Posts Tagged With: snow

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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Categories: Life in British Columbia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

First Time Snow Camping

The weather in Vancouver is pretty mild most of the year, but the weather in the mountains is a completely different story. Spring hits Vancouver in March and April, but it’s often late June or even early July by the time the snow finally melts in the mountains, only to come back again in October. So the backpacking season isn’t that long. There are lots of trails you can do at lower elevations, but some of the more scenic mountain trails have a short window in which to hike them.

For this reason, me and my friend Carolyn got it into our heads that we wanted to try snow camping to get in some more backpacking trips in the off season. I only started backcountry camping in the summer of 2016, so it was definitely a bit of stretch for me to take up snow camping so quickly, but we did a bit of research and built up some of our gear and decided to give it a try last winter.

Camping gear is expensive, so we tried to be as thrifty as possible in acquiring winter gear. We both bought Teton synthetic sleeping bags on Amazon that are rated to -15 degrees celsius. I wouldn’t normally recommend Amazon for camping gear, but good winter sleeping bags cost hundreds of dollars and as newbies, we weren’t ready to sink that kind of cash into a sleeping bag. But the Teton bags are actually really compact and come at a great price, so neither of us have regrets about this purchase. We’re both cold sleepers, so for a bit of extra warmth, we also purchased the Sea to Summit Reactor Extreme bag liner, which claims to add another 14 degrees celsius to your bag rating. I don’t believe it actually adds that much, but it certainly warmed up our bags. Finally, we each bought cheap “closed cell” foamy sleeping pads to put under the 3-season pads we already owned. A sleeping pad with a R-value higher than 5 is recommended for winter camping, but these pads run in the neighborhood of $200-300, so doubling up our sleeping pads with a $20 foamy worked better for us.

These were the main items we bought to prepare for the trip. Fortunately I had an old 4-season tent that had been handed down to me from my parents, so we decided to use that, despite the fact that it’s old and weighs 10 pounds. I doubt many people have that option available to them, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The tent is from the 80’s and it didn’t really work for snow camping, but hey, live and learn, we still survived. The only other items that really differed from our normal gear is that we brought a small shovel with us, a thermos, and some extra layers of clothing.

For our first adventure, we decided to try Manning Park. Manning is one of my favourite parks near Vancouver and they have a snow camping site located just off the main road. We thought this was the safest plan because then we wouldn’t be too far from our car if we got really cold in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, nothing about our trip went according to plan and we ended up having to do a fair bit of improvising, but we still ended up having a really good time.

One thing you should know (or probably already know) about me is that I’m a big talker. Throw me and Carolyn together in a car and we’ll have a great time, chatting and laughing the whole trip. I’m usually a pretty decent navigator (and I maintain that I do have a good sense of direction, mostly because I love maps), but put me in a car with Carolyn and I will forget everything I know about navigating because I always get caught up talking and telling stories. We’re pretty good at getting lost because I tend to think as the driver Carolyn know’s what she’s doing and she tends to think as the passenger (and more often then not, trip planner), I’ll tell her what to do. So we tend to get lost a lot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On this particular trip we got re-routed because an accident closed one of the highways, so we were a bit out of sorts (read, hungry) and when we left Hope, I thought it was just a straight shot to Manning and settled in for the 45 minute drive. 40 minutes later, just when I think we should be hitting the Manning Park lodge, I see this tunnel ahead that I know is actually on the Coquihalla highway (not the Manning highway) and realize the depth of my mistake. Hearing one “uh-oh” from me was all Carolyn needed to hear to know we’d made a mistake along the way (I will take full credit for it in this instance). We were pretty hangry from being re-routed once already and not into the idea of driving another hour and half in the opposite direction, so Carolyn quickly pulled us over and started making lunch, telling me I had until we finished eating to come up with a plan B.

