs Ski Sisters, a women’s only skiing program which encourages women of intermediate level or higher to improve their skills and push harder.

“I was coming up on the chairlift by myself and I would get to talking with the woman sitting next to me and I kept hearing the same story,” Laurie tells me on our own trip up  the chairlift.

“They would say: ‘I’m here with my husband, or boyfriend or kids and they are off skiing the harder runs – the ones I can’t do.’ They wouldn’t see the people they were on holidays with all day because they didn’t think they had the ability,” she says.

“So I would take them out, ski some runs with them and they were usually pretty good – they just didn’t have the confidence.”

I tell her that in my case I am definitely not a secret ski-ninja and she laughs at me and says, “but everyone has to start somewhere”.

This is Laurie, she was a total legend.

Then, she tells me that sometimes when she has a particularly worried client, she will just take them down a black run without telling them it’s a black run until they’ve done it.

“They can do it. I can see how good they are, they just need to be pushed.”

Not me. I am definitely not going down any black runs. There is plenty of green to ski at Sun Peaks though, and Laurie takes me over to Mt Morrissey, the newest section of the resort, where there is a really fun one called The Sticks.

It has those beautiful spruce and fir trees dotted throughout and the creamiest, softest power all the way down. I start to feel like I maybe could get much better at this.

Laurie, like a lot of people I meet during my time at Sun Peaks, is full of enthusiasm for it. The community up here is small, but the village is bustling, with a core of people who live here year round.

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As a result, it doesn’t feel like a transient winter wonderland, there’s a soul to it.

The next day, I meet another enthusiastic booster. Taryn Schwanke and her husband Chris run Mountain Man Dog Sled Adventures. I am tucked into a dogsled being pulled by seven of the most adorable dogs I’ve met, and Taryn is driving.

Some of my trusty steeds.

The dogs pull us at a steady clip along narrow, gorgeous trails maintained by the Schwankes year-round. They break through the trees to what looks like a clearing, but it turns out it’s a lake. Taryn convinces me to have a go at driving and I step onto the back of the sled.

For the most part, the dogs know what to do and where to go. They don’t really need me there, perched on the back of the sled worried they won’t stop when I want them to. Of course they do.

This is possibly the funnest thing I’ve ever done.

Truly amazing. You have to do this.

The track is five kilometres, and while we’re out, Taryn tells me they have 61 dogs. She also has another dog that isn’t a sled dog. She says she never planned to be a dog-sledder, but life just got in the way.

“I was working in banking and then I met Chris and it wasn’t really a choice. He came with the dogs,” she says.

They have young twins, and Taryn – like everyone else I’ve met at Sun Peaks – tells me about the village school, set up by the community and located on the slopes. In Winter the students take a ski lift to school and can earn skiing time through good behaviour and handing their work in on time.

It’s small, but the Sun Peaks community is extremely proud of it.

Back to the dogsledding. As we get towards the end of the trail, there are quite a few downhill sections which the dogs take at speed, and it’s thrilling, almost like one of those old, not-very-scary rollercoasters.

The trail takes in terrain you won’t get to see if you don’t go out in a sled, and also crosses paths with some of the extensive network of snowshoe and cross-country skiing paths.

When we get back to base, I get to give my dogs a treat and then spend some quality time with some of the newest members of the dog-sled team. Four week old puppies.

I was so excited by the puppies, every photo I took was blurry. BUT LOOK AT ITS LITTLE FACE.

I am only four days into my Canadian adventure, and I already feel like it’s peaked.

For further information on visiting British Columbia see www.hellobc.comfor further information on visiting Canada see www.canada.travel
Sarah-Jane was a guest of Destination British Columbia and Destination Canada.