The Deep, White Secret

Sun Peaks Resort: Kamloops, British Columbia

Nov 1, 1998
Outside Magazine

It may not be Whistler, but it just might become Blackcomb. And then some. For what once was a steep little stump-mined hill known as Tod Mountain is becoming, through a three-decade transformation, a five-mountain, lift-laced behemoth that aesthetically resembles (and will eventually outsize) Whistler's glacial better half.

No coincidence. In 1992 Tod Mountain—which in its first 30 years had gone through more overzealous, undercapitalized owners than your average Miami cigarette boat—was acquired by Japanese resort builder Nippon Cable, which also owns a good chunk of Blackcomb. Money flowed like spring runoff and the area grew into Sun Peaks (800-807-3257), self-dubbed "the West's next great mountain resort." Design-award-winning lodges sprang from the mud. An entire mountain, the second in Sun Peaks' master plan, was added to the terrain map. Express lifts dropped from the sky.
Some locals view this investment invasion as a contagious virus incubated by the evil geniuses of Whistler, but for the rest of us it's a rare opportunity: Show up at Sun Peaks in the next half-dozen years and you'll think you've time-warped back to Aspen or Vail in those innocent early days, when they were still frequented by folks who prefer endorphins to stock options.

The best of both worlds? Could be, at least for the time being. Aside from its out-of-the-box newness, Sun Peaks has a bevy of other lures: close proximity by highway to both western BC and western Washington; a foreign-investment-fueled international flavor, with skiers from Germany, Japan, and beyond; and a primo brand-name endorsement from Nancy Greene, 1968 Canadian gold medalist, who pulled up 20 years of Whistler roots to move to Sun Peaks, where she and her husband, former racer and ski coach Al Raine, now run a ski-in-ski-out lodge.

Extensive resculpting (OK, bulldozing) of the formerly gnarly, stump- and bump-infested Tod has added a mix of intermediate and easy runs—long cruisers, ultrawide rookie trails, and a sweet set of super-steep racetracks on Sunburst Ridge—but not at the expense of the sewing-machine-knee-inducing steeps that made the old peak infamous. Saved from the big shave were Tod's thousand-vertical-foot tree-ski paradise, the Gils; four downright frightening double-diamond chutes known as the Headwalls; and other tough nuts like the double-diamond Challenger, one of the most vertical lift-served plunges this side of Jackson Hole.

The snow? Well, it's not overwhelming in amount, but it's typically marvelous in feel and consistency. For proof, note that Mike Wiegele's legendary heli-ski operation at Blue River is but a half-hour's flight to the north. Many of the same weather patterns that fuel Wiegele's hero-snow business do their deed on Sun Peaks' 6,800-foot summit first. Fog can be a problem at this resort, which lies west of Big White and Silver Star, but with primarily southern exposure, there are plenty of blazing powder days.

Lodging options grow monthly, with new hotels and condo units popping up as if sprayed from water cannons. For now, the bunks of choice among the 3,000 already available are at Greene's Cahilty Lodge ($70; 800-244-8424), which boasts 193 hotel- and condo-style units and the added advantage of a hostess with more than her share of insider intelligence.