The sky’s the limit for ev­ery­one on the slopes of Kam­loops

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Northern Hemisphere Ski Holidays - CATHER­INE MAR­SHALL

VERON­ICA Con­nors ab­sorbed an in­deli­ble les­son dur­ing her ca­reer as an on­col­ogy and pal­lia­tive care nurse: life should be lived with rel­ish, for who knows when it will end.

‘ ‘ My pa­tients were get­ting younger and younger and they were telling me to go and live the dream, be­cause they could no longer live their dream,’’ she says.

Heed­ing this poignant ad­vice, Con­nors and her hus­band, Neil, bought a con­do­minium at the Sun Peaks Ski Re­sort near Kam­loops in Bri­tish Columbia, Canada, four years ago and took jobs there as snow­shoes, trudg­ing along a groomed path called Chemin des Plan­etes ( hence the astrological sculp­tures).

Given the late hour and the heavy snow, I hitch a ride on the back of a snow­mo­bile laden with guests’ ruck­sacks, ski bags and a woman with a baby.

Frozen, I stag­ger from the Ski­Doo into the warm en­try hall and step straight back in time. When it was built, the Ho­tel Weis­shorn favoured le style anglais. Guests dressed for din­ner and gentle­men smoked only in the fu­moir. More than 100 years on, the orig­i­nal decor re­mains but heat­ing and mod­ern show­ers have been added, and sar­to­rial ex­pec­ta­tions have come down a peg (jeans and GoreTex pre­vail, with red felt slip­pers pro­vided by our hosts).

In the tra­di­tion­ally fur­nished sa­lon sits the orig­i­nal piano, which was car­ried up the moun­tain on the backs of six men over sev­eral days. Be­side it is a wood-burn­ing wa­ter heater cum shower ( no longer in use). There is Wi-Fi now, yet the tele­graph ma­chine still hangs on the wall and wide cor­ri­dors are dot­ted with porce­lain wa­ter pitch­ers and black-and-white por­traits.

Af­ter a four-course din­ner — in­clud­ing foie gras mousse, veal chops and ex­cel­lent Valais wine in the ca­sual wood-lined din­ing room among a few Swiss fam­i­lies and small groups — I re­tire to my sea­sonal ski in­struc­tors. It was nir­vana for the cou­ple, who had spent years hol­i­day­ing at Whistler with their now-grown chil­dren.

But af­ter car­ing for ter­mi­nally ill pa­tients in her home city of Bris­bane, Con­nors thought it in­dul­gent to spend her days ski­ing with healthy hol­i­day-mak­ers.

‘‘I needed an­other out­let to be the giver I am,’’ she says.

An op­por­tu­nity pre­sented it­self on the frosted runs that stretch off into the dis­tance above Kam­loops. Dis­abled peo­ple were be­ing drawn here by the re­sort’s adap­tive sports pro­gram and could be seen fly­ing through the snow, their in­struc­tors fol­low­ing close be­hind.

Named Adap­tive Sports at Sun sim­ple bed­room. The next morn­ing, blind­ing sun­shine cas­cades through the win­dows, re­veal­ing dozens of peaks, in­clud­ing the Dent d’Herens, the glacier of Les Di­ablerets and the Dent Blanche, which tops out at 4358m.

Some­where in an­other world far be­low, skiers are queu­ing in hire shops, clat­ter­ing on to buses and shuf­fling in lift lines. I have a third cof­fee and feel pretty smug about it. I don’t need to worry about any­one else steal­ing the first tracks of the day up here.

There are no groomed pistes from the ho­tel but there’s ski tour­ing or snow­shoe­ing from the door as well as the fan­tas­tic and lit­tle known off-piste of the Val d’An­niviers.

