Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 18/11/2017 (998 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
SUN PEAKS RESORT, B.C. — There’s a point on a ski lift, past the snow-laden evergreens and into the midst of the cloud-cover mist, when you can forget where you are and have no idea where you’re going.
In this high-altitude tunnel of flat light, perspective disappears as the sky above and terrain below merge. The only constant on the base-to-peak ride that covers 890 metres of vertical distance is the gentle rocking of the chairlift that lulls you into believing you are in a different place and time.
I’m having a time-travelling moment as I near the top of Crystal Bowl, largely because seated next to me is a living piece of our nation’s skiing history — Nancy Greene Raine.
The higher we go, the further back this Canadian sporting icon takes me. In no time, we’re suddenly at the 1968 Grenoble Games where she won the Olympic gold and silver that made her a household name. Our conversational slalom zigs to tumbles during her assent on the World Cup circuit on a training run that broke her leg and then zags to a spill that separated her shoulder — but still didn’t keep her from tucking through the pain to cross the finish line. By the time we reach the summit at 2,061 metres, I am up to speed on a life dedicated to the sport that led to her being voted as the country’s top female athlete of the 20th century. In the process, a lifetime of skiing starts to rub off on me by way of tips dispensed by this Alpine Yoda.
"You may have noticed I have a bit of foot fetish,’’ the 74-year-old legend begins after a quick primer on skiing stance and the science of shifting your body weight.
The trick, she is trying to teach, is the importance of applying just the right amount of pressure near the ball of the foot with just the right lifting of the corresponding heel when it comes to effortless and graceful turns.
"I like to refer to it as the G-spot of skiing,’’ the Sun Peaks director of skiing explains following a brief alpine anatomy lesson.
And with that, I realize I need to have this ski whisperer spend some time with my dear wife.
There was a time in my wife’s life that when the slopes beckoned, she was only too happy to oblige. While born and raised in England, she had spent time skiing in those same French Alps where Greene Raine became Canada’s golden girl at the Winter Olympics. Mind you, those black diamond runs were long before I put a diamond on her finger — long before she became the mother to our three teenage kids now racing around her and every run at this resort, fuelled by adrenalin. And long before downhill skiing became such an uphill battle for her that she was in danger of missing out on everything this family ski holiday promised.
Alas, Sun Peaks offered the right altitude, but Catherine had the wrong attitude.
While she was content sitting by the fireplace at our ski-in-ski-out condo, the rest of our family was enjoying conditions pretty close to perfect at this resort that boasts the second-largest ski area in the country. There was plenty of fresh snow, all part of the more than six metres of white stuff that falls annually on the three mountains and its 135 runs. There was barely a wait for the high-speed lifts that can handle 12,000 riders per hour owing to the geography of a resort just a bit off the beaten path. When Sun Peaks promoters talk about the fact that the extra connecting flight to nearby Kamloops ends up "filtering out the masses," what they mean is that skiers here avoid the congestion that often plagues other resorts such as Banff or Whistler closer to major centres.
In other words, making your way to Sun Peaks means more time skiing on wide-open runs, less time stuck in lift lines. And in case you’re worried that Sun Peaks can’t compete with better-known ski destinations, please note that the Austrian Alpine team came here for years to make these wide-open runs their North American training base.
Among those who have also been making the trip to Sun Peaks for years are a father and daughter from Luxembourg. Yes, they’ve skied in the Alps. Yes, it would be easier to get to St. Moritz than to spend an entire day with the Alps in the plane’s rear-view mirror as they fly all the way to British Columbia for an extended holiday at Sun Peaks. But no, that ski experience wouldn’t be as good or as easy or as fun.
"You spend more time waiting in lines than you do going down the mountain in the Alps,’’ explains the young woman over sips of her coffee at a hotspot for skiers in the charming Sun Peaks village.
"The snow is artificial and nowhere as good for skiing. And everyone here is so friendly, unlike the resorts in Europe."
To say Greene Raine is friendly doesn’t do justice to the former Olympian, Mars Bar advertising star and, since 2009, Conservative senator.
And it’s unlikely that many resorts, whether they are in Europe or North America, have someone of her calibre standing by at the top of the quad lift, ready and willing to lead whoever wants to spend some time going downhill with her.
So rather than waiting for the ski patrol to rescue my wife, I made sure to introduce Nancy to Catherine. The conversation and the assurances came quickly and easily. Nancy pointed out that the beauty of Sun Peaks is that no matter the level of the skier, there is a run suited to their abilities at the top of each and every lift.
"You can learn to ski anywhere in our country,’’ explains the Olympian, who has skied pretty much everywhere. "We have snow pretty much from coast to coast and once you learn to ski on a little wee hill, you can come to a ski area like Sun Peaks that is huge. But it is very, very well laid out, and so as a beginner, you can start out with your easy runs and it is all well marked. Pretty soon, you are coming from the very top of the mountain all the way to the bottom, and it is just amazing."
But what if your home is on the prairie, where the biggest bit of altitude fun has been tobogganing at Garbage Hill? What if going downhill means having to drive more than four hours just to experience something higher at Asessippi Ski Area and Resort near Russell?
Again, Green Raine is able to offer assurances, because she too knows what it is like to ski in Manitoba.
"If you can ski Asessippi — and I’ve been to Asessippi and there’s some difficult runs there — you can ski here and really enjoy it. But if you want to be an Olympian, you’ve got to start young and get into racing and work hard and listen to your coaches and don’t give up."
The only thing Olympian about my dear wife were her prayers that some Greek god would rescue her as she started this skiing holiday. But after some gold-medal advice from Greene Raine, there was Catherine carving up the slopes, albeit slowly and deliberately.
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As she emerged through the mist, she not only knew where she was, she also knew where she wanted to go. She’s zigged past the aptly named run, Mid-Life Crisis, in the midst of her own mid-life skiing crisis. And then she confidently zagged to another aptly named run, the tree-filled Sticks, that took her all the way from the top of the mountain to the bottom.
When we all gathered at the base of the resort to celebrate with Catherine, there weren’t any medals. But the smiles and the memories were golden.
The writer and his family received ski equipment and lift tickets from Sun Peaks Resort during their stay, but the resort did not review or approve this article.
Paul Samyn Editor
Paul Samyn has been part of the Free Press newsroom for more than a quarter century, working his way up after starting as a rookie reporter in 1988.