The question comes regularly and is usually impossible to answer: What’s the best ski resort?
But suddenly I find I can make a fair stab at it, if a few qualifiers are added – such as what’s the best ski resort for families if you don’t mind a bit of a trek to get there? In that case, the British Columbia resort of Sun Peaks is setting the bar very high.
I’ve been enjoying some excellent snow conditions in this remarkable little resort. I say little – it’s actually Canada’s second largest resort in terms of skiing terrain. But it still feels like a fairly intimate little village. Its skiing wraps itself around the village (built in a charming Tirolean style with a touch of Disney about it) in a 360 degree network of mostly unintimidating intermediate cruising.
It also manages the difficult trick of being both the sunniest and snowiest of Canadian resorts – as well as featuring a range of family fun diversions such as cookouts under the moon in a forest clearing, snowmobiling, tubing, dog-sledding and sleigh-riding.
We reached here from London via a direct flight to Vancouver and then a 45-minute hop in a Dash 8 39-seater turbo-prop to Kamloops. From there it’s just an hour by shuttle bus to Sun Peaks – a long day but there was still time for a beer in the bar at the Sun Peaks Grand hotel before an early night (early once the eight hours had been taken off the UK time).
I’ve been buzzing around the slopes with Matt Pavitt, managing director of Ski Safari, a British operator, which will be happy to put together a custom-made package to get you and your family on the slopes out here.
‘I think this place is hard to beat for intermediate groups or families who are looking for masses of beautiful, peaceful skiing in a glorious setting rather than raucous nightlife,’ said Matt, who knows a thing or two about what goes to make an ace ski destination. He’s spent much of his working life checking out resorts, spending entire seasons in some of them.
Nancy Greene, Winter Olympics gold medallist, ski legend and Canada’s Female Athlete of the Twentieth Century – and all round fun lady – couldn’t agree more. She and husband Al Raine, who also happens to be mayor of the place, kindly showed us around the mountains that are basically their backyard (thoughtfully keeping their foot off the gas, sometimes, so we could keep up).
This was a special pleasure – but not exclusive. Nancy adores skiing still (at 71 she sets the sort of scorching pace that brought her the nickname of Tiger, because of her aggressive all-out style, in her racing days) and loves to ski with Sun Peaks guests whenever she gets the chance.
Which isn’t always, because she’s also a senator – and while shredding the slopes of Sun Peaks she has dreamed up some radical plans to shake-up the Senate in Ottawa as well as the entire Canadian food industry.
She’s passionate about the welfare of the young and has it in mind, she tells me, to try to introduce measures to ban all marketing and advertising campaigns (‘not just candy, everything’) aimed at the young. Canada, like most Western nations, has a major obesity problem and Nancy is determined to use her influence to make a difference.
She has already succeeded in having the first Saturday in June enshrined in law as Canadian National Health and Fitness Day. This year will officially see the first.
‘We should not be burdening our health care system with the results of unhealthy lifestyles,’ Nancy told me as we rode a chairlift through a layer of cloud to a snowy mountaintop glittering in the sun. It’s a sentiment that underlines how privileged are we who get the chance to ski in these extraordinary places.