Posts Tagged With: mountains

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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Categories: Life in British Columbia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Elfin Lakes Snow Camping Trip

Last year I had my first experience with snow camping. Carolyn and I spent a night outside in -10 degrees celsius to test out skills and our gear. We ended up having a lot of fun and knew we wanted to try something a little more adventurous this year. Elfin Lakes is a really popular place for snowshoeing because there’s a heated hut located at the end, so people snowshoe in and stay overnight in the hut. We thought this was a good place to try for our second trip because we’d still have the hut nearby in the event that we got really cold in the middle of the night.

This year our friend Brandon joined us, who also has a great love of the outdoors and had conveniently just purchased a 3-person winter tent. We also improved on some of our gear; my parents gifted me a proper winter sleeping pad for Christmas and Carolyn bought a ton a merino wool layers to help keep warm and a new down jacket. However, we were definitely put to the test this year because the weekend that we went happened to coincide with the polar vortex sending all the really cold air across Canada and it was calling for -20 degrees celsius the night we went.

I was tracking the weather all week leading up to the trip and I was super apprehensive about it. We survived last year, but we’d definitely been on the threshold of almost cold and I was worried about adding an extra -10 degrees to the temperature. Carolyn was pretty confident though and it was calling for sun and clear skies despite the freezing temperature, so I was never able to build up the desire to actually call the trip off. We made winter camping blankets this year to add some more warmth to our bags and we packed a lot smarter, but I lost my nerve at the last minute and ending up stuffing two sleeping bags into my pack instead of my liner and blanket. I was only really able to do this though because my new sleeping pad is so small and Brandon was carrying the tent, so I had a bit of extra space.

There are mixed reviews on doubling up on sleeping bags, so you do have to be careful about it. The sleeping bag on the outside should be a bit bigger than the one of the inside and it’s better to avoid down sleeping bags because if you compress them inside each other, they lose their “loft” and won’t keep you as warm. Fortunately, my bags were both synthetic and the second one actually belongs to my Seth, so it was bigger than mine and it worked really well nesting them together.

Anyways, enough about gear. You can always spot a camping enthusiast because they just love talking about gear. This was my third time hiking up to Elfin Lakes, so I’m really familiar with the trail, but it was my first time doing it in winter and in snowshoes. It’s not a difficult trail, as a day hike I can power through it in a few hours, but it is 11km to the lakes, so it can be a bit lengthy. The first 5kms are pretty straight forward, you just hike up an old forestry road until you reach the Heather Hut. I knew Elfin Lakes was a popular winter trail, but I was shocked by how many people were on the trail on a freezing saturday morning. It’s pretty easily accessible as it’s located just out of Squamish and is plowed most of the way because there are homes located along the road. Word of warning though, chains are required for the last 2km stretch and if you don’t have them the ranger will kindly ask you to park your car there and walk the extra 2km.

But it turns out the Heather Hut area is extremely popular among backcountry skiers. Once you reach the hut, the terrain opens right up and there’s a large hill to walk up to get to the ridge. I’m no expert, but it seemed like a lot of day skiers were just hiking up the ridge and skiing down through the powder, creating their own little human-powered ski lift and ski hill. The Heather Hut was also being used a lunch spot for pretty much everyone on the mountain, so it was hopping and we pretty much scarfed down our sandwiches and moved on.

The trail gets a lot more interesting after the Heather Hut. After the hut, the winter trail diverges from the summer trail and takes a slightly different route to the lake. Even though it was my third time up there, it felt like a totally different trail in the winter. You start by climbing up a pretty large hill, but then you hit the ridge and its undulating slopes the rest of the way. We were thrilled when we finally reached the ridge because it was a perfectly sunny and cloudless day, but it was also very windy and we really got beat on along the ridge.

It wasn’t snowing at all, but it was so windy along the ridge it felt like it was because the wind picked up any loose powder and blew it all across the ridge. It was rough going. The biggest mistake I made was that I only brought sunglasses, not my ski goggles, and I really wished I had the goggles. Carolyn had hers and she had a much easier time crossing the ridge than me and Brandon. So that was definitely a lesson learned for next time.

