On this tour of whispered-about, endless-winter ski areas, you'll encounter no-quit mountain scenery, glitz and modernity at some resorts, creaking vintage chairlifts at others, and - the clincher - lineup-free, dry powder everywhere you go.
This trip can be done in 12 days - though we're not recommending you rush it - on the truly wild assumption of dry roads from beginning to end. At that pace, it is equally exhausting and exhilarating, in the same way a great powder day can turn giddy laughter in the morning into desire for only a hot tub by late afternoon.
For convenience and frugality, rent an RV in Vancouver (that way, there's no packing and unpacking, only constant mess). For comfort, rent a four-wheel-drive SUV and stay at ski-in/ski-out destinations.
This itinerary isn't for posers or the faint of heart. Survival means no clubbing: ski, après-ski, hot tub, dinner, good night's sleep and then hit the road, Jack. For who knows when you'll next be back.
Day 1 SUN PEAKS
Start from Vancouver with a four-hour drive east along the Trans-Canada to Kamloops. Veer north along a mildly curved road and you'll find a ski village painted in rich southwestern pastels, surrounded by three mountain peaks. Families easily spend a week skiing Sun Peaks but for this particular trip, it's the equivalent of a warm-up run. On many Saturdays, the Olympic champion, Senator Nancy Greene, will lead a tour of the resort, so start on the groomed runs of Sundance Mountain, finish the morning on Tod Mountain, grab lunch at Café Soleil in the Village Day Lodge, meet up with Ms. Greene at 1 p.m., then spend the rest of the day skiing the glades of sun-kissed Mount Morrisey.
Sun Peaks is an uncrowded Whistler alternative with six metres of comparatively dry powder annually, tons of sunshine and all the creature comforts … but little of the majesty. And, unlike Whistler, all chairs here provide access to a range of green, blue and black. From the top of Tod, for example, advanced skiers can catch powder or moguls in bowls and finish their runs scooting around Lodgepole Pine and spruce trees, while cruisers can opt to schuss down a groomed slope and meet at the bottom..
Après: Bottom's Bar and Grill in the Coast Sundance Lodge
Eat: Bella Italia in the Hearthstone Lodge
Sleep: Cahilty Lodge (www.cahiltylodge.com)
Lift ticket: $71
Snowfall: 559 cm
Vertical: 881 metres
Terrain: 3,678 acres
Day 2 SILVER STAR
Doubling back through Kamloops, we're driving south through hillside ranches toward Vernon and Silver Star. The upper Okanagan Valley is transforming into a haven for retirees, wine lovers and recreation enthusiasts. Silver Star's competition for those dollars, most recently in the form of two major housing developments, has rankled environmentalists over the issue of water usage. New residents and visitors alike are lured by the beauty of the semi-arid area, the village with its colourful Victorian-inspired architecture and 700 cm of snowfall annually, much of that dry powder that settles over 115 runs. On a powder day, the Powder Gulch Express and Summit Chair lifts access the Putnam Creek area with a steep, adventuresome back bowl. Recommended runs: Where's Bob, Black Pine and Look for Free Fall. For ski-out, check out an eight-km run to the bottom of the station. Styling? Powder Ridge runs under the Powder Gulch Express.
Après: The Saloon in Vance Creek Hotel
Eat: Bulldog Hotel Grand Café and Bar
Sleep: Pinnacles Suite Hotel
Lift ticket: $71
Snowfall: 700 cm
Vertical: 760 metres
Terrain: 3,065 acres
Day 3 APEX MOUNTAIN RESORT
From Vernon, it takes nearly three hours to crawl through the Kelowna traffic clog and then, along the highway skirting breathtaking Lake Okanagan, to resist stopping at tempting wineries such as Dirty Laundry (named after a house of ill repute above a laundromat in gold-rush days) in Peachland. From Penticton at the south end of the lake, veer west to the area dubbed "best small destination resort" by Ski Canada. Apex presents a small cluster of Old West timber frame-styled architecture in the village and four lifts on the mountain, one high-speed, to access vertical sufficient to have hosted this past year's Nor-Am Downhill and Super-G races. There are bowls to the south, glades in an area called Wild Side, and steep-and-deep runs to the north. Apex attracts mainly locals and Vancouverites with three terrain parks, six metres of annual snowfall, lots of sunshine, an ice climbing tower, outdoor hockey rink and Zamboni-maintained one-km skating loop, and unfettered whoop-and-holler skiing over untracked snow. Freestyle skiers headed to the Vancouver Games are intending to train at Apex in January.
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