Ski Resort Series: Apex

I’m finally up to date on my ski series and I can write about my latest trip, which I went on in late February, to Apex Mountain resort. I’m super excited to write about this one because it ended up being one of my favourite ski trips! Originally we had planned to visit Revelstoke this year, but there are limited group reservations available on the mountain and we couldn’t find anything big enough for our growing group, so we ended up renting a chalet at Apex instead.

I’ll admit, I’d never heard of Apex and I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but we ended up getting some fantastic conditions along with an amazing condo, making for one of the best trips. I’ve heard Apex called one of BC’s hidden gems of a ski resort because it is one of the lesser known resorts and therefore sees fewer visitors than some of the other resorts. We got really lucky this year though because it snowed all over the province for pretty much 2 weeks before our trip, including the day we drove out there, so we had unbelievable conditions on the mountain! Our first runs on Saturday were some of the best skiing I’ve had in a long time because there was about a foot of undisturbed powder on every run.

For those unfamiliar with the resort, Apex is located about 4.5 hours out of Vancouver in the southern part of BC. We drove through Manning Park and Princeton to get to the mountain and it’s about 30 minutes south of Penticton. Last year we visited Silver Star on the Family Day weekend, and while it was great to make use of the holiday, it was really crowded! So this year we went the weekend after Family Day, so there were barely any crowds on the mountain. I don’t think I ever waited longer than 5-10 minutes to get on a lift and most times there was no wait at all.

Apex is definitely smaller than some of the other mountains we’ve visited, but it had a really nice variety of runs. It only has 2 lifts, but like I said, it never felt crowded. We started our day on the far side of the mountain on Stocks Chair, which is a 3-person lift. It’s not a very fast lift, but we spent most of our first morning there because it has a lot of really nice blue runs, great for getting warmed up. Then in the afternoon we switched over to the main chair, which is a high speed quad chair. Many of the runs on the main lift are blacks, so we mostly stuck to the blue runs on the first day.

On the second day I got a little more adventurous and spent the whole day with my sister, Emily, who just recently moved to BC. We slowly worked our way through a good portion of the blacks. I find the black diamond runs at Whistler to be pretty intimidating, but I like trying out the black runs at smaller mountains and working on improving my skills. We started with some of the shorter black runs and slowly worked our way up. Plus, it was a great time to try some tougher runs since the snow conditions were so good! Some of the runs got a bit chewed up over two days, but it was surprising how many still had some really nice powder on them! My only complaint about the mountain would be that they need to update their map because there are a lot of runs on the mountain that aren’t actually showing on the map right now and it made it a bit confusing trying to figure out where you are.

As usual, we ate all our meals in our condo. This was our 4th trip and 3 out of 4 of the trips we’ve had ski-out access. We had ski-out access at this place too, which makes for a really nice experience when you can come back to the warm condo at lunch to eat and have a beer. As usual, I cooked traditional Newfoundland Jiggs Dinner on the first evening and Brandon cooked hotpot on our second evening. Carolyn and Seth made some lasagnas and chili for lunches, which we paired with leftover turkey sandwiches. Finally, Karen cooked us the most wonderful hot breakfast every morning!

We found our condo on Airbnb and we definitely paid a pretty penny for it, but it was one of my favourite places we’ve stayed. There were 15 of us staying there in total and we had a great view of the hill and a nice balcony with a hot tub.

While we didn’t spend much time in Apex Village, we did discover the most precious gem hidden in the trees! Apex has an adventure skating loop that runs through the woods for ~1km. I’m so pleased that we actually did it – I saw it on a facebook post a few months ago and tagged everyone in it because it looked so quaint. You always see those kinds of cool things on social media, but you almost never go, so I was thrilled that we actually got the chance to go to this one. A few of us brought skates with us and everyone else was able to rent them in the village. The loop is really nicely done and only costs $4, although it happened to be free on the day we visited! Speaking of costs, the lift pass at Apex is also incredibly reasonably priced. I believe it’s about $85 a day, but you can buy passes in advance at Costco for just $65!

The amazing ski conditions, small crowds, and awesome accommodations all combined to make this one of my favourite ski trips.

