SKI SUN PEAKS - OR MAYBE NOT
Story and images by Yvette Cardozo

High on Adventure, November 2018

    So what happens to your long awaited ski trip if suddenly you can’t ski?

    I had reservations at Sun Peaks Resort in British Columbia, Canada. I had a ski buddy lined up. I had winterized my car. And then I broke my ankle, putting a premature screeching halt to my ski season.

    “Ah, why don’t you go anyway. Try all those non-ski things you never have time for,” a friend suggested.

    Well, why not.

    And so, we headed up the Coquihalla Highway, which bisects interior British Columbia in Canada. And luck shined on us. The notoriously fickle highway (there’s even a TV show on the Weather Channel that focuses on teams rescuing 18 wheel trucks from ditches every winter) was just fine. In fact for us, the road was actually bare and dry. DRY! We made it from the Seattle area to the resort in a record seven hours.

    I decided to focus on four things...dog sledding, ice fishing, a program called Snow Limo and a cat groomer ride. There’s much more, but I had limited time. A link to all the choices is at the end of this story.

                DOG SLEDDING

    First, the puppies.

    Ok, nobody says mush. Nobody, outside of, maybe movies, has EVER said mush, though the folks who drive sleds are often called mushers. Mostly, people who run dogsleds just say, “Go!”

  Sun Peaks dog sled adventure   Sun Peaks sled puppies   Sun Peaks sled dog catches treat  
 
Sled dog adventure
 
Puppy!
 
Treat
 

    And the dogs aren’t Siberian Huskies. Your average sled dog is something mushers call Alaskan huskies. They are lean and small with long legs and bred to run. In the case of Chris Schwanke’s pups at Mountain Man Adventures, they’re a combo of greyhound or German short hair pointer and...well, who knows what.

    Chris had, at the time, 50 working dogs and three puppies and all were really friendly. That’s on purpose, so guests can interact with the dogs.

    My friend and I arrived and first got to pet the dogs and say hello. Then we loaded into sleds, normally two people in a sled with a guide on back. The ride is 10 km (a bit over six miles) and lasts about 90 minutes.

    And we were off...through the woods, along a lake, across a  snow covered golf course, then back into the woods. It can be a semi wild ride, as snow-caked trees whiz by from doggie level, hardly two feet off the ground.

    But what made this trip different from those I’ve done in the past was the chance to run the sled ourselves. Yow!

    You stand on the runners behind the sled, which are wider set than you expect if you are a skier. And, said guide Destiny, you just say “go” to start, “easy” to slow and “whoa” to stop.

 

 

 

 


Sun Peaks dog sled tour

  Sun Peaks sled dogs ready to run  
 
Sled dogs on the run Courtesy Sun Peaks
 
Waiting for "Go!"
 

    “Bend your knees a bit and stay flexible,” she added.

    Kind of like skiing. Or riding a snowmobile. Or a dirt bike. It’s go with the flow.

    And, before we knew it, we were back at the start, among the dog kennels and other pups.

    Now came more fun. As a treat after a run, the dogs get chunks of fat to fuel them and keep them warm. You toss the chunk in the air and the dog jumps, mouth wide-open, teeth flashing in the sunlight. It makes for a killer photograph.

    Finally, to wrap up, we went into the puppy pen, where five-month-old Pirate, Sailor and Captain were waiting to have their ears scratched. It’s not only fun, it helps socialize the dogs from an early age.

                ICE FISHING

    Some folks fish for sport. Some for relaxation. Some to “just get away.”

    I fish to eat. If I can’t eventually put it in a fry pan, I’m not really interested.

    So enter Elevated Fishing Adventures, where you get all three. Especially the eating part.

    “Probably half the people who come out with us cook their fish that night,” said owner/guide Campbell Bryk.     Campbell picked my friend, Nancy, and me up at 7am and we drove out to nearby Heffley Lake, which at this point in the year, was covered with 20 inch-thick ice.

  Duffy Lake drilling ice fishing hole   Rainbow trout for dinner   Duffy Lake fish caught  

 

    A few hundred yards out, Campbell set up his fishing tent, got a portable heater going and re-drilled three of his fishing holes. Then he baited our hooks with natural looking lures that not only wriggle, they glow in the dark water below the ice.

    This is really popular with families that have kids. “As soon as you see fish down there, you can get kids to sit for hours,” Campbell said.

    And anybody ... ANYbody ... can catch a fish, he insisted, describing one morning where a mom was breast feeding her infant with one hand, and hooking fish with the other.

    “Her three-year-old caught a 24 inch fish,” he added.

    The BC government each year stocks Heffley with 5,000 rainbow trout, a fish that Campbell claims, “Anybody can cook and virtually everybody likes because it’s so mild tasting.”

    The best fishing, he explained, is just before Christmas. The most any group has caught in a day is 36, though folks are limited to keeping only five per person. And the largest fish anyone’s ever caught was 30 inches...big enough to feed six people.

  Ice fishing on Heffly Lake   Ice fishing in a tent  
 
Ice fishing on Heffley Lake
 
Ice fishing in the tent
 

    The lake has both wild and stocked fish. The wild ones are dark red and green, the stocked ones are shiny but they both taste the same, so we were told.

    As for us, we were pushing the end of the season. And the fish were nowhere to be found.

    Have any groups ever come up completely dry?

    Only two out of 50 trips. Campbell invited them to come back the next day, free of charge.

    Okay, we were running out of time.

    And then, with maybe 15 minutes before we had to pack up, something nibbled Nancy’s line. She set the hook and reeled it in. It was cute. It was tiny. It was too small to keep.

