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“This isn’t your grandma’s sport,” said my Nordic skiing instructor as he briefed me for my first-ever cross-country skiing lesson.
I was at Silver Star Mountain Resort, located near the town of Vernon in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, coolly tackling a long list of firsts: cross-country (Nordic) skiing, downhill (Alpine) skiing, tubing, sleigh riding and even just staying at a ski-in, ski-out resort.
What could have been a weekend of cursing my snow-averse parents and the sunny beach bubble in which I was raised turned out to be a very comfortable opportunity to sample what the snow can offer. Prior to my trip, my snow sports resume was lacking — just a series of peer-pressured snowboarding trips to California’s busy mountains. Learning the mechanics of moving on snow is challenging enough, without having to navigate through a bunny hill studded with fellow fallen newbies or freeze through a long lift line with impatient, impeccably dressed pros.
The intimacy of Silver Star, along with its small-town vibe and family focus, is not a place where insecurities about skills or looking cool take over.
“Customers are a part of the resort the moment they arrive — they don’t get lost in the masses, nor do they feel disconnected from the other people enjoying the resort,” said Doug Chimuk, marketing projects coordinator at Silver Star Mountain Resort. “They become part of the community and make friends, enhancing their experience.”
Also contributing to the resort’s warm ambience is its quaint aesthetic and architecture. The village resembles a 1900s mining town drawn up from the mind of a child, with bold colorful buildings that look like crayons against the white snow. A variety of shops and eateries — including a European, owner-run cafe with homemade chocolate pastries and coffee called Bugaboos — also add to the small-town feel. And, like any great village, there are many welcoming locals.
“We have a number of staff members who have 25-plus years at the resort” said Chimuk. “Our staff is passionate about Silver Star and is in for the long haul.”
The vibe is quite different than at other mountain resorts, which generally staff young ex-pats and snow-fiends for temporary hire. My instructors — who were part of the on-property Snow School led by Norman Kreutz, the former director for the Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance — were seasoned veterans of the property and of their sport. My Nordic teacher Guy Paulsen, for example, has not only been an instructor for more than 25 years, but he acts as a great spokesman for cross country skiing’s increasing popularity.
“If there was any time for Nordic to explode, it is now,” said Paulsen. “It’s a great way to experience winter, rather than escape it.”
And Silver Star makes it easy to embrace the season in your preferred way. For a second year, the resort is offering an inclusive season’s pass that offers unlimited skiing as well as skating, tubing and snowshoeing. The “My1Pass” is a great option for clients staying for an extended period.
I’m glad I got a taste for the resort’s world-class skiing, but some of my favorite moments were apres-ski. A must-do at the resort is a cowboy-style dinner at the Wild Horseman’s Cabin, accessed only by horse sleigh or by cross-country skiing. Riding the sleigh in the dead of night to a warming, rustic dinner with Okanagan wine was truly memorable. New last year was a high-tech bowling alley, a fun place to warm up after multiple runs down the adjacent tubing course. I was also lucky enough to visit in early February during the BC Championship Snow Sculpture Competition and repeatedly found myself slack-jawed in front of the frozen, seemingly gravity-defying carvings.
Considering how family friendly the resort is, it may come as a surprise that Silver Star offers notable options for advanced winter sports. Known for some of North America’s best early Nordic skiing conditions, Silver Star annually hosts world-class teams for training, and snowboarders and alpine skiers have plenty of options as well.
“Our Back Side is more than 1,900 acres with more than 50-plus black and double black diamond runs,” said Chimuk. “It’s a massive area for advanced skiers and the largest in the region. It has huge vertical drops, express lift access and it’s not crowded. It’s a dream area on powder days. With more than 3,000 skiable acres and so many activities, it is easy to find intimacy and quiet time at the resort.”
Silver Star Mountain Resortwww.skisilverstar.com
Where to StaySilver Star offers 10 different choices of ski-in, ski-out lodging, including townhomes offering up to six bedrooms. Among the most luxurious accommodations is the Snowbird Lodge, which offers suites with a personal hot tub, a full kitchen, free Wi-Fi connectivity and access to a fitness room, a kids’ play area, a 24-seat theater, ski lockers and more.