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Keyhole Hot Springs Snow Camping Trip

I went on two snow camping trips this year. My first trip was to Elfin Lakes in February in temperatures of -20 below, the second trip was to Keyhole hot springs, in much more manageable temperatures! I’ve been trying to visit Keyhole hot springs since 2016 and had two failed trips before finally making it there this year. In summer 2016, me, Brandon, and Carolyn planned to visit over the Canada Day long weekend, but were dismayed to hear that the trail was being closed due to an aggressive grizzly bear (more on this later). Then me and Brandon tried to visit again in winter of 2017, but only made it halfway there because a semi-truck had jack-knifed across the forestry road and was blocking traffic in both directions.

So this was our third attempt, and I’m pleased to say we were finally successful! We wanted to go on a second snow camping trip before the end of the season and Carolyn’s been working on visiting all the hot springs in the area, so we decided to visit and stay overnight to try and avoid some of the crowds. Like I said, our first trip was to Elfin Lakes and the temperature dropped to -20 degrees celsius overnight, so we were thrilled to see that the forecast for Keyhole was calling for 7 degrees during the day and -6 degrees overnight. I ditched my double sleeping bag system for this trip and packed in my bag liner and new backcountry blanket instead.

Keyhole hot springs has become insanely popular in the last ~5 years. It used to only be accessible with 4WD, but the road was upgraded in 2014 because of a new hydro construction project in the area and the hot spring blew up on social media, making it a really popular destination for backcountry lovers and drunk partiers alike. I have really mixed feelings about the hot spring because I do believe everyone should have the right to appreciate natural wonders like this, but it’s also been severely disrespected by some of its visitors and it’s very upsetting to many of the locals.

It’s only a 2km hike to the hot spring and due to the excessive number of visitors, and the fact that it’s not a park (so it’s not managed by any rangers), a lot of garbage started collecting around the area, which of course, started attracting bears to the area. Keyhole is located on a forestry road out past Pemberton, so there are grizzly bears in the area and they started becoming aggressive towards visitors, so the province closed the trail in 2016 between April and November to stop the bears from becoming habituated to food and people. Since then, the trail is only open in the winter, hence why we decided to visit in March.

We drove out on Saturday morning, with the intention of staying for one night. We knew it would be really busy on a Saturday, so we were happy to stay overnight in hopes of avoiding some of the crowds later in the evening. We were right about how busy it would be during the day, but we wrongly assumed we’d be the only one’s camping. Since the road has been upgraded and is kept plowed for the construction project, 4WD is no longer required to get to the trailhead, although winter tires are definitely a must. We arrived around 1pm and I counted over 20 vehicles in the parking lot at that time.

We chatted with some of the day hikers on their way out and a lot of them expressed an admiration for the beauty of the trail, but told us they didn’t end up going in the hot spring at all because there were just too many people around. I would echo the sentiment about the trail. Granted, we had gorgeous blue sky and sunny weather when we visited, but the trail itself is worth visiting and ended up being the highlight of the trip for me. In winter, the trail ends up being about 3km because you can’t make it all the way to the trailhead and you do have to walk an extra km along the road, but the rest of the trail follows the river, which looks gorgeous in the winter with huge pillows of snow on every rock.

It’s easy to find the parking lot, you just follow the Lillooet Forest Service Road for about 40km until you reach a parking lot. The road becomes a “private road” at the end of the parking lot, so you’ll know you’ve found the right place. There is a branch in the road at the parking lot and a separate road continues up the hill. The road is plowed, so it’s possible you could drive up it, but the snow was very soft by this time of year, so everyone was parking at the bottom and walking up the road. The only tricky part is it’s not clear when you have to exit the road into the woods. You walk for a couple hundred metres and you’ll eventually see another side road, if you follow it into the trees, you’ll find the path heading directly down to the river.

The trail was easy to follow when we visited because there were so many people ahead of us and it hadn’t snowed in a while. But if you were the first one to visit after a fresh snowfall, it might be a challenge because the trail is not marked. Be careful visiting in March because the sun was softening up the snow and it would be easy to punch through the trail in some locations. Given the hot weather we’re getting this week, the trail will start deteriorating pretty fast as the snow melts, and remember, it closes for the season on April 1. But we really enjoyed the hike along the river and there were some really gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains.

We were wrong about being the only snow campers. There were at least 4 other groups camping that we saw and I think another large group arrived after us. I’m not sure if they were really prepared for the sub-zero temperatures though because they were all packed up and gone by the time we finally crawled out of our tent in the morning. We found a nice little private place to camp and it didn’t feel that crowded at the campsite. Overall though, the hot spring was a bit of a letdown for us. I think it would be a lot nicer on a weekday with smaller crowds and I personally wouldn’t return on a weekend again. There were just too many people and there was one group that hogged the pools for at least 3 hours and were still there after we’d come and gone.

