Saturday, 27 February 2016

Final thoughts on Sun Peaks

As I mention in my last post, it's been 31 years since I was last at Sun Peaks. Here's what the trail map looked like then (seriously).

It's changed a bit.
I thought the best way to organize this was by simply looking at the good and the bad separately.

What Makes Sun Peaks Excellent:
  • The place is big. Huge. It's now the 2nd largest ski area in Canada, behind Whistler-Blackcomb and ahead of Lake Louise and Revelstoke. That means LOTS of runs and LOTS of terrain (through see below for a substantial qualifier to this).
  • The food is great. Four lunches and one dinner out, and we could not decide which was the best. We ate at Bottoms, 5Fourty, Voyageur Bistro, Tod Mountain Cafe and the Cahilty Creek Grill. I was very impressed by the food quality and service no matter where we went (though I heard the chain Mexican place is poor, which is not unexpected).
  • The runs are long. The Burfield chair has 880 m vertical, over 200m more than Goat's Eye. The Sunburst chair has 590 m of vertical, similar to Goat's Eye. The Sundance chair has 475 m, Morrissey has 400 m. The slopes just generally are not as steep as Sunshine, so the runs tend to be feel long even when the vertical is not long. They have runs called 5 Mile and 7 Mile.
  • They have multiple aspects to their mountain faces. They have pitches that face north, south, east and west. As we learned this week, that's really helpful when the sun intensity rises and aspect protects snow quality.
  • In creating the Morrissey runs, they left tree islands all over the place, including in the middle of the runs, though always making the gaps between the islands wide enough to drive cats between them. This makes for REALLY interesting skiing. 
  • They have a very impressive nordic facility and system. If I still cross country skied, I'd consider coming here just to do that.
  • Their tube park is a slalom course, unlike most arrow straight parks like Big White or Norquay.
Why Sun Peaks Sucks:
  • Their trail map is nonsensical. They squash all 3 mountains on one piece of paper, with substantial distortion of places like West Bowl, Gills, the Lone Fir area of Sundance and others. They need arrows on the map to show which way runs go. There are glades marked that just aren't skiable (Runaway Lane, Cruiser, Blazer, a bunch on the Elevation chair). Runs are in the wrong place (Gill's traverse, Gill's hike are neither marked on the hill nor shown correctly on the map). Far too often, following the map, we ended up below places we needed to be above. The same map is used all over the mountain. They really need to splurge on re-drawing their 3 mountains onto 3 more accurate maps.
  • On hill signage is hit and miss, some good, some bad. I found run signs in strange places (showing the Father Tom's access) but not telling me how to get to Homesteader (a main green) from the top of Sundance.
  • The place is FULL of flats. We lost track of the number of times we were skating or double polling. Flats are all over. Snowboarders would hate so much of this hill. Still, you work with the terrain you have, so the flats aren't their fault. But Sunshine customers complain about flats all the time; this is MUCH worse than Sunshine.
  • Morrissey is a great portion of the terrain but hopelessly isolated. One of those flats is the only access to Morrissey (a minimum 100 m skate across a golf hole).
  • The creek that runs through the centre of the resort necessitates taking skis off to walk ~200 m to cross it, isolating Morrissey further.
  • Not that it bothered me much, but of the 127 runs, only 12 -- 10% -- are green. A good portion of the greens are flat roads. And this hill LOVES roads. If you're not at least a fair skier on blue runs, stay away from here.
  • They have 3 ultra slow creaky old chairs that access a significant portion of their terrain. The Burfield chair is a painfully slow 23 minute ride. Aside from having been upgraded to a quad, I'm not sure that chair has changed in 31 years. And when they upgraded it to a quad -- in 1998 -- they halved the number of chairs, so capacity didn't increase.
  • Like Big White, they have a lift (in this case, the West Bowl T-Bar) that only operates on weekends. This pisses me off as much here as it does at Big White. If you're not going to have your facilities open, the lift ticket prices should be lowered while they're not open. I'm paying for your whole mountain, not just a part of it.
  • The Sun Peaks village is a big "meh" and cannot hold a candle to actual ski in-ski out villages like Big White or Silver Star. For instance:
  • There are a LOT of properties that advertise "ski in-ski out" that are neither (there are also a LOT of properties that simply cannot be accessed on skis and necessitate driving, especially in the Burfield area, which is stupid). Ours (the Crystal Forest) was a 300 m walk to the nearest run out, 250 m from the nearest run in. Several in the East Village area are really isolated.
  • The village was designed for real estate, not skiing. Big White's village has the ski through accesses, accessible to a snow-cat, going to and from EVERY place you can stay; Sun Peaks has major access routes too narrow to groom, and they weave uphill and down. They have a road underpass that requires you to ski up on the other side.
  • There is no signage telling you how to access places to stay in the village from the trails, so you have to just "know" how to get in to your particular place.
  • There is no signage once in the village to tell you what is in what direction. The only signs simply say "Valley Trail", a paved, snow-covered -- but not skiable -- footpath.
  • The core of the village is a barren, empty, sterile place, designed to look like a Tyrollean village for some reason (what's wrong with our own architecture?). The "shopping" is poor. The selection minimal -- unless you're looking to rent ski equipment, which you can do at 3 shops and the main day lodge, too. It doesn't help that several of the eating establishments (PowderHounds, The Steakhouse, Morrissey's Public House) are only open in the evenings, killing pedestrian traffic around them.
The dead "village" at 5:20 PM
  • The village lacks a "centre" focal/meeting point like Big White's expansive day lodge.
  • Here's a good one: you can't throw out garbage before 10 AM or ofter 4:30 PM. Our condo had instructions to take our trash to the (poorly marked) waste transfer station at the Burfield Chair base on departure and not leave it in the condo. Except the station is surrounded by electrified barbed wire (to keep out bears and other critters) and opens at 10 AM -- and we left at 9:30 AM. There are NO garbage cans (bear proof or otherwise) in the village at all. We should thank a nice guy named Eric in maintenance who took our garbage so we could leave. 
  • The Sun Guide program is heavily promoted. We took a tour called the "Around The World Tour". We got in 4 runs in 2.5 hrs. My guests would shoot me if we only got in 4 runs in that time. And it wasn't because we were skiing slow.
I guess you can tell I wasn't that impressed. I loved Morrissey, and there were a bunch of runs off Elevation that were fun. I'd like to try the Lone Pine glade area in actual winter conditions -- but I don't think I'll ever get the chance. Sun Peaks just cannot hold a candle to Big White as a destination resort, a conclusion I came to 31 years ago, and holds as true today as it did then. I probably won't be back anytime soon.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Sun Peaks, not Big White

