Author: Jill Macdonald
Revisiting a place is a funny thing. Memories jostle against each other, perspective bends, longing for things past creeps in and is quickly banished by the realities of the present. I’m headed up to meet my good friend and wing gal, Sara, at our old stomping grounds, for a long overdue girls’ ski session. Anticipation is high, mixed with wondering how we will stand up against time.
Sun Peaks is a forty-five minute drive from Kamloops up a narrow road that winds through ranch land and pine forests. Every time I take this route I find myself turning up the music and feeling the urge to raise a little hell. I can’t help it. But when I wheel into the final approach, it’s in an all-wheel drive Subaru with studded winter tires and I’m wearing practical winter boots. It’s not exactly a hell-raising entrance, but such are the realities of life.
A charming European-styled Village occupies the valley bottom between the three mountains that form a strategic and thoughtfully designed resort. Ski in – ski out accommodations and services are easily accessed from all the lifts, connecting the terrain that forms Canada’s second largest ski resort. It’s smart and contained, user-friendly and inclusive. I didn’t think to bring Nordic equipment, but one glance at the centre makes me wish that I had. A trip out to the McGillivray Lake Outpost warming hut would be fun, and a rip around any of the thirty-seven kilometres of other trails would take care of any competitive energy; I’ve been training for this moment, and the chance to finally keep up to Sara.
Several years ago, I brought my kids here for their first big resort experience. A lot has changed since then. There’s the Orient Express Chairlift at the base of Mt. Morrisey, giving skiers access to more gladed terrain and links to the main resort base, plus a new Crystal chair that moves more people faster. That translates into lots of vertical. A mean amount of vertical. Sun Peaks’ massive terrain is renowned for fall line runs and no crowds. As I take in the bustling parking lots and the sparsely spaced skiers on the slopes, I feel the soft brush of butterfly wings in my stomach. Quickly, I do a few surreptitious squats to test my thigh strength. So far, so wobbly.
A quick tour of the Village and bases reveals more things to do: ice skating, snowshoeing, dog sled tours, guided ice fishing and even ski biking. It’s clear we may not have booked enough time, and I may not have the fitness to tackle it all. A twinge of disappointment bubbles up, but I brush it aside and circle back to our lodge to check in. This is a ski trip after all, a reunion, and we can always come again.
A soft afternoon dusting of snow clouds the air. The Village is beautifully lit, the shops and restaurants invite me in and I can’t wait for Sara to arrive. One of the biggest rewards of a girls’ trip is treating ourselves to an easy lifestyle. We can take breaks, eat and enjoy this place the way we used to, without a care in the world. In the room, everything is nicely laid out and just as I confirm that the hot tub is perfect, Sara opens the door, time disappears and my doubts are erased.
Morning dawns fresh. Like bees to nectar, we fall into our old pattern and head straight to the Burfield Chair. On the ride up, a posse of technical black diamond runs glitter below us, tauntingly steep, enticing in an understated, I-dare-you kind of way. My quads are antsy after a day of driving. I offer up a bold, gutsy Chief or Chief Shoulder to Highway 22, then Challenger to the bottom. Sara counters with a cruisy Crystal Run over to West Bushwhacker and back up the new Crystal Chair. Undecided, we approach the top.
Sunlight tips over the world as we offload. It’s spectacular. Stunned, I ski over to the aptly named Top of the World marker and just stand there while Sara adjusts her buckles. I had forgotten how vast the scenics are on a clear day. Dunn Peak to the north juts upward, properly white capped and alpine; to the east lies Shuswap Lake and its gentle blue renditions that are almost coastal, punctuated by the distinctive shape of Copper Island. There is the undulating terrain of the West Bowl T-bar and to the northeast, boot top powder and the slackcountry feel of Gil’s. All of it blindingly white, guarded by the snow ghosts I remember. Not that much has changed. Past and present merge into a single, elongated moment. Skiing here, with Sara, I don’t wish for anything to be different. Faster or slower, today or tomorrow, this experience is second to none.
Sara grins and hits her pole against mine. Time to go. “See you at the bottom,” she says, and cuts into the slope like it was decades ago. Sun Peaks is a gem, one that has become more polished with time. Like us.