The set-up of the pools is really something. The hot water flows down from a stream above the Lillooet River and trickles into a man made, but natural-looking rock pool. From there the water cascades into two other pools. Unfortunately the first pool is too hot to get in and the second pool is bearable, but still quite hot. The third pool is a perfect temperature and as such, the most popular of the 3. This is where the one group were hanging out. We went down to the pools around 4pm, but it was still busy, so we came back again a little later. We were able to get into the second pool and hung out in there for a little while as the sun set. But the one group insisted on blocking up the bottom pool and stayed into the night drinking, so we did get to visit, but overall it was a little frustrating. We debated getting up early to visit again, but decided to let it be in favour of a lie in, which I definitely don’t regret!

So overall, it was nice, but I would personally recommend going on a weekday if at all possible. Also, don’t be the group that gets drunk in the bottom pool all night. I was impressed that I actually didn’t see any garbage around the hot springs, so hopefully people are learning. But if you decide to visit Keyhole, as either a day hiker or an overnighter, make sure you practice leave no trace camping! Don’t leave anything behind – take everything out with you, including your toilet paper! There’s no facilities at all, so make sure you dig a hole if you’re going #2. The hot springs really are a natural wonder and they are beautiful, so lets do our best to take care of them!

So that’s my rant on the hot springs. I didn’t want to glamourize it because social media does enough of that already. I do think everyone has a right to the hot springs, we just need to protect them. I know keyhole isn’t the only place suffering from overuse, Garibaldi Lake, Joffre Lakes, and other popular destinations also suffer from a huge amount of overuse, with people leaving a ton of garbage behind and destroying the natural landscape in search of firewood. The overuse just seems a little more pronounced at Keyhole because of its small size.

But we still had a great time camping! It was crazy warm during the day when we were hiking in because the sun was shining on us the whole time, but it still got quite cold overnight. On a warmer day, like the day we visited, I think it would be easy to underestimate how cold it can get overnight. I debated how much gear I should actually bring. In addition to my winter jacket and snow pants, I brought my -15 sleeping bag, my sleeping bag liner, a camp blanket, a winter pad, and a lightweight down jacket to sleep in. I thought the blanket and extra jacket might be overkill, but I ended up using both, so I don’t regret it. I probably would have been fine with less gear, but I was so cozy overnight, it was worth it!

We had some more lessons learned when it comes to water though. The last two places we’ve stayed have both had pretty clean snow to melt for water, but because it was later in the season, there wasn’t as much fresh snow and most of it had pine needles in it because the campsite was located in the woods and the needles fall from the canopy. I had to walk a distance to find good snow to melt for water and even then, it still had some dirt in it. We’ve discovered that melted snow tastes extremely gross, so if you’re only going for one night, it might be worth taking a bit of extra water with you for drinking to see you through the trip. But if that’s not possible, which often its not because you don’t want to carry the extra weight and even if you did, the water could easily freeze overnight anyways, so we decided next time we will probably take Brandon’s gravity filter with us. That way we can melt the snow and then put it through the filter to remove any dirt and hopefully improve the taste a little.

Overall, it was still a fun trip, but it is a long drive (~4 hours) and because of the crowds it doesn’t stick out in my mind as much as the other snow camping trips we’ve done. But we tried something new and now we can finally cross it off the bucket list after all our other failed attempts!

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Ski Resort Series: Silver Star

I’m almost caught up to this year with my ski trip posts, but one more to go before I can write about this year. In 2016, we spent Easter weekend at Big White and in 2017, we spent St. Paddy’s Day weekend at Sun Peaks. In 2018, we decided to time our trip with the Family Day holiday in order to make use of the long weekend and take less holiday time. Similar to our trip to Sun Peaks, most of our party drove out after work on Friday, but I decided to make it a half day again to avoid driving out in the dark. This year we went just before Valentine’s Day, so we had a bit of a Valentine’s party when we arrived. Since I’m always one of the first people to arrive, I’ve started a bit of a “welcome drinks” tradition, with green drinks for St. Paddy’s day in 2017 and pink drinks for Valentine’s day in 2018.

