Sports

How to decide between British Columbia’s best for snow

A snowboarder plies the slopes at Whistler/Blackcomb on Jan. 22. - Patrick Hui/Contributed Photo
A snowboarder plies the slopes at Whistler/Blackcomb on Jan. 22.
— image credit: Patrick Hui/Contributed Photo

Among British Columbia’s many charms are several excellent destination mountain resorts. After visiting Whistler/Blackcomb in early December, then traveling to Sun Peaks in early January, I thought it might be instructive to compare these two big-time resorts. They have many similarities but distinctive differences as well.

There is probably not a skier or boarder alive on Mercer Island who hasn’t heard of Whistler resort, especially after it hosted the Olympic skiing events just last season. With the two mountains of Whistler and Blackcomb sitting side by side, with the same village at the bottom of both, this resort is perennially ranked at the top of most surveys. The mountains are big, you can find ski runs that tame the heart or scare you silly, the lift system is state-of-the-art (including the Peak to Peak tram), and there are plenty of off-slope amenities and activities in case you want a diversion.

What’s not to like? If you are a sun-seeker, then Whistler shouldn’t be on your radar, as its weather definitely shows a maritime influence with possible fog, rain, snow, clouds and even sun, sometimes all at one time on one day — 5,000 vertical feet has a way of developing layers of these weather conditions. Whistler can also get a little crowded from time to time, especially at the mountain access lifts. And with the Canadian dollar at parity with its American counterpart, costs are not a bargain, and when the Canadian taxes are added on, your bill is usually almost 25 percent higher than you first figured.

So what about Sun Peaks? Simplistically, it is a delightful alternative, like a Whistler not on steroids. Sun Peaks is located near Kamloops, so the resort gets drier snow, more sun and colder temperatures than Whistler does. If you figure it takes about 4.5 hours to drive to Whistler, then you need to add a little over an hour to get to Sun Peaks, and the roads are quite good.

Sun Peaks also has a pedestrian-friendly village base area, from which high speed lifts rise up on two different mountains. Though the village is not nearly as big as Whistler’s, that actually is the charm, as it is easy to find one’s way around, yet there are still plenty of restaurants and shops to enjoy. The resort is considered quite family-friendly, and I could not agree more. This is the kind of place where parents could feel comfortable letting the kids wander around on their own, both on and off the slopes.

But it is a mistake thinking Sun Peaks is small — intimate, yes; but small, no. It is Canada’s third largest ski resort. Think of Sun Peaks as you might Crystal Mountain, except with a vibrant ski village and tons of lodging options at the base. Compared to Crystal, Sun Peaks has almost exactly the same base elevation, top elevation, skiable terrain and number of high-speed lifts. I would say Crystal has the gnarlier terrain (if you are looking for that), but Sun Peaks offers better grooming, consistent fall lines, and lovely tree-lined runs. You can stay at Sun Peaks for a week and never get bored with the skiing. If you are fortunate like I have been, you can find some fresh powder and have the run all to yourself.

Sun Peaks is hardly ever congested with crowds, it costs less than Whistler (e.g. a Whistler daily lift ticket is $94; Sun Peaks is $73), most lodging options are ski-out/ski-in, and it is friendly for skiers and boarders alike. Try it, you’ll like it: as the man says, I guarantee it!

John Naye is a Mercer Island resident and past president of the North American Snowsport Journalist Association. He can be contacted at jnaye@trekworks.com.

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