By: Gordy Skoog (Original Article Here)
Searching for life’s inspiration, I find myself crossing the border into Canada at Osoyoos (O’sue:ews). I’m heading for the northern confines of the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia to challenge my skills in a Nordic Boot Camp at Silver Star Resort. Revered by enthusiasts, the mountain is known for its Interior BC feather-light powder, and a season that kicks off 3 weeks earlier than most in the region. For 4-6 weeks starting in November Nordic Camps attract skiers of all of ages, some with skills that range up to National Team and Olympic caliber.
An easy flight from Seattle (1 hr) or Vancouver (38 min), I’ve chosen to drive in order to immerse myself in the visual impact of the country-side. A valley that in the summer monthsreflects the far northern reaches of the Sonoran Life Zone, it includes semi-desert landscape species found nowhere else in Canada. The Okanagan is considered by many the Napa Valley of Canada, and called by locals the Wine Country Center of the World. As I make my way past the towns of Oliver, Penticton (home of the Canadian Ironman), Summerland and Kelowna it’s obvious that wine flourishes here as every side road boasts a vineyard or Estate Winery, some which appear to end at someone’s home grown garage. A scene dominated by Lake Country, the tranquil up-valley passing of Osoyoos Lake, Vaseux Lake, Skaha Lake, and 70 mile Okanagan Lake keep me engaged with every twist of the shoreline.
At Vernon, a right turn east sends me above the lofty clouds onto the throne of the Valley landscape where Silver Star Park resides on the west edge of the Monashee Mountains. Rolling under a European-like ski-piste bridge, my eyes immediately catch the blazing lights of the Tube Town Adventure Center with its mach-speed luge course complete with tube tow, and frozen lake full of skaters, hockey sticks, and a center piece island.
Finding everything within easy walking distance, Silver Star Resort is an award-winner in a unique class of its own. With accolades that include “Best Small Resort in North America” and “Best Family Resort in Canada”, its colorful Victorian-inspired Village is welcoming at first brush, evoking images straight from the pages of a Dickens novel. A mountain for every interest, Silver Star offers a legitimate ski-in ski-out experience throughout the Village, accessing a varied 3,065 alpine acres (1,240 hectares) that sport 2,500 vertical feet (760 meters) of descent. Blanketed by 23 feet (700 cm) annually with renowned dry, champagne powder snow, comfy daytime temperatures average -5 C, (27F); cold enough to keep the snow light and fluffy.
Settling in at the Snowbird Lodge under the warm Christmas Light glow of the Village, the 8am breakfast rendezvous at The Bulldog Grand Café with Nordic Director Guy Paulsen arrives quickly. Guy, a log home designer and 12 year veteran of the mountain, is the proto-type Silver Star local whose enduring love of the place has made him a fixture - surrounded by a predominate staff of walk-about Aussie’s and Kiwi’s crafting to make the Okanagan their home.
The Boot Camp attendees, being a mixed bag of skills, are broken into groups to maximize their learning curve. Uniquely groomed with skate and classic lanes throughout the Village, we click into our skis at plaza central and head out seeking the quality snow of the mountain top trails.
During our afternoon skate we follow Andie’s lead, a Level III Instructor, and cover some 15km of skating distance back up the mountain trails (a better wax this time) out to Alder Point. Along the way I lock-n-load the rails of the classic track down a series of drops, and hoot with joy as I cling by my toenails to the turns; finally landing in a heap of laughter as a sharp left-hander with a dip derails me. Around the backside we get an expansive view of the Putnam Creek offering of the mountain, tagged by locals as the “Dark Side”. This sun challenged area is packed with an array of alpine steeps that harbor future plans for expansion, which is one high-speed quad from rivaling the best terrain experiences anywhere.
Upon return to the Village we head for the National Altitude Training Center's, Ouisa Day Spa for a session of Yoga and a Sports Massage. In order to minimize lactic acid build up and sore muscles over consecutive days, the Nordic Camp promotes recovery in its program to help melt away muscle pain and bring your mind and body spirit back to a state of calm and relaxation.
Partaking in a mystical evening that delights us all, we board a sleigh at the Village center and head for Horseman’s Cabin under an illuminating full-moon. Wrapped in intensifying moon shadows and campfire solace, the candle lit Cabin offers up the cuisine and atmosphere of its authentic cowboy operators; a life-time experience that should be on every Silver Star visitors bucket list.
Morning greets us with breakfast at the European Dutch style “Bugaboos Bakery Café” with its own imported hot chocolate recipe and a collection of cheese, ham, and egg croissant-like finger servings. Meeting Denys, a Level III Instructor, at the plaza central for a morning session of classic skiing, he leads us down “Meadow Trail” past the Biathlon Range onto the lower Nordic trails. With weight transfer being the crux of classic Nordic, we practice a lot of focused shifting.
