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It’s not often that I interview mayors over lattes. It’s even rarer when that mayor is dressed head-to-toe in ski gear, fresh off several morning ski runs. For Al Raine, mayor of the Sun Peaks Mountain Resort Municipality, this isn’t unusual. He clocked in more than 20 runs before 12 p.m. the previous day.
Sun Peaks, a mountain resort community near Kamloops, British Columbia, in the Thompson Okanagan region, is Canada’s first mountain resort municipality. It’s a snow recreation oasis where schoolchildren take a lift up to their classrooms and squeeze in black diamond runs during recess or their regular three-day weekends.
“It has become a community pride,” Raine said.
Though we can’t all live in this snow-topia, Sun Peaks Resort does a great job of extending its homey atmosphere to guests through a rich array of wintertime experiences, from snowshoeing and Nordic skiing to riding in a personal snow limo and even skiing with a resident Olympiad.
Nancy Greene Raine, the mayor’s wife, is not only the director of skiing at Sun Peaks Resort, she is also a senator for British Columbia and was recognized by the Canadian Press as Canada’s Female Athlete of the 20th Century for her career as an Olympic skier.
This year, the resort added two new alpine ski zones, making Sun Peaks the second-largest ski area in Canada at 4,270 acres and more than 130 trails. It was also declared the No. 2 Ski Destination in Canada by Canadian Living Magazine’s Reader Poll and one of the Top 10 Family-Friendly Ski Resorts in North America by Conde Nast Traveler.
Raine, who was voted mayor when the municipality was established in 2010, has always believed that the key to being a great resort is being a great community first.
“I guarantee you that someone will take you under his or her wing while you’re here,” Raine said.
As a newbie, I benefited from the down-to-earth vibe, lack of lines and ease of access at Sun Peaks. The teachers at the Sun Peaks Snow School were well-versed and patient, resulting in my best ski performance to date.
There are several accommodations with ski-in access, but I found Sun Peaks Lodge perfectly cozy and welcoming. Located in the resort’s European-style shopping and dining village, the lodge is home to its own spa and a steakhouse restaurant. And due to its proximity to the ski lifts, it was easy to be among the first to make tracks in the morning’s fresh powder.
Come nightfall, resort guests take part in unique experiences including a Moonlight Snowshoe Tour with campfire-side s’mores and hot chocolate. Our local guide, Rob, shared his knowledge and enthusiasm about the Okanagan’s food, wine and animals as we hiked.
Another night, we boarded a chairlift for a twilight ride to the on-site Sunburst Restaurant, where we listened to live music as the sun set and enjoyed a fun meal of fondue at a communal table. After the meal, I had two options: to ski down the lantern-lit slopes or to board my own personal “snow limo,” arguably the most leisurely (and rare) method of traversing snow. I chose the limo.
The snow limo is essentially a chaise lounge chair on skis, so one’s legs are comfortably splayed forward, wrapped in blankets to shield from the elements when gliding down the mountain. And it moves via an able-bodied chauffeur who is strapped into skis that run the length of the limo.
While others descended the 5-mile decline with a headlamp and their skis or boards, I lazed in luxury and marveled at the headlamps that looked like shooting stars as they whizzed by.
It was a tough act to follow, but luckily my last activity for my visit was another chaperoned ride — with mountain dog chauffeurs. The resort’s on-site dog-sledding company, Mountain Man Dog Sled Adventure, is run by a couple who treats their Alaskan Huskies as members of their family, making the experience of driving your own dog sled especially warm and memorable.
Sun Peaks also puts on a few events during the year, including concerts and the annual Winter Festival of Wine, which features about 20 unique events highlighting B.C. wines, food pairings, live music and snow activities. Family programming includes Santa visits in the winter, family races, weekly family nights at the ice rink and weekly crafts nights as well as a new All Mountain Skills Camp, a two-day program that covers the fundamentals of terrain assessment, hazard analysis, overnight survival, companion rescue and more.
Sure, it takes a city, but there might not be a more ideal ski community in North America.