Sovereign Lake already busy
It was the best of both Okanagan worlds last weekend.
On Saturday, the Sheriff joined other members of the Central Okanagan Outdoors Club for a hike through Stephens Coyote Ridge Regional Park in Kelowna. There was no snow or ice, and the fall temperatures were pleasant.
On Sunday, COOC members checked out the mid-winter conditions at Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre in the North Okanagan. We took gentle (green) Woodland Bell and more challenging Black Prince over to Black Prince Cabin. It was too early for lunch, so we took Carl Wylie Trail back to the lodge.
As always, both of the Sheriff’s favourite trails were meticulously groomed.
November, March and April are like that in the Okanagan. You can enjoy fall/spring conditions in the valley bottom, but at the higher elevations it’s still winter with all the opportunities to play in the snow.
Sovereign Lake is already setting records only a month into its winter season.
The popular ski area opened on Monday, Nov. 5, so the first full weekend was Nov. 10 and 11 — the Remembrance Day long weekend. Staff sold a total of 1,028 day passes, and there were lots of season pass holders.
“It was a zoo,” admitted general manager Troy Hudson with a laugh. “But so many of our trails are one way that any congestion falls apart.”
Every weekend since then has been busy, he added, with a lot of clubs coming up for what many are describing as the best earlyseason snow conditions in North America.
Members of the main core of regional clubs — Telemark, Larch Hills and Revelstoke — all came for early-season training, plus there were members from other Canadian and U.S. clubs.
“The parking lot is always a good indicator,” said Hudson. “It’s been gigantic, even the night skiing.”
Day skiing hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week, and night skiing is 5-8 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday.
Registration for the popular Masters program has already reached 176 compared to last year’s total of 156 “which is wild. We’re not even at the end of registration,” said Hudson.
Membership in Sovereign Lake Nordic Club is already at 1,829, so it will likely exceed last year’s all-time record of 1,851.
“We’re trying to break 2,000,” said Hudson, noting no Canadian club has ever had that many members.
This season, Sovereign introduced a new $100 family pass — two adults and children — for snowshoeing “as a way of introducing new people to the club. It’s a screaming good deal,” said Hudson.
During the off-season, Sovereign Lake only completed small improvements such as a new wood stove in the Black Prince Cabin, improving the biathlon range and investing in race equipment, but did a lot of preparatory work toward hosting the 2020 Canadian Ski Championships in late March 2020.
About 1,300 participants from midgets to seniors are expected to attend since the premier event on the 2020 domestic race calendar will fall immediately after the World Cup Finals in Canmore, Alta., on March 20, 2020.
Sovereign is hoping athletes from across North America, and hopefully the U.S. and Europe, will extend their stay for another week to come to the Okanagan. “That will be huge,” said Hudson. In the official announcement, Cross Country Canada (cccski.com) noted: “Clubs throughout the area, including Sovereign Lake, Larch Hills in Salmon Arm, Telemark out of Kelowna and Kimberley along with Black Jack from the Kootenays and Revelstoke, have continued to support highperformance racing programs over the last 10 seasons.
“Sovereign Lake Nordic has played a critical role in providing Canadian cross-country skiers access to snow early in the season as the anchor to our NorAm program,” said Dave Dyer, Cross Country Canada’s events director.
“It was time we finished the season off in the same style as we have become accustomed to every December by going back to the Vernon region for our national championships.”
The selection committee was especially impressed with the evolution of the leadership group and dedicated staff at Sovereign Lake, added Dyer.
Homologated in 2005 to meet FIS standards in preparation for the return of the FIS World Cup to Canada, the trails at Sovereign Lake will provide a variety of options for both senior and junior skiers at the 94th running of the Canadian Ski Championships event.
“SLNC last hosted the Canadian Ski Championships in 1995, making the 2020 nationals campaign the 25th anniversary of that event. An annual stop on the Haywood NorAm circuit each December, hosting other world-class events such as the 2005 World Cup and 2011 World Masters Championships, SLNC is poised to once again welcome our country’s top athletes during these eight days of racing,” said Pat Pearce, who chairs the Sovereign bid committee. “The organizing committee is excited to get to work on its tasks to host the 2020 Canadian Ski National Championships.”
At an elevation of 1667 metres, Sovereign Lake Nordic Club and Silver Star Mountain Resort together provide more than 105 kilometres of daily groomed Nordic ski trails. Its high elevation, moderate winter temperatures, world-class grooming and outstanding early- and late-season ski conditions provide some of the best cross-country skiing in the world, said Dyer.