The trail was really interesting along the ridge though because, while you could see the reflective trail marker poles, you couldn’t see any discernible path through the snow. Usually the path becomes very obvious and beaten down with so many snowshoers using it, but because of the wind, it was blowing snow across the trail constantly hiding it. I had a brought a pole with me, which was extremely useful, because even though the snow filled in the path, you could still tell when you were on it because the snow was all compacted underneath. However if you stepped off the path at all, you would quickly be about knee deep in powder. So I went first along most of the ridge and used my pole to keep testing where the path went.

We made really good time though and did the 11km route in about 4 hours, including lunch, arriving at the hut around 2pm. The hut is heated and we didn’t want to warm up right away just to have to go back out in the cold, so we immediately started working on our campsite. It was hard to find a good sheltered place to set up camp with the wind blowing, so we mostly had to rely on the walls of our hole to protect us. We dug down to almost the height of our tent and then set it up in the hole. It’s usually not necessary to peg tents in BC because we rarely get wind, but we definitely had to peg it on this trip and piled some snow up around the edges to weigh it down. The key with pegging tents in the winter is to have rope attached to all of the pegs because otherwise it will be very hard to retrieve them. Once the snow hardens and freezes, it’s really hard to get the pegs out and having rope attached to them will make it a lot easier.

We’d been planning to more or less ignore the hut, but it was so windy and we were pretty beat, so we decided to abandon the snow kitchen idea for the trip. I do think this was the right idea because it was just so cold and it allowed up to warm up properly before bed, which I think really helped in us staying warm throughout the night.

We finished our campsite around 4pm and headed into the hut to start melting snow and making supper. I think we were definitely better at melting snow this time around and we just heated the snow as we melted it and then boiled it all at the end. One of our nighttime tricks to keep warm is filling a nalgene bottle with hot water to take into your sleeping bag with you. It works like a charm! I purchased an insulator for my bottle as well and it really helped to lengthen the life of my hot water bottle and keep my drinking water from freezing (a real challenge in -20 degree temperatures! Leave your water bladders at home for winter camping trips, they will freeze and be useless to you. My favourite piece of gear for winter camping though is my thermos. I just bought a $20 standard “thermos” brand thermos at MEC last year and it is the most impressive thing ever! I filled it with boiling water before bed, added a teabag in the morning, and it was still hot to drink by lunch the next day!! So impressive, would highly recommend because drinking hot water is a great way to warm yourself up and stay hydrated.

I’ve gotten into night photography in the last year. I’m not great at it, but I learned some the basics and I’ve been having a lot of fun testing out some night shots when I get clear skies. It was calling for clear skies at Elfin Lakes while we were there, but I really didn’t think I’d get any shots because it would be too cold and I wouldn’t want to get out of bed in the middle of the night. But the wonderful thing about night photography in the winter is that you don’t have to wait until 2 in the morning for it to get fully dark! We watched a beautiful sunset over the mountains before supper, loving the pink alpen glow, and then by the time we ate and melted our snow, it was fully dark with the stars out by 8pm! Because I was toasty warm from hanging out in the hut, I spent about a half hour outside trying to get a few night shots before going to bed. I think the next thing I need to invest in is a lightweight tripod though, because that was my biggest struggle with night shooting. You need to open up the shutter for a long time to get night shots, so you cant hold the camera in your hand. I rested mine on my pot on top of the snow, which actually worked a lot better than you’d think, but a tripod would go a long way in getting the angles and perspectives I wanted.

