Sun Peak worth an extended look

It was dawn on a brisk winter morning and I was already on a high: Staring out my window of the Sun Peaks Grand in rural British Columbia, I could see the deep orange of the morning light marinating the upper third of the tall lodgepole pines on the mountain peaks just outside my window.

Ahead of me was a full day of skiing. Behind me was a day of skiing those trails in some heavy snow, unable to see the distant view, but fully capable of giggling with glee at the absolutely perfect surface and trail design. As the sun's glow spread down those trees and across the slopes I thought, * Sun Peaks, indeed.”

Sun Peaks Resort is the big-time mountain with a small town feel. It's Canada's second largest ski area by terrain (only famed Whistler beats them out) and yet, there's a good chance you may never have heard of it.  Regulars will beg the world to keep it that way. They love the wide-open feel of the resorts many trails, as well as the almost complete lack of lift lines. They adore the soft, light snow that stays powdery thanks to the nearby arid climate of Kamloops. But I'm here to tell you it's time to get familiar. Sun Peaks has the room, variety, setting and vibe to keep us all happy — even at the same time.

I'll be honest: My arrival to Sun Peaks did not come easy. The closest airport to the resort is in Kamloops, a tiny regional airport in a small city with limited carriers. Three flights and two connections were well worth it, though. Arriving in the resort's square even in the deep dark of the night was breathtaking. Colored lights tastefully accented trees and buildings. The town was tucked into the valley where the three peaks of the resort met at their base.

Sun Peaks is much more than a fabulous ski resort. It's got the bones, for sure, to be a top ski and ride destination. Three peaks — Tod, Sundance and Morrisey (with the side area of Orient) — offer 4,200-plus acres of skiing for all levels. With 137 trails and 13 lifts, things spread out fast even on a busy day. But it's how it all fits — the skiing and riding, the European base area and all the beauty and fun around those — that makes Sun Peaks special.

Let's start with the base village. I've been to more created base villages than I can count, and Sun Peaks stands out. While some can feel, well, Disney-ish, this one feels real. And that's because, despite those perfectly placed lights, the always snow-filled streets (everyone skis to and from everywhere!), it is actually a true working village. That's because the resort of Sun Peaks and the town of Sun Peaks are growing as one. When you step out onto those snowy streets to click on your bindings and glide to the lift, you'll notice a * rush hour” in the morning. That's actually what it is: folks skiing or riding to their work spots for the day, or just to grab a coffee and pastry. That line of kids champing at the bit to ride the Poma lift so early? Those are public school children. So interwoven are the town and resort that the public school — one of the top testing schools in the region — sits midway up on a trail. That's right: a ski in/ski out public school. Who doesn't want to go back and do it all over that way?

On the mountain, you realize quickly that this is very much a locals' hill; even if those who feel * local” hail all the way from Australia. Each chair ride, I meet a new friend; so outgoing these folks are. And when I get a chance to ski with the town's Mayor Al Raines (who was also a civic leader and resort innovator at Whistler back in the day), I experience ski life the way I know it is to be. Raines, like his town, is open, sunny and inviting. He cannot ski past a person struggling without stopping to offer help. Each run, everyone he skis past yells hello and his delight at the hellos feels like he's just seen his best friend (in almost every case, he has). His wife, famed Canadian Olympian Nancy Green, skies with the public most afternoons, and though she's been doing that for 25 solid years, she still savors each meet up. That pair sets the tone: Sun Peaks is welcoming.

Each mountain (they face one another for a 360 ski kind of feel) has it's own vibe. Tod is for the hard-core skier and rider who want to find extra challenge. Sundance is more for groomers and cruising (although off even the most tame of groomers you'll find plenty of trees; some spots thick for the challenge but many open enough for anyone to dip their tips into the trees for a try). Morrisey is great for groomers too, but has a pocket area called * The Laundromat” where you can twist, turn and put yourself through the ringer on some super challenging trails.

The best thing is this: Every peak is accessible to most levels. And with trail signs at the top and the bottom of each run (brilliant!) it's easy to ski with a gang, choose different levels of challenge, and meet up along the runs again. Speaking of signs: the resort's lit up trail status signs (run via natural energy, of course) are the best way ever to figuring out which trail to take. Readable even through heavy snow and simple to comprehend, they give a skier confidence before they've even pushed off to go.

Most all lodging is ski in/ski out. The village is chock full of great foodie spots, spa choices, après fun and shopping. It's compact yet full-service.

Endless and uncrowded trails for all levels; light, fluffly snow (and lots of it!); a gaggle of truly sunny spirited folks out there on the slopes even on a (rare) cloudy day.

It's time to end the game of hide and seek out Sun Peaks Resort.