Sun Peaks ski program boosts women's confidence on the slopes

Novice downhill skier Tracy McLaughlin, left, hams it up with her new Ski Sister Laurie White. JOHN...

Novice downhill skier Tracy McLaughlin, left, hams it up with her new Ski Sister Laurie White. JOHN McCONKEY PHOTO

TRACY McLAUGHLIN, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:10 PM ET

ON THE SLOPES AT SUN PEAKS, B.C. -- Mama told me not to come.

And I admit, as I stand atop these snowy mountains with my mediocre snowboarding skills, it occurs to me for a moment that I should have listened to her. Maybe this isn't the way to have fun ...

But my "ski sister" said, "go for it!" And in the end, I'm glad I did.

The Ski Sisters program at Sun Peaks Resort puts the big girl back into the middle aged woman -- especially those who feel intimidated by those magnificent mountains.

"I understand fear. I get it," says Ski Sister Laurie White, a fit bombshell of a red head with the energy and spirit of a teenager. "I will never push anyone's safety zone -- but I will push their comfort zone."

A certified CSIA ski instructor, White created Ski Sisters to boost women's confidence on the hills. She will take up to three women at a time and show them how to ski or snowboard more confidently, access more terrain and -- most of all -- have fun.

White says she has heard the same old story too many times about wives who no longer venture out onto the hills with their husbands and kids. They are ski-schooled out, and eventually just won't go anymore.

"And guess what she does instead?" White asks, "She goes shopping. I tell those husbands they will save a lot more money if they sign their wives up for the Ski Sisters program."

A day on the hills with White illustrates why the program is such a success. Her energy is infectious, and it's hard to believe this zesty woman was once voted the shyest person at her high school

"Follow me," she calls as she swooshes in and out of the Three Bears glades, where the well-spaced evergreens are topped with fluffy whipped-cream-like snow.

Like a puppy with a wagging tail, I follow.


A delectably filling "Mountain of BBQ Ribs" at the Steakhouse at Sun Peaks Lodge. TRACY McLAUGHLIN PHOTO

It's partly about trust. I know White has accurately assessed my skill level and she won't take me beyond my abilities. By the end of our session I am skiing glades that I would not have allowed my husband -- or even my Mama -- to take me.

"Let's do it again!" I say. And with that, my new sister gives me a big hug.

Sun Peaks's three skiable mountains surround a quaint village, so there are lots of hills to discover. And White opens it all up for timid skiers.

"I love it," White says. "I love to see their eyes light up and the grin on their faces at the end of the day when they say, 'Yes! I can do this.'"

Mama was wrong -- this IS the way to have fun.

3 TO SKI

The best thing about Sun Peaks is its three mountains, which surround an intimate ski-in, ski-out village.

It has a great mix of what I call "light blue" and blue-rated runs, many of them the woodsy glades with snowcapped evergreens that I love most. But, despite its gentle runs, it also has a ton of more extreme black runs to keep my husband happy.

My favourite glade runs:

-- Three Bears

-- Mid Life Crisis (of course)

-- The Sticks

MOONLIGHT IN THE MOUNTAINS

ATOP TOD MOUNTAIN, B.C. -- The Fondue Dinner and Evening Descent at Sun Peaks Resort can be described as a cross between a rollercoaster ride and a Zen-like experience -- along with food, wine and ice-cold beer.

Better still, it all takes place on a freshly groomed mountain

"It's totally surreal," says Bill Sanesh, a retired speed skier from nearby Kamloops. "This is above and beyond any Disney ride you could ever ride."

Every year Sanesh and his friends eagerly go through the calendar to book this Thursday night event during a full moon. But even without a full moon, it's splendid.

"It's super-surreal," says Bill's wife Natalie Sanesh, a former Miss Tod Mountain. "The sky is a purpley blue. There are a million stars and you can see every one of them."

Limited to 46 people, the experience begins with a chairlift ride up Tod Mountain to Sunburst Lodge for a fondue dinner. The atmosphere is intimate but festive. Long tables are loaded with platters of veggies, shrimp, chicken and beef, and pots of bubbling cheese. For dessert, out come platters of fruit and shortbread cookies, and the melted cheese is replaced with pots of rich warm chocolate.

There is always live entertainment and tonight an excellent Irish duo plays pub tunes that get the entire house singing and clapping.

But the best is yet to come.

After the delicious fondue, it's time to strap on our headlamps for the easy descent down Five Mile Run.

Skiers and snowboarders are divided into groups of 10. Then we swoosh down under the stars on the easy green-rated run atop velvety corduroy snow, which has been freshly groomed for the occasion. In the darkness, it's neat to watch the headlamps zigzag down the hill to the bottom, where village lights twinkle and wink.

By the time we reach the bottom, everyone has made friends, and many of us go to Bottoms, a favourite village pub, to toast the wonderful event.

NEED TO KNOW

-- Sun Peaks Resort is about 45 minutes' drive from Kamloops airport (WestJet has frequent flights). In addition to downhill skiing and snowboarding, Sun Peaks has 31 km of groomed Nordic ski trails that wind through the woods as well as 16 km of back-country trails. For more, see sunpeaksresort.com.

-- The resort's Fondue Dinner and Evening Descent takes place every Thursday from mid-December through March. There are also Full Moon and Starlight tours that take Nordic skiers through the woods to a cabin for chili and chocolate fondue dinner. For tour details, see the Sun Peaks online events calendar.

VILLAGE LIFE

After skiing and snowboarding, the next best thing about Sun Peaks is its cozy, quaint village with its great mix of pubs, restaurants and shops.

For great eats, check out the "Mountain of BBQ Ribs" and phyllo-wrapped brie served at the Steakhouse at Sun Peaks Lodge or the Malaysian Laska at Oya Restaurant. For a great burger, cold beer and new friends, go to Bottoms Bar & Grill.


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