The Deep, White Secret

Silver Star Mountain Resort: Vernon, British Columbia

    Photo: Silver Star Mountain Resort, British Columbia/Don Weixl Photography

Inner BC skiers often reach their outer limits at Silver Star (information, 250-542-0224; reservations, 800-663-4431), a smaller, more intimate neighbor of Big White. Compared to the bring-the-kiddies trappings found two hours up the road, Silver Star has an alpine-flavored Euro feel, due partially to the "Victorian Gaslight Village" themery in the nonetheless cozy base area, and more than a little to the area's status as British Columbia's nordic skiing capital. The Canadian national skinny-ski team trains on the mountain's 22 impeccably coiffed miles of trails and on 30-plus miles in surrounding Sovereign Lake Provincial Park. In other words, there's plenty to do if you burn out on lift-served splendor. But you probably won't.

Silver Star doesn't get quite the consistent winter dumpage of Big White, which sits a thousand feet higher, but what falls here is put to better use, thanks to a wonderful mix of terrain that beats you up on the mountain's backside and then ushers you ever so gently back to your condo on the sweetly groomed runs down the front. The front in question, Vance Creek, is a south-facing slope with a mix of beginner and intermediate runs, small enough to get the lay of the land in an hour or two yet large enough to stave off boredom for days. But it's the backside, north-facing Putnam Creek, that put Silver Star on BC skiers' must-plunge maps. Putnam's 2,500-foot vertical starts with some uh-oh chutes—a surprising number of which get regular grooming from winch-cat machines—and ends with a series of oh-shit glades. Throw in a couple of Volkswagen-swallowing bump fields and Putnam will run most skiers' fuel tanks down past empty in a day or less. It's some of the most challenging on-piste terrain in BC.

Snow holds longer atop the northside runs, but it's champagne-dry and plenty deep everywhere on the mountain. And the views are right up there with those from the top of Whistler Peak. The mountain's facilities (eight lifts, 85 trails, and two halfpipes) feel small, but runs are generous, lines short or nonexistent, and the degree of thighus fryus at the end of the day feels big-mountain indeed.

In the compact base village, tucked into the center of the mountain, lodging choices range from the plush Delta Silver Star Club Resort ($70; 800-610-0805) to the group-friendly Pinnacles Suite Hotel's slopeside condos ($145; 800-551-7466). Like Big White, Silver Star typically opens early (mid-November) and closes late (mid- to late April). Good thing, because business—while never quite qualifying as gangbusters here—is strong, thanks mainly to an unusually large number of repeat customers. Silver Star regulars say the place is as convenient, relaxing, and friendly as any resort they've encountered. It's a particular hit with families, who rave about the ski school's dual adult/child programs, which tend to ensure that neither generation tells unverifiable big-air tales come dinnertime.

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