Canada British Columbia
Sun Peaks

cool cats of sun peaks

On the backside of Sun Peaks, JIM DARBY makes tracks with the cats.

Hank Inkster is a Sun Peaks instructor of eight years standing; knows the area, knows his stuff. Even has a little farm on the road as you drive in.

As it is for some mountain people, he has a range of skills – runs the local snow cat operation as a matter of fact, as well as instructing through the ski school.

He’s chief snow cat executive and chief mechanic – “I bring the cat down once a week for fuel and maintenance and then after the season I take the cat home for summer, keep it on the farm.”

The cat’s a beast, a 1976 Tucker Snow-Cat with a big Dodge diesel to keep it chugging along.

It has four tracks and that, says Ken the driver, gives it amazing versatility – I can’t believe what the old girl can do, but then, she’s only 30, I wouldn’t mind being 30.”

Ken Churchill (could have told cousin Winston a thing or two) worked in corrections for 30 years, retired about three years ago and lives down the valley a bit.

“The clients are a little happier and more motivated in this job,” he says.

Driver Ken Churchill looking cool with the cat at the top of Paradise Basin. The mighty Bugaboos are smiling away there in the distance.

Little wonder. You chug along with Ken and Don the guide into the backcountry beyond Sun Peaks and it’s another world – you wouldn’t know the resort was there.

Our first run was off Skunk, but it didn’t stink at all, a little crusty at the top but you can blame the wind for that and then we were into some very fine powder on open terrain and through the trees.

Next we skied Tod Mountain, the backside of the peak that gave the original resort here its name.

New name and, for us, new weather – the sun came out as we claimed one of Sun Peaks’ more remote peaks, a little crust at top gave way to a filling of perfect powder with some tight tree turns.

You get to wait for the cat at the bottom of the run – this isn’t a production line, it’s a relaxed, easy going kind of venture.

“What’s the difference between God and a ski instructor?” Asks Don the guide.

“God doesn’t think he’s a ski instructor.”
I haven’t given Don Webster due credit. He’s got the patter down pat, but he’s also a very good guide.

Before we arrived at this point, in fact before we left the resort, he’d pointed out the hazards of being around cats, he’d taken us through the avalanche transceiver drill and generally introduced us to the environment we were going to turn in.

He also had a really clear way of explaining snow and how it worked vis-a-vis the avalanche danger. A quick kick in the snow pack and he’s got a slab the size of a slab in his hands (a slab = a box of beer if you’re reading this outside Australia) and it becomes clear as a snow crystal how the layers work and might set up to work against you.

Don would even sacrifice his own turns to cut lines and check the hold on a particular slope, but I guess that’s why he’s the guide and we’re the clients.

It’s not a group without experience either – Elke Schurmann and Marc Duch are from Munich (Bavarians, rather than Germans is how they would have it) and they are veteran alpine tourers with the transceivers, back packs, shovels and technique to go with it.

Brendan and Simon Fisher are snowboarding brothers from Newcastle and they’re wearing wall to wall grins all day long; here for a month, today they’re getting as good a set of conditions as they’ve ever had and they’re ripping it.

After Mt Tod, we chugged our way into the perfectly named Paradise Basin where the turns, the views and the trees were, well, paradise.

There’s a relaxed pace about this adventure, you get plenty of skiing, no problem there, but as Elke says, “it’s all not so rushed as heli-skiing.”
“Yeah,” says Don, “you know the sound the helicopter blade makes? It isn’t ‘thucka-thucka-thucka’ it’s abuck-abuck-abuck’.”

And then, just to add to his portfolio of instructor jokes, Don has this: “what’s the difference between a large pizza and a ski instructor? The pizza can feed a family of four.” Boom, boom.

We were enjoying the pace and the day so much, we had lunch in the cat rather than stopping to admire the view. The skiing kept coming, a little wind packed crust on the exposed slopes, but sweet, sweet powder in the trees made that forgivable.

Our very last run took us through the Gils and back into the resort area for a long cruise home on the groomers to an ice cold beer.

It’s a sensational day – don’t mistake it for a max-vert heli type experience, nor a death-defying venture into extreme terrain.

It’s backcountry with the associated risks, but this is quality skiing with sensational views, terrain and surroundings in a relaxed way.

“It’s a great introduction to backcountry skiing,” Hank Inkster says.

Sure is.

Just the facts

  • Because of its altitude and aspect Sun Peaks Cat Skiing and Snowboarding can stay open for basically as long as the Sun Peaks lifts – at least mid-December to mid-April.
  • With prior notice, powder technique instruction can be included. Mid-fat to fat skis are recommended.
  • In 2006, $C250 included guiding, use of transceiver, lift access to the cat (bear that in mind if you’re buying day tickets), lunch and the day skiing. Book at the Sun Peaks Activities and Information Centre, +1/250/5785542.

Jim Darby flew with Air Canada and was a guest of Sun Peaks and the Delta Sun Peaks.


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