Fortunately, we had landed ourselves in the Coquihalla Summit Rec Area, an area I hadn’t previously explored, and I had just enough cell coverage to check the avalanche risks for the area and work out a quick back-up plan. Instead of going back to Manning, we decided to commit to snowshoeing about 1.5km to camp at the trailhead to Falls Lake. The 1.5km is actually a forestry road that’s just not plowed in the winter and the “trailhead” is really just a parking lot, but hey, we’re adaptable. Plus, at the end of the trip, we both agreed that missing Manning was one of the best mistakes we could have made, because we ended up having a great time at Falls Lake and it forced us to camp further away from the car and to really commit to snow camping.

There wasn’t too many people around because we were about 2.5 hours away from Vancouver, but Falls Lake seems to be a popular hangout for snowshoers who want to check out the lake and backcountry skiers who want to hike up towards Zoa Peak and ski down. We did neither of these things, but we did have a nice flat area (parking lot) to try out our snow camping skills! Plus, we were the only people who stayed overnight.

We ended up having a blast! It was about -10 degrees celsius overnight, so it was pretty cold, but we worked up a nice sweat hiking in and then spent a fair bit of time digging down in the snow to set up our shelter, so the cold never really kicked in until later in the evening when we didn’t have anything to do anymore. We dug down about a metre and then stamped the snow as flat as we could with our snowshoes. We set up the tent and our bags just like any other trip and then started building ourselves a little snow kitchen. This mostly consisted of a kind of counter area where we could sit and put our stove.

After we finished setting up, we threw on some more layers to stay warm. I think one of the biggest things about snow camping is to avoid sweating in multiple layers of clothes, but to layer up as soon as you start moving to trap your body heat from exercising and to prevent yourself from ever getting cold. We didn’t find cooking in the winter to be any different than summer, we just made sure to use Carolyn’s white gas stove instead of my propane one because propane is prone to freezing in cold temperatures.

One of the biggest challenges actually proved to be melting snow for drinking water and cooking. As you can imagine, it takes a while to melt snow and a full pot of snow doesn’t translate into very much water. We kept filling up the pot and boiling a tiny amount of water, just to have to add more snow to do the whole thing again. One tip that we learned is that it’s best if you add a bit of your drinking water as a base and then add snow slowly as it starts to heat up. Don’t bother boiling the water until the end, just keep it hot enough so that any snow you add melts and then wait for it to heat up again before adding more.

Our second lesson learned was that you need to give yourself lots of time to set up camp, ideally about 3 hours. Fortunately we did have enough time, but digging a hole (with a single small shovel) takes a long time and so does melting snow, so give yourself enough time to set up camp because doing all those things in the dark wouldn’t be fun. The hardest part about snow camping was that it gets dark so early in the winter and there’s really nothing to do once it gets dark and you’ve finished eating supper. We’d been planning to maybe play cards in the tent, but it’s too cold once you stop moving that all you really want to do is climb into your sleeping bags. So prepare for an early night. I read to Carolyn on my kindle for a bit, but I think an audiobook might work well in the future.

Keeping warm at night is really the most important and challenging part about snow camping. We survived the night, but we definitely learned some trips to keep in mind for our next trip. I thought my sleeping bag and liner together would be enough to keep me warm, but you definitely need to wear the right clothes to bed. We initially didn’t wear enough layers and we were quite cold when we got into our bags. After about an hour, we got up again to put some additional layers on and that definitely helped. You want to have enough clothes on to keep you warm, but not too tight or too many layers that don’t allow you to trap some heat in your bag. It’s also important to stay away from the edges of your tent because your body heat will cause condensation on the inside of the tent that will then freeze and be really cold if it’s touching you. We’re both side sleepers, so our butts were getting cold from touching the side of the tent. It’s also better to sleep on your back because you get more warmth reflected back at you from your sleeping pad (easier said then done though if you never sleep on your back).

But we made it through the night! We had some lessons learned, but the tough bits weren’t enough to deter us from trying it again. We witnessed a beautiful purple sunset over the mountains and did a little hike in the morning up a nearby hill to get the cutest photos of our little tent down below. It’s not the easiest experience, but I had a lot fun trying something new with Carolyn and it makes you feel like a real bad-ass to sleep outside in the winter! We never did make it to Manning for snow camping and this was the only snow camping trip we tried in 2018, but stay tuned because we recently went on our second snow camping trip, which I’m working on a follow-up post for!

