A weekend at the Sun Peaks ski resort. Which is somewhere near Kamloops. Before this trip that’s all I knew about Sun Peaks. Friday afternoon (the 8th) we met up and loaded our stuff onto a coach with 20+ others from Maria’s work. The Coquihalla Highway was closed due to an avalanche, so our route would take us up through the Fraser Canyon on Highway 1 (the Trans Canada). That meant at least an hour longer on the bus and probably a less comfortable ride on the twisty road. But at least we were going! Coffee in hand we bagged our seats and sat down to enjoy the journey.
One day we’ll drive through the Fraser Canyon in daylight. We’ve been through in the dark on at least 2 occasions prior to this one and this weekend would add two more! There’s nothing like it in the UK so it still amazes me to drive for so long and not encounter any large towns, or be able to see over the mountains. Another fascinating aspect to driving through the canyon is the change in landscape at the north end as it joins the Thompson River valley, turning from coastal rainforest to dry, scrubby grasslands and less dense pine forest. Another reason to drive through in daylight is to take in these views.
A quick stop at Cache Creek and on our way to Kamloops, through the sodium glow of that city and north on Hwy 5 to Heffley Creek. Turning right here we headed up into the mountains again, steadily gaining elevation. Within a half-hour or so we pulled into Sun Peaks. Getting off the bus we were in for a shock. We’d seen the weather forecast and it claimed that Kamloops wasn’t going to be that cold. Except we weren’t in Kamloops: we were at an elevation somewhat over 1000 m and it was FREEZING! Someone later said it was -11 C. No wonder we were cold. But the snow – oh, the snow was unlike anything we’d ever encountered. Fluffy, powdery and very squeaky! This was why people drove to the Interior to ski. It stuck to our shoes like glue, and once compacted it was liking walking on Teflon. We claimed a room, unpacked and then reconvened for mass sushi consumption. Utterly exhausted and completely stuffed, we rolled into bed and off to sleep.
Saturday morning was dull, but not so chilly. We weren’t in a hurry to get on a chair lift (we were the only cross-country skiers) so we had a leisurely breakfast and an even more leisurely coffee thanks to the glacially-slow coffee machine. We headed into the village (a 10 minute walk – yeah, right) to rent some gear and get our passes. Half an hour later we reached the village… But it was a pleasant walk and before long we had our skis, passes and trail map and headed for the XC trails.
As usual we started on the green (easy) trails, picking a nice steady long one to take us up to McGillivray Lake and its warming hut. it didn’t start out so well though as there were no set tracks, and we had two tricky road crossings to make. Humph. Not impressed. But we pushed on and soon were out alone, gently swishing our way along the McGillivray Lake trail. It took me ages to get into a rhythm, being only the fourth time on skis. And it all felt like such hard work… Of course it was – a quick look at the topo map and we realized it was uphill all the way to the lake! At least we’d get some hills to come down at the end of the day, right? It would be all worthwhile.
Gradually the muscle memory returned and we made steady progress, passing various blue side trails (some other time…) and eventually reaching the warming hut. We spent a very cosy lunch time, warming up and chatting to the handful of fellow cross-country skiers (we’d seen maybe three others on the way up). We studied the trail map and cased out a little loop for us to practice on, taking Raven’s Ramble (another green run) to join Nuthatch (also green) before returning to the hut on Blue Grouse (a blue run!). We found a few corners and bends to practice on along the way and spent quite some time re-learning our snow-plough and turning skills. Before too long we were back at the hut feeling very pleased with ourselves. As we finished off our flask of tea, we chatted with the woman from the ski patrol who recommended we try a blue run called Great Grey back down to the village. It was her favourite and though there were some hills on it, they were manageable and should provide good experience.
Well we did it. And it was great fun! Again we had the place to ourselves so we could spend plenty of time practising and there was no one to laugh at us when we fell over. Our first major hill encounter was a deep, little U-shaped valley. Carefully snow-ploughing downhill to keep my speed under control, I let up and coasted down into the bottom of the U to get some speed to carry me up the other side. I was so pleased I stayed on my feet I didn’t think what to do when I came to a halt. In Maria’s words, I looked like Garfield sliding down a window, arms outstretched in front of me, poles akimbo, leaving claw marks in the snow as I slid backwards on my belly back down into the bottom of the U. I couldn’t get up I was laughing so hard. Eventually I got back up and waddled my way back up the slope. Next Maria’s turn. She learned from my experience and managed to control herself and keep going uphill. We enjoyed it so much we went back and did it again, and again.
We tore ourselves away and continued back down the hill. More hills, more practice and we started to build up some confidence. Of course as soon as you think `Hey, I can do this’ you fall over immediately…. But with soft snow comes soft landings and we spent a brilliant hour or so coming down. Tired legs made for a few more slips and slides (and the occasional hard landing) but soon we were back at the base, and very glad we’d spoken to the ski patrol. It was a great trail to come down on. And just in time too: the light was fading fast!