Some­thing of a cult des­ti­na­tion for powder, its best-known area, Gri­mentz — across the val­ley and con­nected by a free bus — is still likely to draw blank stares back home; with only a cou­ple of ho­tels and cosy restau­rants, it’s way off the map com­pared with big hit­ters such as Ver­bier. For fam­i­lies and piste skiers, the shared lift pass of the Val d’An­niviers cov­ers a re­spectable num­ber of slopes across four sep­a­rate ar­eas — Ver­corin, Gri­mentz, Zi­nal and StLuc Chan­dolin — linked by free, clock­work-efficient shut­tle buses.

But the real ap­peal is the empty off-piste. To make the most of it, guests can book a lo­cal moun­tain guide in the near­est re­sort, St Luc, Peaks, the pro­gram works closely with the re­sort’s Snow Sports School and is sup­ported by donors such as the Sun Peaks Cor­po­ra­tion, Ro­tary and the Kam­loops ice-hockey team. Trained ski in­struc­tors vol­un­teer their ser­vices and use adapted equip­ment such as sit-skis (for peo­ple who can’t stand) and beep­ers with which to guide the blind.

Of par­tic­u­lar ap­peal to Con­nors was the pro­gram’s sup­port for the lo­cal dis­abled com­mu­nity, whose ac­cess to the pop­u­lar Cana­dian pas­time of ski­ing was se­verely re­stricted. One of their ini­tia­tives, a 10-week ski course for dis­abled youth, is par­tic­u­larly valu­able for stu­dents who are usu­ally side­lined or in Gri­mentz. Ear­lier in the week, while staying in Gri­mentz, I j oined a guided Fresh­tracks Ex­plo­ration group hol­i­day of­fered by the Ski Club of Great Bri­tain.

Lo­cal guide Vin­cent Thaler led dur­ing phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion classes.

‘‘These kids were al­ways dis­ad­van­taged be­cause they’d be sitting in the can­teen while their class­mates were out hav­ing a great time,’’ Con­nors says. ‘‘A big fo­cus for us is to get them ski-safe so that they can ski with their class­mates. We are hold­ing on to teth­ers be­hind them so they can’t just fly off by them­selves.’’

Ac­cred­ited with the Dis­abled Ski As­so­ci­a­tion of Bri­tish Columbia or the Cana­dian Ski Al­liance, the vol­un­teers nudge their charges to­wards an im­pres­sive level of com­pe­tence.

‘‘It’s not just a case of ‘Oh, we’ll take these dis­abled kids for a ride’,’’ Con­nors says. ‘ ‘ We’re ac­tu­ally us cheer­fully down one of the clas­sic powder routes, called Chache, a wind­ing de­scent that starts bang off the lift and curls through widely spaced trees for an hour, spit­ting you out at the vil­lage of St train­ing them to ski with a view to im­prov­ing their ski­ing enough that they could even j oin a dis­abled rac­ing team.’’

One of Con­nors’s for­mer stu­dents, a teenager with cere­bral palsy, is now be­ing groomed for the Lon­don 2012 Par­a­lympics.

Con­nors re­calls an­other teenager who took up ski­ing less than a year af­ter be­ing paral­ysed in a moun­tain-bik­ing ac­ci­dent; and the par­ents who cried at the joy their autis­tic son felt as he took his first glide on skis.

She also men­tions Cindi King, who took up the sport again af­ter a moun­taineer­ing ac­ci­dent that left her a para­plegic and an am­putee. King says she re­mem­bers won­der- Jean, where a shut­tle bus whips you back to base for more. Off­piste routes such as Chache are what Val d’An­niviers is all about.

Back at the Weis­shorn, a group of ski tour­ers heads off af­ter break- ing why she waited so long to try this new ad­ven­ture ‘ ‘ and start liv­ing my life to the fullest’’. She had al­ways been afraid of down­hill ski­ing, even be­fore her in­jury.

‘‘Fly­ing down that hill for the first time was ex­hil­a­rat­ing and free­ing to my spirit,’’ she says. ‘‘It opened up a world of new pos­si­bil­i­ties in all as­pects of my life. If I could con­quer my fears of down­hill ski­ing, the sky was the limit.’’

Ho­tel Weis­shorn sits above the Val d’An­niviers ski slopes

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