Ski with an Olympic champ
Writer drops by Sun Peaks Resort near Kamloops, British Columbia for Winter Wine Festival and ends up skiing with Olympic gold medalist Nancy Greene.
We slide off the Sunburst chairlift and immediately stop dead in our tracks.
The view from the top is aweinspiring.
As far as the eye can see there are slopes and peaks shrouded in snow-covered evergreens with ski runs meandering through them.
The sky is light blue with the odd wispy cloud dancing across the horizon and the air is crisp, the way it can only be on a perfect winter day.
All of a sudden, a woman’s voice breaks the silence.
“This is why I bring people up here,” she say matter-of-factly.
We swivel our heads to discover it’s none other than Olympic gold medalist Nancy Greene.
This is, after all, Sun Peaks Resort near Kamloops, British Columbia and Greene is director of skiing here.
For the next hour-and-a-half we’ll follow the giant slalom champion from the 1968 Grenoble Games down the easy Homesteader run onto 5 Mile (yes, it really is eight kilometres long), across Crystal Lane to the Trans Canada, straight down Blazer and finish with a Distributor dash to the aptly-named Sting, the most difficult, but spectacular, descent of the day.
In between, our group, made up of a blonde from California, a wine promoter and me, take turns sitting beside Greene on the chairlift to gab.
“The director of skiing job title means whatever I want it to mean,” says Greene, 72, when we share the chair.
“I think it’s important to meet and ski with as many Sun Peaks guests as possible.”
While we’ve been preening like VIPs because we’re skiing with a Canadian ski legend, the reality is anyone can hit the slopes with Greene.
Every weekend and day during school breaks at 1 p.m. she hangs out at the ‘Ski with Nancy’ sign at the top of the Sunburst chairlift to meet up with whoever is game for a group ski.
Such incredible access to an Olympic gold medalist and sports icon is unheard of at other resorts.
But at Sun Peaks, the second biggest ski area in Canada behind only Whistler Blackcomb, Greene is a famous fixture.
She’s made ski tourism promotion her life’s work and has been at Sun Peaks for 21 years, running Nancy Greene’s Cahilty Lodge with her husband, Al Raine, who just happens to be Sun Peaks’ mayor, and skiing with tourists.
But, my wife and I are officially at Sun Peaks to take in the Winter Wine Festival, so I need to get back to Sun Peaks Lodge, where she’s been lounging in front of the fire, to pick her up for apres ski. This is post-ski with a twist. The Spirited Apres is held outdoors at Nancy Greene’s Cahilty Lodge and Okanagan Spirits is serving liqueurs, brandies and whiskies from behind the ice bar.
Of course, Greene is there with a welcoming smile and hello, still in her ski suit, sipping a Pear William brandy.
As it gets dark, the slopeside fireworks are set off and then everyone disperses to get changed for the fest’s marquee event - the Progressive Wine Tasting.
Glass in hand, we wander the pedestrianized and snowy main street of Sun Peaks’ charming village to hit some of the hotels, restaurants and shops where 30 wineries have set up tasting stations for the 650 merrymakers.
It’s billed as winter’s best wine party and we agree as we pass spandexed dancers twirling illuminated hula hoops.
Two of our best wine discoveries are from nearby Kamloops-area wineries - the dry riesling from Harper’s Trail and Monte Creek’s Hands Up white blend named after turn-of-the-century train robber Billy Miner.
There’s more glorious skiing the next day and then a wrap up Winemaker’s Dinner at Mantles restaurant in the tony Sun Peaks Grand Hotel.
We arrive hungry to eat our way through an eight-course tasting menu, matched every step of the way with a different wine, of course.
Stand out dishes included the pillowy-soft crab ravioli with Haywire chardonnay and grilled swordfish paired to Tantalus riesling.
The 10-day Winter Wine Festival is held every year mid-January at Sun Peaks.
The Okanagan Wine Festivals Society also puts on three other multi-day parties in the spring, summer and fall at various venues throughout the Okanagan Valley.
Check out TheWineFestivals.com and SunPeaksResort.com.
Olympic gold medalist Nancy Greene meets up with tourists regularly at Sun Peaks Resort near Kamloops, British Columbia to ski.
The view from the top of the Sunburst chairlift.
Mantles restaurant chef Darren Kashin wowed with his grilled swordfish at The Winemaker’s Dinner at Sun Peaks Grand Hotel.