Offering 60 km of skate platform and classic track that link up with nearby Sovereign Lake Nordic Center that adds another 40 km, the 100 km Silver Star system is plenty to peruse for the Nordic inspired. As we kick and glide or way out to the Mountain View Cabin (locals favorite for watching Village fireworks) the terrain presents easy rises with long stretches of level and slight grades – good for stretching our legs and letting the pace find us. Wrapping around “The Nob” like a wedding cake, we make a casual climb past the Resort homes that inhabit it. Here, throwing the skis out the back door literally lands you on a trail you can ski away on. Stopping in front of Denys’s house, he tells his short story of living in Davos, Switzerland where he met his wife, a life of creative jobs, and finally developing a maintenance business where he spiffs the exteriors of most of the homes on “The Nob”. With some 20 years of living up at Silver Star, Denys can honestly embrace the area catch phrase “My Mountain”. Launching a blistering descent back to the Village, Denys recants a shaky story when an impaired Nordic Manager (Guy) chose a Davoser Schlitten (sled) to navigate a late night return home, careening off the trail into the depths of darkness. For us it’s a sizzling drop on Nordic gear, and worth a re-ascent for another adrenaline run.
After lunch at “The Den” we head out with Roseanne, the local naturalist, on the snowshoe trails that weave in-between the Nordic lanes of “The Nob”. It’s a winter wonderland that quickly separates us within short distance from the beaten path of the Resort. As we traverse and descend, Roseanne comments upon the habitat, resident creatures, forest reasons for being, and history. She’s a busy guide, and when looking for an alternative to the Horsemen’s Cabin sleigh ride, Roseanne offers a good snowshoe alternative.
Upon return, the Ouisa Day Spa once again offers up relaxation and recovery from Boot Camp activities. Then it’s off to the Gallery Odin that resides within the home of Karl and Maria Molnar back up on “The Nob”. Offering a number of paint and sculpture showings featuring BC artists throughout each season, the Molnar’s blend their passion with mountain life as year around residents. Expect the unexpected! Karl may very well know all about you, as I was stunned when he recognized my mountaineering brothers and conveyed that his daughter and son in-law, who are mountain guides, are friends with people I know. The world is truly a community.
After dinner at Long John’s, the local’s restaurant, we shuffle our way over to Tube Town for a night of shredding under the lights. The tube-tow, which is an interesting hook-n-go affair, delivers you to a ripping 600 foot descent complete with two earth separating rollers and a straw-wall stopper – courtesy of my compatriots. I wish we had given ourselves enough time to get in some hockey slap shots and a couple of laps around the island on the skate lake as well..
On the last day I’m anxious to switch out my Nordic skis for Alpine. Connecting up with Al, who is a retired principal and a Silver Star Mountain Host in the winter, he asks what my interest is. Simple, let’s ski it all! We start with the Silver Woods area, which offers a collection of long intermediate runs dropping below the Village. Then we carve the entertaining Vance Creek runs higher on the mountain that change-up on a whim with their constant inter-lacing, which is adjacent to a terrain park full of music. Soon, thereafter, Al leads me over to “The Dark Side” where we test the outlying cruiser run of “Eldorado”, then steepen the pitch on “The Rush”, and finally dial in our grins on “Sunny Ridge” with it rolling drops – I could do it all day. Descending down “Gypsy Queen” to “Judd’s Run” I get the picture. “The Dark Side” is Silver Star’s fun patch if you’re itching for an Alpine punch. Finally, topping off the tour, Al takes me to the Attridge side of the mountain above Sovereign Lakes that reveals spectacular views of the Okanagan Valley, and where the Telus slope-style terrain park is found.
It’s agonizing to leave when the inspiration meter is in high gear. Silver Star’s passion for fun tugs at my feet as it’s time to head south. I’ve just scratched the Nordic track and Alpine terrain surface, and the Eagle Pass Heli-skiing that departs from the Village door step is yet to be explored. As I roll downhill toward the Okanagan Valley, Silver Star calls like a mountain siren for a hasty return.
Rated the “Number One Nordic destination in North America” by Forbes Magazine, Silver Star truly is a world-class cross-country ski destination. Silver Star track sets more than 60km/37mi of trail daily with 4km/2.5mi of lit track for night skiing for National Teams, Olympic medalists and everyday visitor alike. Kid friendly, the focus is a Silver Star family affair with a never ending list of activities
Best Slope Side Accommodations:
Toll Free: 1-800-663-4431
Overseas: (250) 558-6083
Best evening Cuisine:
Silver Grill Steakhouse
Best Indoor Thrill:
National Altitude Training Center Rock Climbing Wall
Best Evening Activities:
Night skiing (Nordic or Alpine), Tube Town, Ice skating – hockey, Altitude Center Movie House, Sleigh ride, Snowshoeing, you name it, it’s there
Best Rowdy Hangout:
Club Silver Star
Best Locals Restaurant:
The Bugaboo Bakery Cafe