SLNC, established in 1974 with backcountry skiing roots dating back to the early 1930s, hosts more than 29,000 visitors annually and offers a busy S’Cool Ski Program for more than 1,700 local children in three school districts.
* * * Great news for those who love the 16 wood trestles, two steel spans and two rock tunnels in the Myra Canyon south of Kelowna. At this week’s regular monthly meeting of the Central Okanagan Outdoors Club, members voted in favour of donating $1,000 to the Myra Canyon Trestle Restoration Society.
“The donation is much appreciated and will be put to good use in 2019 to pay for trail improvements,” said Denis Davis, society president.
Since 1993, the non-profit registered charitable foundation has worked with BC Parks to maintain and care for the 12-kilometre Myra Canyon section of the former Kettle Valley Railway. Trail counters tally 70,000 visitors a year.
Its annual budget is $30,000 a year from fundraising.
* * * The 2018-19 season may have only just begun, but Big White Ski Resort also has 2020 in its sights. The resort is in the early stages of being considered as a host for a FIS World Cup Snowboard Cross event next season.
The first step in determining whether Big White is a good fit for an event of this magnitude is a site inspection — completed last weekend by Jeff Ihaski, president of White Industries Ltd. and world-recognized snowcross builder.
He and Flynn Seddon, the resort’s director of terrain parks and outdoor events, toured Telus Park on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, determining the layout of a potential snowcross course as well as the snowmaking capabilities in that area.
Ihaski, who has been building snowcross courses for the Olympics since Torino in 2006, will report his findings back to Canada Snowboard, which he says are “vital in the success of the bid to host.”
“To tell you the truth, the venue is awesome,” Ihaski said. “We’re just finding the top section to be pretty tight and steep. So we’re trying to find ways to run that.”
The pair concluded they will have more than enough room to build the course by removing a few rails at the top of the park.
For those who spend a lot of time in the park, don’t worry, as these adjustments shouldn’t alter the experience too much.
“I don’t know how much better it could be than to be able to ride, park and watch the best athletes in the world compete in snowcross,” Seddon said.
Logistically, Ihaski said, Telus Park is already set up for an event like this, which is why he and Seddon didn’t consider other areas on the mountain. There’s enough space, access to power, and room to drive up and unload any needed equipment.
An event like this would be stepping stone for the resort. It would graduate Big White Ski Resort to the same tier as Whistler Blackcomb, Chamonix in France and Verbier in Switzerland.
“Big White, quite honestly, deserves it,” Ihaski said. “Big White’s been really a standout in Western Canada for supporting amateur sports. I think this is really the next step of something that was a long time coming for them.”
Big White has worked closely with the International Paralympic Committee in the past. Last February, it hosted the 2018 World Para-Snowboard World Cup Finals, which saw 80 para-athletes from 16 countries across the globe compete in snowboardcross and banked slalom.
“To have a FIS World Cup snowboard event would pretty much cap off my entire career at Big White Ski Resort,” said Seddon, whose long history at Big White includes working as the mountain’s first snowboard instructor in the late 1980s and then moving back permanently in 1994.
Overall, both Ihaski and Seddon were pleased with the outcome of the inspection.
“If Jeff knows that he could construct a course here that would satisfy the international riders and that there’s a course he could build here that he would feel proud of, then that’s fine with me,” Seddon said. “We have to have a top-notch course in order to host a top-level event.”
*** Members of the Central Okanagan Naturalists’ Club will go on a journey to Namibia at their next meeting, 7 p.m. on Dec. 11 at Evangel Church, 3261 Gordon Dr. in Kelowna.
For his presentation on Jewels of Nature in Namibia, George W. Scotter, a long-term member of CONC, will take members on a circle trip throughout much of Namibia. They will visit the World Heritage sites at Twylfelfontein to see 6,000-year-old rock art and the Namib desert to climb massive sand dunes while enjoying the mammals, large and small, and dozens of birds at Etosha National Park and other areas.
He hopes members will gain an understanding of the threats to species such as cheetahs and black rhinoceros, and the role of ecotourism in sustaining those populations.
Scotter was a research scientist and research director for the Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada, for 30 years. He is a past president of Nature Canada.
J.P. Squire, a.k.a. the Ski Sheriff, is a retired Okanagan Weekend Edition reporter and an avid outdoors enthusiast. His column appears Saturdays. You can contact him with your outdoor news at [email protected]
Members of the Central Okanagan Outdoors Club checked out the mid-winter ski conditions at Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre in the North Okanagan last Sunday. It was too early in the morning for lunch at the Black Prince Cabin, above, so a little more wax was applied to skis.