A TALE OF THREE SKI RE­SORTS

Red Moun­tain, Revelstoke and Sun Peaks make fam­ily of four be­gin­ners feel at home

Vancouver Sun - - TRAVEL - ROBIN ESROCK

For first-timers, few sports in­tim­i­date like ski­ing.

How­ever, I’m told learn­ing to ski has be­come eas­ier than ever. Man­u­fac­tur­ers have in­tro­duced snow­board-in­spired tech­nol­ogy to make skis more sta­ble and for­giv­ing, while mod­ern boots are com­fort­able and warm.

As a South African im­mi­grant, ski­ing doesn’t come nat­u­rally, but I tell my Brazil­ian wife I think this is what real Cana­di­ans do: this is what we should do.

Where does a fam­ily of four be­gin? Is it pos­si­ble to go from zero to blue in just six days? And with so many op­tions, what moun­tain do we choose? RED MOUN­TAIN

Let’s start small, al­though with 3,850 acres of ski ter­rain, Ross­land’s Red Moun­tain Re­sort is no tri­fle. Laid-back, Red might not have a vil­lage stroll or in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned restau­rants, but it has two in­cred­i­ble as­sets for first-timers: the fan­tas­tic new Josie Ho­tel, and guest su­per­vi­sor Robin Hethey.

No sooner had our van pulled up than we were swept up by both: wel­comed warmly with smiles and games in the stylish lobby, and di­rected to the Josie’s easy-as-pie ski concierge. Within an hour we were geared up at Red Rentals, with Hethey ar­rang­ing our lessons and or­ga­niz­ing fun tents for the kids in our spa­ciously mod­ern suite.

You can­not stay any closer to Red’s main ski chair than the bou­tique Josie, a lo­gis­ti­cal joy for us, peo­ple un­ac­cus­tomed to all the lay­ers and equip­ment.

Within our first hour of lessons, we grad­u­ate from the magic car­pet to the ski chair for a green (eas­i­est) run. My daugh­ter quickly pro­ceeds to bomb down the moun­tain, but she’s al­ways en­joyed french fries over pizza. These two food groups dou­ble for be­gin­ning ski in­struc­tion: straight skis to go, a wedge to stop. Even our three-year-old fig­ured that out pretty quick. By the sec­ond hour, we are ac­tu­ally ski­ing: un­bal­anced like a new­born foal, but ski­ing nonethe­less.

I have a swell of pride watch­ing them, and the view. Be­ing sur­rounded by stun­ning Koote­nay win­ter wilder­ness is mag­i­cal.

Al­though known for its more chal­leng­ing ter­rain, Red turned out to be a per­fect place to learn: easy to ac­cess, no line­ups, friendly lo­cals, no wor­ry­ing some­one with our skill level was go­ing to plow into our back.

Re­turn­ing to the Josie, the ski concierge makes off-load­ing a cinch. They take care of our boots, skis and poles, and sort out to­mor­row’s lift tick­ets, too.

This small re­sort has plenty of ad­van­tages, es­pe­cially for fam­i­lies: our kids quickly have the run of the place, we get to know the staff per­son­ally, and ev­ery­thing is con­tained. What’s more, Hethey and her team could drop off and fetch our kids from the con­ve­nient Kin­der­care, grant­ing my wife and I time to tackle runs on our own.

“Par­al­lel will come nat­u­rally, you just need to put the hours in,” ex­plains a guide on one of the chairs. As with every­one we meet on Red — and in the town of Ross­land a few min­utes’ drive down the road — he is in love with the three moun­tains that make up the re­sort.

His­tory is on full dis­play in the ad­ja­cent Rafters pub, with sepia photos of old school ski teams, var­i­ous tro­phies, and boards honour­ing lo­cal Olympic he­roes like Nancy Greene Raine, Derek Mayer and Ker­rin Lee-gart­ner. Ski­ing is a cul­ture as much as a sport. Red proved to be an in­spir­ing in­tro­duc­tion to both. REVELSTOKE

Af­ter a four-hour snow-packed drive from Ross­land, we ar­rived in Revelstoke, which Out­side Mag­a­zine re­cently named as one of North Amer­ica’s Next Great Ski Towns. Amer­i­can me­dia are a lit­tle be­hind on B.C.’S won­ders: Revelstoke has been a great ski town for over a decade.

Lo­cated about a 10-minute drive out of town, Revelstoke Moun­tain Re­sort is served by the on-site Sut­ton Place Ho­tel, sev­eral de­cent restau­rants, a few stores, and 3,100 acres of ter­rain with the long­est lift-ac­cessed ver­ti­cal in North Amer­ica.

More rel­e­vant to be­gin­ners is the 15-km-long Last Spike, the con­ti­nent’s long­est ski run. We’d ac­cess this green, zigzag track from the new Stel­lar Chair, a wel­come ad­di­tion for new­bies on a moun­tain known for its deep pow­der and steep hills.

We lined up with ex­cited lo­cals and a sur­pris­ingly high num­ber of Aus­tralian, U.K. and Amer­i­can tourists to get fit­ted for rentals. 20 cm of fresh snow had fallen overnight, and the early morn­ing lineup at the Rev­e­la­tion Gon­dola was no­tice­able. How­ever, Revelstoke’s handy RFID lift card sys­tem quickly sped things along.

The runs might be steep, but so is the learn­ing curve. My six-year-old and I were al­ready itch­ing for blue in­ter­me­di­ate runs, but I couldn’t keep up to her. While my wife per­fected her par­al­lel turn­ing tech­nique, I dis­cov­ered the joys of speed — and what hap­pens when one pushes be­yond their tal­ent level. A spec­tac­u­lar wipe­out re­minded me, rather painfully, that I’m not six years old, flex­i­ble as Play­doh, and with the heal­ing pow­ers of Wolver­ine. Take your time, go at your own pace, and find the joy of sim­ply glid­ing down the moun­tain, en­joy­ing the scenery, breath­ing air so fresh it should be bot­tled.