Anyways, I ended up having a lot of fun and thanks to the hut, we were all nice and toasty warm when we finally crawled into the tent. I’m always learning on these trips and our big take-away from this trip was that merino wool is king. In the summer, I mostly wear tech tees and always change out of my sweaty shirt when I get to camp to prevent myself from getting cold. That’s a lot harder to do when you’re snow camping because you don’t want to basically have to get naked in the freezing cold to change out your sweaty layers. The better option is to basically just wear a base layer you never have to change out of (ie. wool). Wool keeps you warm, even when wet, so it really doesn’t make a really big difference to your ability to stay warm. I did not change my base layer on this trip, except to remove my bra to go to sleep. Carolyn and I decided that merino wool bras might have to be our next investment because while our base layer was wool, our bras were not and they didn’t stay as warm. (TMI? It’s so practical though, so I’m sharing anyways!)

We were smart about going to sleep this time around as well. We were warm from staying in the hut, but if there hadn’t been a heated hut, we’d be planning to exercise before bed to warm up our cores. I’m not talking exercise enough that you start to sweat, but enough so that your core warms up a little. When you get into bed already warm, you trap all that heat in your sleeping bag with you. Another tip is to take any clothes you plan to wear the next day into your bag with you. Anything not touching you gets cold and it’s no fun putting on freezing clothes in the morning!

We both wore several wool and fleece layers and had planned to sleep in our small down jackets. Carolyn did, but mine actually ended up being overkill with my double sleeping bags, so I never ended up wearing it. My other favourite purchase was that I bought little insulated booties this year! They’re basically just really warm slippers, but I slept with them on inside my bag and put foot warmers in them, and my feet felt like toasty little furnaces! They sell them at MEC for a pretty penny, but I got mine at Costco for $15 and they worked fantastic! I’ve also seen them at Walmart, but they were a little heavier. I’d recommend keeping an eye out for them at Costco.

So the double sleeping bags definitely worked for me, as did my new winter mat. Having a proper winter tent made a huge difference too. My face was cold when we first went to bed from being exposed to the cold, but we trapped so much heat in the tent that by the time I woke up to pee in the middle of the night, the tent had heated up enough that my face wasn’t even cold. Another lesson learned though would be that it is worth opening up the vents in a winter tent. There’s no mesh in a 4 season tent and it’s based on a double wall system. Brandon wanted to open the vents to keep the tent from getting condensation on the inside, but me and Carolyn outvoted him because we wanted to keep the inside as toasty as possible. But all our body heat did create condensation on the inside of the tent, which then froze and would fall down onto us as little ice flakes whenever we would move around in the tent. It also made us need to be a lot more careful about accidentally brushing the sides of the tent, so next time we will open the vent.

The one benefit to camping in such cold temperatures though is that even though snow gets everywhere, it never gets anything wet. I’m used to the wet snow in Vancouver where if you get it on your mittens, it gets everything wet. But the snow was so fluffy and cold in the mountains that you could totally cover yourself in it and you’d never get wet. It just never melts because the temperatures are too cold. Honestly, my gear would get the wettest in the hut because if you brought any snow inside with you on your gear, the heated hut would cause it to melt and then it would be cold when you went back outside. We brought extra hats, mitts, and wool layers in case anything was compromised, but mostly we didn’t need them because things never really got wet, just cold.

Fortunately the wind died down before we went to bed, so that never really caused us any grief after digging our campsite, and it was a gorgeous cloudless morning when we got up. It started to cloud in a bit on our walk back, but the wind never came back up, so it was a much more enjoyable hike on the way out. It did start to snow just before we reached the Heather Hut and after lunch we all decided to layer up again for the walk down. I always try not to wear too many layers on the way up to avoid sweating too much or into too many layers. Ideally you should be a little cold when you start hiking up. But on the way down I pretty much threw on every layer because I knew I probably wouldn’t be sweating any more and we were almost out anyways.

Considering how apprehensive I’d been about the trip, I’m super glad we went. I had a great time and loved getting all the gorgeous mountain views in Garibaldi Park in the winter time. Now that I’ve done it in every season, I don’t feel a huge desire to go back for a while, but who knows, I still haven’t made it all the way out to Mamquam Lake, so there still might be another Elfin trip in my future. Overall I think we were really smart about this trip and about our contingency planning.

