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Peeking Out at Apex

Downhill and cross country skiing in remote British Columbia


Lee Juillerat

Dan Gibbs wasn't really that excited about discussing his fondness for Apex, an often overlooked, or more correctly, under-looked, ski area near Penticton in southern British Columbia. He likes having the mountain to himself and his wife, a few selected friends and, occasionally, but only occasionally, people who discover Apex Mountain Resort for themselves.

"I want them to make money, but ..." he confessed, gritting his teeth.

Gibbs has been retired for 12 years after doing well in refrigeration and air conditioning. He didn't start downhill skiing until he was 30, and over the past many years typically spends upwards of 130 days on the slopes.

"The reason you don't get bored with it is because weekends you ski with younger people, on weekdays with retired people. It's always different."  
Dan Gibbs
Wrap-Around Ski


Not much is different about the daily ski routine Gibbs shares with his wife, Irene. They're ready and waiting when the chairs begin operating at 9 a.m. They stop for coffee at mid-morning. Then they ski until the chairs close. And when Gibb's skis, he not just sauntering along. As he likes to tell, one memorable morning in less than two hours he zippered 12 runs non-stop, taking six minutes for the ride up the Quickdraw Highspeed Quad, and 2-1/2 minutes down 2,000 vertical feet, mostly on steep, narrow diamond and double-diamond expert runs. His favorite run is Make My Day, a run I only glanced at before scurrying for one less intimidating.

Heading down a 2,000 foot drop
Over the mogels and around the tree...

"I can still ski with the young guys," he explained with a gruff growl. "There aren't too many who can do me in."

Located in the Okanagan Mountains, Apex is a skier's mountain. It's no Aspen or Squaw Valley. The village is fun, sometimes rowdy and old-school. People come to ski, or snowboard, not to be seen.

Gibbs gently growled about the time he and Irene had to wait eight minutes in a lift line, but that's rare. Short lines are standard in part because of Apex's distance from larger population centers, in part because of its challenging runs. It's best to learn, and hone, skiing skills elsewhere. Enthusiasts live or stay on the mountain.

During a three-night stay at one of the few on-mountain lodgings, the Saddleback Lodge, a friendly, welcoming bed and breakfast, I shared meals with a potpourri of other guests, including a cook, doctor, Alaska Airlines pilot, construction worker, national class biathlete, wandering ski bum and others happy to share a bottle of wine, or secret ski runs. After one day's ski, I met with others at the Gunbarrel Saloon, which locals insist is the No. 1 ski bar in Canada. The saloon is best known for its namesake gunbarrel coffee. Flaming Grand Marnier is poured down a doublebarrel shotgun into a selection of liqueurs and coffee.
Dinner at the Saddleback Lodge

A mountain tour introduced me to silky smooth groomed runs, including some that hadn't been skied since the last snowfall several days earlier. Chutes, Highway 97, Okanagan Run and Juniper are high speed cruisers. In sharp contrast were powdery routes on the Wildside, a backcountry area offering pick-your-way glade skiing that is pure pleasure. In all, Apex offers 1,112 skiable acres, with 67 trails. With the village at an elevation of 5,197 feet above sea level and high speed chairs that add another 2,000 feet of vertical, Apex is usually covered with ample amounts of snow.

But Apex isn't just about downhill skiing. One morning was spent at the nearby Nickel Plate Cross Country Ski Area, which features 56 kilometers (about 34 miles) of tracked and groomed trails along with 20 kilometers of back country trails and 25 kilometers of snowshoe trails. The trails have enough variety to satisfy all levels of Nordic skiers, from beginners to members the Canadian National Team.
Nickle Plate Cross Country Ski Area

At the sponsoring club's large lodge, I felt snug and cozy warming up at the fireplace, where regulars munched packed lunches or sipped cups of steaming tea and hot chocolate. I easily partnered up with a loco local who whizzed me up and down steep rollercoaster-like trails I might not have tested on my own.

At Nickle Plate I learned that Apex is genuinely a little skied mountain. That's because the Apex Mountain Resort isn't really on Apex Mountain, which is a slightly higher peak a few miles from the ski area. Getting there requires a half-hour hike. The ski lifts are on Beaconsfield Mountain. "Mount Beaconsfield didn't have the right ring to it," a local explained of the name change.

My final morning at Apex, the view from Beaconsfield's apex offered an eye-boggling sight. Skiing off the Quickdraw chair, the brilliantly clear view south peered into the Washington's distant Cascades Ranger. The rising sun lighted only the tallest peaks, casting a golden glow on shark-teeth summits. Just like the mountain, I felt aglow. As I learned, there's more than a single high point at Apex.

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For information write the Apex Mountain Resort, Box 1060 Penticton, B.C. Canada V2A 6J9; call toll-free (877) 777-2739; email info@apexresort.com; or visit their Web site at www.apexresort.com. For information on the Saddleback Lodge call toll-free (800) 863-1466, email info@saddlebacklodge.com, or visit their Web site at www.saddlebacklodge.com.

Lee Juillerat is the regional editor of the Herald and News in Klamath Falls, Oregon. He has written travel and adventure stories about national and international destinations for High On Adventure for eight years. Lee has had more than 100 stories and photographs in a variety of magazines, including Alaska/Horizon airlines in-flight publications, Northwest Travel, Oregon Coast, Sunset, Range and Oregon Outside, among others. He has also written two books about Crater Lake National Park and contributed writings and photographs to several books and journals. He can be contacted at lee337@cvc.net