As we’d rented our gear for two days we were able to keep going back to the condos. Except that meant carrying our gear all the way back, as the path was not really skiable. Ah well. It was all good exercise…. Our aching muscles appreciated some time in the hot tub (nothing like sitting in hot bubbling water with an air temperature of -5 C!) and then it was time for dinner! Which consisted of meatballs, prawns, halibut, pork, deep-fried turkey and a few healthy extras thrown in for a laugh. Everyone was ravenous and it all (well the meat) disappeared. Food, drink, chatter… Sleep.
Sunday, and another fairly leisurely start. We got ourselves under way with the aim of building on yesterday’s successes. Our muscles were letting us know that they existed (!) but the hot tub and some stretching obviously worked and we had no major problems getting under way. We tried a different approach, aiming to join McGillivray Lake trail further up rather than repeat the road crossings. We started out on Vista (green) which gave us a good warm up, before joining Black Bear (blue) to test ourselves, eventually meeting up with McGillivray Lake for a gentle coast into the warming hut. An early lunch, and we again chatted to the other skiers (more out today). Some of them had taken the chair lift up Mt Morrisey to ski the Holy Cow run, a 7 km downhill with some tricky sharp bends and steep hills. We weren’t sure we were up to it, but we were told that the run was in perfect condition and today would be an ideal day to try it out. We ummed and aahhed, but decided to go for it. After one more run at Great Grey. We decided we would see how well we did on that before making the decision to go up.
The snow wasn’t quite as powdery as yesterday, and the snow cat had been out and set new tracks which was a mixed blessing. Great to have the tracks, but between the tracks was now compacted a little more, and groomed by the snow cat which made it less skiable (at least for us :-) But we coped with Great Grey and we felt ready to give Holy Cow our best shot. We reached the bottom of the chair lift and were greeted by a sign warning of a cougar sighting on Holy Cow! Holy Cow indeed! So here we were, about to take our very first ever chair lift ride… and there’s a cougar about. But we weren’t backing out now so we sat on and enjoyed the ride up. We had been warned to wear gloves and a windproof layer and we were glad of it. We watched the skiers and snowboarders make their way down underneath our feet and after about 10 minutes we reached the top. Well, I’m glad they have someone on the lookout for skiers who don’t know how to ski ;-) We both came off the chair and more or less promptly fell over. Oops. The lift operator came running out after stopping the chair, and checked we were OK. Sure, just a little snow, right? :-)
So we checked our egos at the door and headed off on a new adventure. Once again, it was just the two of us, so in light of the cougar warning (only an hour beforehand) we kept close together. And within minutes we were so glad we’d done it. The snow was perfect and once away from the lift it was total silence. We skied our way along, taking the Viewpoint trail for a view of the ski hills… only to find there was no view (trees grow you know!). We passed a small clearing and thought, `Naah that can’t be it’ only to find 10 minutes later that it was indeed the viewpoint. Phooey. Oh well it was an extra km of exercise….
Down we went, still having to work even to make headway downhill but we were making good progress and the km markers were passing by. A quick check of the time made us realize that we didn’t really have much slack so we had to push on. A couple of challenging slopes and corners were dealt with successfully and then we saw the first cougar tracks in an open area, where the trees had been cleared along the trail. Well we never saw a cougar but we saw lots and lots of tracks through the snow. We paused for a quick refreshment break. Ha ha – paws-ed, geddit?
Ahem. We left the cougar tracks behind as the trail re-entered the forest and began a series of steeper downhill stretches. All good fun and great practice. And we stayed upright, which was quite an achievement (well, we thought so!). Then it got steeper and here we were very glad of a couple of well-placed soft snow banks! A bit further on we came to the bends that we’d been warned about: even steeper and sharper, like a double-S chicane. We took stock, and then went for it. Somehow we managed to keep under control and we were soon through, though it must be said we were glad no one was trying to come uphill! A short celebration of our new-found mad skillz and then the sun came out to guide us back to Great Grey.
By now we really were running out of time so we had to negotiate Great Grey for the third time in as little time as possible! But again, despite tired (very tired!) legs we made it down the hills, round the corners and came to a stop at the junction with the Vista trail back to the Village. We stopped for a drink and turned round as a snowmobile went past, which was followed by a dog sled, then another… and another… and finally a fourth dog sled. We were so mesmerized that we didn’t think to get the camera out, a pity as it would have made a great photo.
So now the final stretch and we could more or less relax as we headed back, coming to a gentle stop at the bridge in the village, taking off our skis for the last time before returning them. A 20 minute fast walk back to the condos, a quick shower and a frantic bag-packing session ensued and before we knew it, 5pm chimed and it was time to get back on the bus. Then the looong drive home with almost enough time for all three Indiana Jones films (which the bus driver later told us he never wanted to hear or see again), and at 11pm we were climbing back into our car. Home, unpack and crawl into bed…. I think I’m starting to get the hang of this cross-country skiing lark… A great weekend!
Distance: 15 + 22 = 37 km
Elevation gain: 220 + 200 = 420 m
Photos on Flickr