After skiing at Big White every year since 1997, we switched and are at Sun Peaks this year.

I know Big White like the back of my hand; in fact, I authored an article on how to ski Big White for Powder Magazine's 1999 guide to the 50 Top Ski Resorts in North America.

The cover

No idea who Andy Dappen is
An ironic coincidence: The article merged what I wrote about Big White with what Andy wrote about Sun Peaks.
I could probably Snow Host at Big White. Sun Peaks? Not so much. I skied here once in 1984. That was a pretty cool and significant trip. I was young and single, living near Edmonton, and had vacation I had no idea what to do with. So I decided to take a 2 week road trip and ski all over western Canada, checking out ski resorts. I would spend a day skiing at a resort, then at the end of the day, drive to the next one. I hit (in order):
  • Marmot
  • Lake Louise
  • Sunshine
  • Norquay
  • Panorama
  • Whitetooth, the hill that became Kicking Horse (very much different today than then)
  • Powder Springs, the hill that became Revelstoke (very much different today than then)
  • Sun Peaks
  • Silver Star
  • Big White
  • Apex
  • Red Mountain
  • Whitewater
  • Schweitzer
  • Fernie
It was that trip that caused me to fall in love with Big White as a ski-in, ski out, stay on the hill destination resort. I have few memories of Sun Peaks, on the other hand. I remember a creaky old chair that took a LONG time to get to the top of the mountain, and not much else.

I've skied at Big White 125 days since I started keeping records in 1996; I've done 426 days at Sunshine in the same window, and the next area I have frequented is... Norquay, where I have skied all of 10 days. I've skied 617 days at 24 different resorts since 1996, and only 66 have been at somewhere other than Sunshine or Big White. 

I'm here for 4 days. I'll tell you what I think about the place after I'm done.