Given the num­ber of kids about, Revelstoke is cer­tainly an all-ages af­fair. Our kids loved their in­struc­tors, who work with the Roc Kids Cen­tre and Moun­tain Child­care. Much like an all-in­clu­sive va­ca­tion, we could sim­ply drop off the kids in the morn­ing and pick them up in the af­ter­noon. As for lessons, the ben­e­fit is ob­vi­ous and there was lit­tle doubt my kids did much bet­ter when we weren’t around.

“Every­one has a dif­fer­ent level of chal­lenges,” ex­plains our very pa­tient in­struc­tor, Matt. Orig­i­nally from Ade­laide, he re­lo­cated to Revelstoke a dozen years ago, dis­cov­er­ing a moun­tain com­mu­nity so ideal he never left. “Our job is to help you achieve your goals, from sim­ply get­ting up in a chair to con­quer­ing a black run.”

Matt and his col­leagues were cer­tainly help­ing us achieve ours: be­fore we left Van­cou­ver, I dreamed of be­ing able to see my fam­ily on skis, to­gether, en­joy­ing an ad­ven­ture. On a lovely green run called Big Bend, that dream came true faster, and more clearly, than I could have hoped for.

SUN PEAKS

In less than a week, our con­fi­dence on skis ap­pears to have grown with the size of the re­sort.

If Red is a com­mu­nity moun­tain, and Revelstoke a full-ser­vice re­sort, Sun Peaks rep­re­sents a more tra­di­tional ski get­away. Lo­cated 45 min­utes’ drive from Kam­loops, the re­sort has grown from a sin­gle moun­tain in the early ’90s into Canada’s sec­ond largest ski area, burst­ing with en­ergy, a charm­ing vil­lage, and a grow­ing all-year com­mu­nity.

We may not be tack­ling any wild blue or black runs yet, but we have started to zip be­tween trees and ex­plore Sun Peak’s sprawl­ing pow­der.

We holed up in a com­fort­able suite at the Coast Sun­dance Lodge, just steps away from the moun­tain base lifts which shoot off in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions. By now, lay­er­ing up had be­come eas­ier, and hav­ing had the op­por­tu­nity to try var­i­ous styles of boots and skis, the rental equip­ment we picked up at the El­e­va­tion store slipped on with­out much effort.

Comprised of three moun­tains, Sun Peaks of­fers the full vil­lage apres/shop­ping/din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. I met sev­eral Aus­tralian fam­i­lies on their sum­mer hol­i­days, and all be­lieved the ex­tra effort to get to Sun Peaks was worth it.

Ski vet­er­ans tell me Sun Peaks is the per­fect fam­ily moun­tain, with gor­geous runs for all lev­els. Our in­struc­tor, Kate, guides us to a run off the Mor­risey Ex­press called In the Sticks, al­low­ing us to slalom be­tween patches of won­der­land for­est. Above the Sun­burst Ex­press, the whole fam­ily skis down a green run called Cahilty, and once again I’m struck by how ob­vi­ous a de­light ski­ing is, and how it will only get bet­ter as our skills im­prove, and the kids get older. For now, they’re happy to es­cape the chill and be dropped off at the Sun­dance Kids Cen­tre, mak­ing friends from around the world.

The cli­max of our jour­ney takes place at night. My wife and I sign up for the Alpine Fondue and Starlight De­scent, which takes place in the mid-moun­tain Sun­burst Bar + Eatery. She’s ner­vous we don’t yet pos­sess the skill to de­scend the freshly groomed 5 Mile trail by flash­light, but we’re in the safe hands of vol­un­teer Sun Peaks vet­er­ans, and a belly full of wine, cheese and chocolate goes a long way.

Buoyed by fine com­pany — in­clud­ing two An­tipodean fam­i­lies with in­de­pen­dent teenage kids to give us hope — we group up for the night­time ad­ven­ture.

Through­out our jour­ney, the B.C. in­te­rior had been hit by snow­storms and an un­sea­sonal cold snap. Tem­per­a­tures at the base of Revelstoke and Sun Peaks had fallen to -25C, and low clouds had boxed us in. Tonight, on cue, the tem­per­a­ture warms and the stars sparkle. Half­way down the hill, af­ter carv­ing a series of fig­ure-eights, we stop to switch off our head­lamps and ad­mire the sweep­ing gal­ax­ies above. Surely this is as good as it gets.

We spent just six days learn­ing to ski on a two-week road trip. It has fun­da­men­tally changed the way we look at win­ter, and al­ready we’re eye­ing Van­cou­ver’s moun­tains with a new-found in­ter­est. At last I un­der­stand why skiers are so ex­cited each win­ter.

If you ski al­ready, you know ex­actly what I’m talk­ing about. If you don’t, per­haps it’s time for your fam­ily to hit the hills.

REVELSTOKE MOUN­TAIN RE­SORT

The Sut­ton Place Ho­tel at the base of Revelstoke Moun­tain Re­sort is Revelstoke’s only ski-in/ski-out ho­tel.

ROBIN ESROCK

Gear­ing up at Red Moun­tain is a breeze with Josie Ho­tel’s ski concierge ser­vice.

PHOTOS: ROBIN ESROCK

Sun Peaks vil­lage is home to sev­eral kids ac­tiv­i­ties in­clud­ing a ski bungee tram­po­line.

Moun­tain Child Care at Revelstoke is open seven days a week in win­ter.

Sun Peak’s ski-in, ski-out vil­lage is at the bot­tom of three moun­tains.

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