In more recent years we’ve had a harder time picking a resort because our group has really grown and a lot of the resorts don’t have group accommodations available on site. We’ve been wanting to go to Revelstoke for several years, but we just can’t seem to make it happen because of the accommodations. In 2018 we decided to rent two condos at Silver Star to accommodate what ended up being a group of 13 people. It did create a bit of a different vibe being separated into two groups, but both condos were located on the same floor, so we dragged the table from the smaller condo into the bigger condo so that we could all eat together. The added benefit with two condos was also that we had two hot tubs!

Silver Star has a pretty small ski village, but a lot of the accommodations border the slopes, including ours, so we had excellent ski-out access. What’s interesting about Silver Star is that the mountain is very clearly delineated between the “front side” and the “back side”. The front side is pretty clearly divided into 3 sections, two upper slopes and one lower slope, while the back side just has one main lift. I wish I could comment on the back side of the mountain, but I didn’t ski a single slope of the backside. The entire back side of the mountain is all black diamonds serviced by one lift. I’m not a high risk taker when it comes to skiing, so I tend to stick to blue and green runs on bigger mountains. That said, Silver Star is a smaller mountain and none of the slopes were that intense, so I think I probably would have done okay on the black diamonds. But some of our group tried one run on the back side on the first day and said the snow was awful and icy on that side of the mountain because of the cold conditions leading up to our trip, so I decided to skip it.

The other side of the mountain was a different story. Like I’ve said in some of my other posts, the direction of the slopes and the sun can make a huge difference on the quality of the runs. Our first day skiing Silver Star was absolutely gorgeous, with sun and blue skies the whole day! For this reason, I had a blast skiing the front side of the mountain and thought the conditions were pretty good. We started on the Comet Chair and I absolutely fell in love with this part of the mountain. The Trails were in great shape and the trees are pretty spacey in the upper area, so it’s really easy to do some fun glade runs. I honestly could have spent most of the trip on this chair and I would have had a great time!

The major downside to going skiing on the family day weekend is of course, the crowds. Silver Star isn’t the biggest ski resort, so the line-up for the Comet Chair was pretty huge and annoying to wait in at times. I was willing to wait because I enjoyed the runs so much, but a lot of the group didn’t want to waste the day in the line-ups, so we moved on to the Silver Woods chair, which is located on the lower section of the mountain. This part of the resort was okay, certainly better than the backside, but the elevation was a little bit too low and the conditions were not really good down there either. I did spend some time there and did most of the runs because they are shorter, but eventually we split into two groups, with one group staying on the lower runs, while I decided to join a group willing to wait for the Comet Chair.

Later in the day, we decided to give the Attridge Chair a try and I ended up spending the rest of the first day and a good portion of the second day on this part of the mountain. It was much less busy, but still had pretty good snow conditions. The slopes were a bit more technical on the Attridge side, but again, the trees were pretty spaced out, so there was lots of room to explore and try some new things. There was a lot of powder on this part of the mountain, so I took the opportunity to work on my powder skiing. I found it more challenging, but it was the good kind of challenging that makes you a better skier. I ended up having a pretty good time trying out some new runs and learning some better control on my skis. That said, at the end of the day, Comet Chair was still my favourite!

So it was a bit of a mixed bag at Silver Star in that many of the runs weren’t in great condition, but a lot of them were fantastic. There was the downside of huge crowds at the Comet Chair, but if you are willing to try some new things and check out the other parts of the mountain, the lift waits weren’t actually that bad. With 13 people, we didn’t ski together as a group, but I did a lot of hopping around between groups and I think I found a pretty good balance. A lot of people are definitely more adventurous than me, but my skiing is good enough that I can hold my own with most of the skiers and take the opportunities to get a little better myself. Good powder conditions definitely helped improve my confidence on Attridge Chair, whereas I was less inclined to take risks on the icy conditions.

We’ve kept our traditions going and I cooked Jiggs Dinner for the group again! It’s definitely a lot to manage, cooking for so many people, but it’s one of the few times I get to eat Jiggs Dinner throughout the course of the year, so I’m willing to keep doing it. I love coming together with friends over food, and when you’re the chef, there’s the added benefit of never having to do the dishes!

As a word of warning, Silver Star Ski Resort is located just outside of Vernon and can be reached from Vancouver traveling through either Kamloops or Kelowna. We drove through Kamloops on the way there and Kelowna on the way back. They are pretty much the same distance, I think driving time just varies depending on traffic and weather conditions. Having driven both routes, I would definitely recommend driving through Kelowna. It’s mostly highway driving with multiple lanes, which Kamloops to Vernon is not, so it makes for a nicer driving experience.

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