Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t buy into the ‘no friends on powder days’ mantra embraced by dedicated snowboarders and skiers. Let me explain.
I’m travelling through British Columbia with 30 snow seekers; some are lifelong powder hounds, while others fall on the other end of the scale – myself included. Canada’s westernmost province is a natural nirvana of bottle-green forests, mountain terrain and small-town villages that will charm even the most steadfast city slicker. A dumping of snow transforms the landscape into a silvery utopia from November to April each year and with increasing direct flights from Australia to Vancouver, it’s never been easier to visit. I’m experiencing it all from a first-time snowboarder’s perspective at four of BC’s best ski resorts with snow pros, Sno’n’Ski.
Strapping your feet onto a plastic plank and pointing it down a slippery incline goes against all your natural instincts. By day three, I’m considering throwing in my snowboard, eager to join the skiers who whiz by with grace as I haul myself up off the ground for what feels like the thousandth time.
My experience begins in Big White Resort, an Okanagan town an hour outside Kelowna that embodies small-town feels with its family-style hospitality. At 1,755m elevation, we’re welcomed by sheer walls of snow, or as they call it in these parts, Champagne Powder.
My time at Big White is an introduction to the joys of a ski holiday: apres with ciders and nips of warming Fireball Cinnamon Whisky around an outdoor fire; iceskating while others scale the ice wall.
I put boot to board for the first time with instructors who form part of Big White’s brain’s trust of world-class trainers and gain confidence on the toe and heel sides of my board, mastering the bunny slope in a conservative zig-zag formation. I’m halfway there, right?
Compared to skiing, snowboarding is harder to learn, but easier to master – something I can attest to when I unintentionally land on a steep green run at our next destination, SilverStar Mountain Resort. Legs burning, arms shaking, it seems the zig-zag isn’t the most effective way to get down a mountain and my confidence takes a beating. I gain some of it back during a lesson the next day, where I learn, but not perfect, linking turns. Gliding in an ‘S’ shape while smoothly transitioning your weight from heel to toe side is what makes snowboarding, snowboarding.
Despite my rough start, SilverStar is a dream, with a mid-mountain ski-in, ski-out position in the Okanagan Valley, 22km from Vernon. Where Big White is for beginners, SilverStar is best for intermediate and advanced riders, with rolling blue runs and deep verticals. Even a beginner like me can salvage some love for the sport on a tree-lined green run from the summit – I think the views helped.
I soothe my aches in my private hot tub at the cosy Snowbird Lodge and later take a twilight carriage ride to a rustic log cabin for a hearty home-cooked meal. Others take fat-tyred bikes along trails shared with Nordic skiers while devoted riders enjoy the extreme runs, which make up 10 per cent of SilverStar’s 1,328ha skiable area.
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We relish some time off the slopes and strap on comical snow shoes when we arrive at Sun Peaks Resort. You haven’t seen true joy until you’ve witnessed a contingent of adults run, roll and tackle each other in shin-deep powdery snow.
Where snowshoeing has me giggling, I’m feeling pure elation on my first official green run – shaky, but steady. With friends in tow, we weave (I mostly roll) down this wide rolling green, constantly stopping to take in the view over BC’s lush interior – and to throw a few sneaky snow balls at each other. Despite my clumsiness, I think this is what they call snow stoke.
Sun Peaks is blessed with 6m of annual snowfall, wide runs and few crowds – perfect learning conditions. A skiable Bavarian-style village lined with boutiques and eateries, nine hotels and lodges, and three mountains serviced by 12 lifts ensures it’s a popular yet quieter option for families, friends and couples.
And then there’s Whistler Blackcomb, the literal and figurative BC behemoth. The two mountains create one mega ski resort, complete with all the trimmings, just two hours’ drive from Vancouver.
More than 100 runs fan out over each mountain like frayed cotton thread, weaving over rocky escarpments (though you’d never know with all that fluffy, sand-like snow beneath you), zig-zagging through towering trees and skirting alongside steep, snowy drop-offs.
Sir Jake, our group’s mountain guide, is keen to show us around and we kick off with a 2,181m-high photo stop by the Inukshuk on Whistler Mountain before taking the PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola over to Blackcomb Mountain. It’s here where I finally find my groove. While I may be snowboarding in the opposite direction Sir Jake tells me to go, I glide down with ease and minimal falls.
They say you have no friends on powder days but I disagree. For me, the thrill isn’t in the whip-fast adrenaline rush of racing down the mountain, with a flurry of snow in my wake, but boarding with my friends, stopping to take in the scenery, laughing so hard it hurts and losing myself to the rhythm of my board. I know I’m no pro, yet I can’t wipe the smile off my face.