Carolyn and I haven’t yet done the avalanche training course (though we’re both planning to), so we’re very careful about where we choose to go snowshoeing. The avalanche rating when we went was low in the forest and moderate in the alpine. Brandon has done the training, so he did bring a probe and beacon with him on the trip. If you’re thinking about attempting any kind of trip like this, be safe about it and take the proper precautions. Always check the avalanche rating and don’t go anywhere risky without proper training. We all had our ten essentials with us and I registered our trip with AdventureSmart before going and sent the information to our partners with instructions on what to do if we didn’t return by the specified time. The backcountry is awesome, but you have to respect it and always be prepared. Also, always practice leave no trace camping! We have a beautiful wilderness here and we need to protect it.

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Ski Resort Series: Sun Peaks

Continuing on with my ski resort mini-series, my first post was about Big White Ski Resort, which I visited in 2016. We had so much fun that we decided to make a ski trip to the Interior an annual event. There’s so many different ski resorts and we were excited to try out another mountain, so in 2017 we decided to visit Sun Peaks, which is the biggest ski resort in BC after Whistler-Blackcomb.

Sun Peaks is located just north of Kamloops, about a 4.5 hour drive from Vancouver. Easter was too late for skiing in 2017, so we decided to use some holidays to go over the St. Paddy’s Day weekend. This time we weren’t located right in the village, but we managed to score accommodations in a huge log chalet with 6 bedrooms and a hot tub! It was definitely one of the nicest places we’ve stayed and was just a short bus ride away from the village. I took Friday and Monday off to make a super long weekend and we drove out after lunch, but the rest of the group drove out after work and arrived to a bit of a Paddy’s Day celebration.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get as lucky with the weather at Sun Peaks as we did at Big White. Looking back, I still had a great time at Sun Peaks, but it was probably my least favourite of the resorts I’ve visited. I think I have to mostly attribute this to not having ski-out access and to the weather conditions not being as great. Sun Peaks is a huge resort, but it was quite warm when we visited and the snow was really icy in the mornings from freezing overnight, but then heavy and slushy in the afternoons.

We spent the first day hanging out on the Crystal Bowl and Sunburst lifts. I liked the Crystal Bowl because the snow was a lot better on top of the mountain, but visibility was quite poor. Sunburst had better visibility, but not great snow. it was still a fun day, but on our second day we hit the other side of the mountain on the Morrisey Chair and I personally had a lot more fun on that side. It took me a while, but I’ve finally learned that depending what side of the mountain you ski on, conditions can be totally different because of the direction of the sun. Morrisey Chair ended up being a lot nicer than the other side of the mountain because the sun was on it in the morning and softened up the ice from the night before.

Morrisey Chair is primarily glade runs, which I used to not like that much, but have grown to really enjoy the more I ski. If you’re a big skier, you definitely already know how fun glade runs can be, but I only ever skied 2 days a year growing up and they were always at the same resort, so it wasn’t until I moved to BC that I started to get a bit better at skiing. My friend Grant is one of the more adventurous of our group (or was before our group grew), and I love trailing him on glade runs, trying to hit some of the little ramps and bumps between trees. We spent most of our second day doing glade runs and then me and Carolyn popped back over to Crystal Bowl to finish our day off with some awesome views.

So I did still end up having a great time at Sun Peaks, it just doesn’t stand out as one of the more memorable trips to me. It is a huge resort though and there’s definitely a wide variety of runs available. I think I would still like to go back and maybe try it on a day with better snow conditions.

We’ve developed some fun traditions over the years though. It took me a while to meet people when I first moved to BC and most of the people I was friends with were actually Newfoundlanders, so the first ski trip we went on, I cooked Jiggs Dinner (traditional Newfoundland cooked dinner) for everyone for Easter. Even though it wasn’t Easter on our second trip, I cooked it again and have made it every year since. To shake things up a bit, Brandon always prepares hot pot for the whole group on our second night and it’s become a fun tradition and a bit of a culture sharing thing.

And some more photos! I’m pretty sure this is my first time looking at them since I took them 3 years ago and they are cute!

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