Categories: Life in British Columbia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ski Resort Series: Big White

I’ve been saying this for ages now, but I want to start writing more about the outdoor adventure experiences I’ve been having in BC over the last 5 years. I haven’t done a lot with this blog over the past few years, except for writing about my occasional vacations, but I’ve been writing a lot on my second blog, which is a book blog (check it out here). I’ve developed some better writing habits, so I’d like to try and focus on writing more on this blog and perhaps reorganizing some of my content to make it a bit more of an adventure blog. I’m sure I’ll still post about travel when I get the opportunity, but those trips just aren’t as frequent as they were when I was in University and hopping off somewhere new every 4 months.

I’ve hiked over 100 trails in the past 5 years and would love to write about some of those trails. Since it’s winter, I’ve decided to write a few posts on some of my snowshoeing adventures and do a little ski series to motivate myself to write more. I’ve skied most of the local mountains in Vancouver and have made a ton of trips to Whistler, but I also go on an annual ski trip to the Interior every year. This tradition was born in 2016 because the Easter holidays that year were in March and I wanted to make use of the extra vacation days. My original plan was to spend the weekend at Big White Ski Resort with Seth and my best friend and her boyfriend, but I ended up getting an awesome deal on a condo that could sleep 10 people and we decided to fill it with some of our other friends.

Since then, we’ve gone to a different ski resort every year, but Big White still sticks out as being one of my favourites. It’s located just past Kelowna and is about a 5 hour drive out of Vancouver. Because of Easter holidays, we left on Good Friday morning and arrived mid-afternoon, but every year since we’ve left after lunch or after work. Our condo was located right on the mountain with ski out access and we had this huge window seat in the living room looking out onto the ski slopes and surrounding mountains. The resort also had a huge group hot tub and we spent a lot of time chilling in the evenings.

On top of the awesome accommodation, we also had excellent conditions. It was sunny the first day and we had some amazing views. It clouded over in the afternoon and snowed all night and into the next day, so even though we didn’t get the views on the second day, we got some really awesome powder. Big White’s tagline is “It’s the Snow”, and I would have to agree because it had some of the best snow conditions and is the latest in the season that we’ve ever gone skiing.

One of the things I liked most about Big White, which I don’t think has been replicated at any of the other resorts I’ve been to, is that the slopes go right through the ski village. Until I started exploring some of the resorts outside Vancouver, I didn’t realize just how many ski hills there actually are in BC and was surprised to learn that not all of them have villages. This has made it a bit of a struggle when planning our trip in later years because we really want to go somewhere with group accommodations and a fun atmosphere, but sadly some of the resorts just don’t seem to offer much on-mountain accommodation.

But we were located right in the village at Big White and there were several fun places to explore around. We had dinner in the village one evening and made our own meals other nights. It’s always so surreal driving out to the Interior (and really to any of the mountains in the lower mainland) because the conditions change so much on the way out. It was late March, so we didn’t really see any snow on the drive out to Kelowna (except on the Coquihalla) and it was pretty bare most of the drive up to Big White. But it was a huge contrast because the mountain ended up getting so much snow on our second day skiing and overnight, that the drive was totally transformed on the way out. We ended up having to shovel our vehicles out after a pretty heavy dump overnight and the plows were busy running the mountain road down to Kelowna all morning on our way out.

Big White is a huge mountain and has a ton of trails. I took a look at the ski map to jog my memory and I don’t remember it being quite as large as it actually is. I’ve definitely become a better skier since 2016 and I’m wishing I could go back and try out some of their glade runs. Overall the mountain has a nice mix because there are several big chairs running the whole length of the mountain, as well as several smaller chairs just running to the peaks. The Gem Lake Express Chair is quite separate from the rest of the mountain and this is where we spent almost our entire second day doing powder run after powder run.

Overall, we had such a great time at Big White that it inspired us to check out a different mountain every year, and we have our 4th annual trip coming up in a few weeks! Our group has grown and we’ve worked out a lot of the details of the trip down to a pretty precise science and have developed a lot of traditions that we keep going every year. It’s always one of the highlights of my winter season.

Categories: Life in British Columbia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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