    So we went back to fishing and now, with merely five minutes to go, Nancy got another one (I was busy taking pictures). Again she hooked it. Again she reeled. Again it came up.

    And this time it was over a foot long, one of the stocked fish, holding a good pound of edible meat. A keeper. Campbell filleted the fish and delivered it to us later that day.

    As for the cooking part, we removed what tiny bones remained, cut the fish so it lay flat, tossed it into a frying pan with lots of butter, garlic, a bit of salt and a splash of lime juice.

    Even I, someone who joyfully eats but doesn’t necessarily cook fish, did a yummy job.

    Next year, Campbell said, he will have a permit to fish on Paul Lake, which is stocked with landlocked sockeye salmon, called Kokanee in these parts. He’ll be making salmon sashimi for those who want it and cooking lunch.

    Nancy and I WILL be back.

                    SNOW LIMO   

    There IS a way to experience skiing, even if you don’t ski. Or close to it, since you will be coming down an actual ski slope, keeping up with skiers.

    Only thing is you will be sitting down.

    The device is called a Snow Limo. It looks kind of like a dogsled basket, complete with guide behind. The guide, who is on skis, controls the sled’s speed and direction. You just sit there and enjoy the ride.

  Snow limo   Snow limo  
  Ready to ride the snow limo  Courtesy Sun Peaks   Snow limo heading down   Courtesy Sun Peaks  

 

    It’s really popular with parents (think non-skiing moms) who want to watch their kids actually ski, not just skid to a stop at the village.

    So what is it like?

    The whole contraption loads on a ski lift, not unlike a sit-ski for a para-athlete.

    Company owner Mike Pfeil guided me to the lift and as the chair came around, he lifted the back end of the sled and we slid onto the chair. At the other end, we simply glided down the ramp.

    And then we were off, wind in my face.

  Sun Peaks snow limo  

    It was exciting as we leaned into curves and sped alongside the skiers. It seems even faster than you expect since you are so close to the ground. My biggest problem was trying not to lean into turns. You are supposed to let the guide do all the leaning and steering.

    Mike has three flavors of ride: a gentle 30 minute ride down the green Five Mile Run, more adventurous blue (steeper) runs for an hour and a special two-hour package for the even more adventurous. He doesn’t go on black (steepest) runs, though.

    The ride is also a good way for a non-skier to do the midweek resort fondue dinner at the Sunburst Bar & Eatery. You take the chair lift up, and then a snow limo, equipped with lights for night, takes you down.

    Just about any age can do this. Mike says the oldest person was a woman who was 97. The youngest he will take is five.

 
 
Snow limo heads down a Sun Peaks ski run
     

                CAT GROOMER RIDE

    Whether you ski or not, learning how the runs are manicured for the next day’s horde of skiers makes for a fascinating 45 minute tour.

    It’s astonishing how much damage skiers can do to a run in a single day. If the snow is soft, bumps form and the middle gets dug out because that’s where folks prefer to ski. 

    Enter the snow cat groomers. These are powerful cabs—Piston Bully 400s with 320 hp diesel engines—atop tank treads with a blade on front and a tiller on the back. The blade knocks down bumps and that nasty looking tiller, which rotates at over 1,000 rpm, can turn even ice into something resembling powder, which is then smoothed flat into the hero corduroy folks find in the morning.

    Of Sun Peaks’ 24 operators, two are women.

    “Honestly, the women do a better job. They are more detail oriented,” admitted my guide for the night, Leo.     It takes three years for a groomer to really learn how to do this well, he added.

    It was one of the women running the winch cat that night. Picture eight tons of growling machine attached by a line to a tree to keep from sliding uncontrollably downslope. This is how the really steep runs get groomed. Back in the day, they just got so bumped and carved out, they were barely skiable.

  Sun Peaks cat groomer at work   Sun Peaks groomed ski run  
 
Cat groomer at work
 
"Hero" corduroy created by cat groomers
 

    For me, as dusk fell, the whole scene took on a surreal feel... our headlights shining on the ridges of snow, leaving them glowing with weird shadows, along with the blinding headlights of an oncoming behemoth.

    I got to thinking about folks who don’t ski...who come with the family and spend their vacation reading or maybe on snow shoes or taking a sleigh ride but not really atop the mountain. What a great way for them to see the terrain their family enjoys. Perhaps it’s even an incentive to try it themselves.

    On an average night, more than a third of the resort’s ski runs will be groomed. But among those will be every green (beginner) run.

    And if you are lucky, your favorite black run will have been groomed early, then covered with ankle deep powder overnight, making for a run that feels, well, like skiing a glacier.                    

                    INFO

  Sun Peaks horse-drawn sleigh ride  

    Sun Peaks’ winter season usually runs from mid November to mid April. In addition to its 135 ski trails across three mountains with its 4,270 acres of skiing and 2,891-foot vertical drop, there’s a long list of non-ski activities.

    For general information:

www.sunpeaksresort.com

    For non-skiing activities:

https://www.sunpeaksresort.com/events-things-to-do/winter-activities/

 
  Sleigh ride  (courtesy Sun Peaks)      

  Sun Peaks bungee with trampoline   Sun Peaks fat tire biking on snow  
 
Bungee trampolining    (courtesy Sun Peaks)
 
Fat tire biking on the snow  (courtesy Sun Peaks)
 
  Sun Peaks tube park   Sun Peaks hot dog cookout while snowshoe trekking  
 
Tubing fun    (courtesy Sun Peaks)
 
Snowshoe trekking cookout   (courtesy Sun Peaks)
 
     
 
 
 
  HOA logoHOA destinations