SILVER STAR VILLAGE, B.C. -- Stop running away from winter! That's the message from Guy Paulsen, Silver Star's Nordic ski manager, a Level-4 ski examiner and equipment tester for Ski Canada. Paulsen has fallen in love with Nordic skiing and has a passion for sharing his love and joy of winter.
"What I keep saying to Canadians is, stop running away from winter. We've got a winter wonderland here on the Nordic trails," Paulsen says.
Tucked in the Okanagan Mountains, Silver Star Mountain Resort is a little jewel of a village and one of the world's best Nordic ski destinations with 105 km of groomed trails.
"Why run away to Cuba when there are people travelling from the other side of the world to find our winter," Paulsen asks, adding that amazing things happen when people decide to embrace winter. "I love to watch what it does to people "¦ their spirits are lifted, their cheeks are rosy, they are inspired and uplifted ... they are not just looking out the window waiting for it to end. Believe me, I have seen it change lives."
A neat thing about Silver Star is it's 1,000 metres lower than sister resort Big White, so the climate is a little milder. And since Nordic ski trails don't require the deep snow base of Alpine hills, skiers can be out on the trials before Halloween and still using them until May.
Nordic skiing is a big hit with Baby Boomers -- and beyond -- who don't want to lose out on winter's wonders, Paulsen says.
When those hips and knees start to creak and groan, low-impact but high-thrill Nordic skiing is the thing to do.
"The thing about many Baby Boomers is that they may no longer feel comfortable downhill skiing but they still love winter," Paulsen says.
Even for younger skiers, Nordic skiing is becoming the "hip" thing to do, and for new skiers, it provides the thrill without the fear factor.
A two-hour shuttle-ride from Big White, ski tickets from either resort can be used for both downhill or Nordic skiing. The alpine lift leads to some trails, many of which are lit for night Nordic skiing and lead to cozy little cabins with crackling wood stoves.
Silver Star has a quieter quainter ambiance than Big White. The colourful little village of blue, pink and orange buildings, and rustic wide boardwalks resembles a Caribbean island resort -- but set in a winter wonderland. Baby Boomers and families with children often prefer the quieter vibe.
The compact size of the village makes it impossible to get lost, and easy to make friends as you bump into new acquaintances often. Active retired folks, many with titanium hips and knees or using canes, stay the entire season to enjoy the hills and trails.
While Nordic trails abound for skiers of all ages and fitness levels, beginner or timid downhill skiers will find Silver Star's Alpine runs difficult. The green runs have long hard-packed flats, which are used as cat tracks to get to the main runs. These are difficult to manoeuvre, especially on a snowboard.
The Alpine hills are better suited to hard blue-and black-diamond runners, although there are a few lovely "light blue" runs like Whiskey Jack and the Glades, where you can swoosh in and out of a spacious forest of snow-capped pines.
Don't go near Free Fall unless you are an ace skier and a daredevil. I looked down -- that's as close as I dared. Maybe next year.
Snowshoeing: Walking on marshmallows
Shuffle through soft snow on a set of snowshoes to see the stunning sunset. Maybe you can't say that three times in a row but do it once, and you'll never forget. Naturalist Roseanne Van Ee leads unforgettable sunset treks through the wilderness as part of Silver Star's Outdoor Discoveries program.
"I was a closet snowshoe buff as a teenager before snowshoeing was ever popular," Van Ee says as she sloshes through snowy back-country woods. "It's the freedom of going wherever you want. With snowshoes, you don't need a trail."
At first, the resort's ultra-light snowshoes feel almost like wearing tennis rackets on your feet, but in a few minutes they're as comfortable as a big pair of slippers. There is something eerie yet wonderful about the incredible silence of walking in the snowy sub-alpine forest. The only sound is the swoosh of snowshoes as they meet puffy white snow so soft it feels like walking on marshmallows.
Along the way, we pass beautiful snow-ghosts -- trees laden with so much snow they bend over as if to whisper ghostly "hellos" to passersby. The naturalist points out animal tracks and vegetation -- she can tell a story about almost everything we see. Soon we reach one of Van Ee's "secret spots," where she unloads her backpack, spreads a blanket on the snow, and serves us her homemade snowball cookies and hot apple cider as we watch the sunset over Lake Okanagan.
With 13 restaurants and bars, Silver Star has some great places to eat. The Mighty Double Down Burger at Den Bar & Bistro is one of my two top dishes. You'll need to ski hard to build up enough appetite momentum to down this behemoth -- two big beef patties, beet root, cheese, bacon, egg, pickles, garlic aioli, lettuce, tomato, onions all stacked on a sesame seed bun. Next choice is anything at Silver Grill Steak and Chop House. The steaks and chops are juicy and tender, and the beer is cold.
NEED TO KNOW
Silver Star has 105 km of groomed trails for Nordic skiing, 115 marked trails for Alpine skiing, a 6.5-hectare progressive terrain with rails, jumps and other toys for riders and skiers, and the renowned mountain "backside," with 37 challenging steep and deep runs for daredevil powder hounds. See skisilverstar.com.