Family ski mecca, Silver Star, has all the right ingredients and options for large and small road-tripping parties.
By Gordie Bowles. Photography by Kirsten Skarsgard and Rowan Thornton
Road trip. Powerful little words. Sure to conjure up memories, the ‘ol road trip means many things to many people. Or, for the sake of this story, many things to many people over many years. For me, it has taken on a multitude of meanings. In chronological’ish order: out-of-town ski race, overseas racing tour, out-of-country exploration, romantic getaway, honeymoon, media junket, long-haul business flight, day trip, red-eye work foray, not-so-romantic family excursion; and now – a new one to add to my list – multi-family road trip. I somehow fell into the same trap again, thinking that this ‘road trip’ would be a rip by day (on-hill) and then rip by night (apres). But this adventure to Silver Star in B.C.’s interior – along with four kids, four adults and two jam-packed SUV’s – was a journey to remember.
When you arrive at the Victorian-inspired village – located 30 minutes from Vernon, B.C., in the heart of the Bugaboo Mountains – you know you’ve arrived at a resort for the ages. And all ages. Our kids, with the pent-up energy that a nonstop, five-hour drive instills, burst out of the truck like Usain Bolt out of the start blocks and sprinted towards the snow. The adults stretched, yawned and then reached for sunglasses (bright spring sun!) surveying the impressive snow-covered hillsides, wondering which one of these festively-bright vacation chalets would be ours for the next four days.
Like other family-oriented resorts, Silver Star caters to those of us who stumble around with kids, equipment and other random items tucked under our arms. If you stumble into a store or shop, tripping on gear and kids, likely you will not get a stare from anyone here. And Carnival nights, mascots and kid-friendly runs like “Peanut Trail” are a few examples of the kid-oriented scene. Store fronts are set amongst boarded sidewalks which also provide an ambiance that radiates family fun.
The mountain also has a “performance” vibe, subtle to detect at first blush. Perhaps it’s the central location of the local ski club cabin at the village entrance, or its ability to attract world-class cross county events, or its challenging black runs (leg burners!) on the backside of the mountain. Or perhaps that they’ve churned out pro skier after pro skier (watch out for local halfpipe skier Justin Dorey at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games). Whatever it is, I had the feeling at Silver Star that it was time to let ‘er rip. And then one-up yourself the next run.
But first you first must tend to the little ones who want to rip the mountain themselves (after learning the basics). The beginner program at the snowsports school, as we quickly found, is a real gem. It is located just behind and below the main village; easy to find but tucked away enough that the tykes can learn without being in a fishbowl. After my youngest boy, Charlie, had his first-ever lesson – where Ashley, a pleasant instructor, taught him how to put on his skis, manage his equipment and safely get up and down a short hill – we darted over to join the older kids on the Discovery Park runs. The day was gloriously sunny and warm; a perfect spring day.
Next I took my seven-year-old, Dylan, to the mountains most popular chairlift, the Comet Express, a high-speed six-seater. The resort and its offerings were on full display on the upload. From mid-way we could see the Village in its surroundings. Sitting in a small basin below snowcoated evergreens and the colourful vacation homes, gently perched on the hills above a frozen pond with an island in the middle, I admired the beauty of the layout here. We were told by one of the hosts that the pond is usually clad with ice-skating families, but you need ice for that which is here during the colder winter months. Surrounding the pond you can see mini snowmobiles snaking through a trail in the trees (this was a huge hit with the kids!) and just beyond is Tube Town Adventure Park, which lights up a kids eyes like approaching the gates of Disneyland for the first time.
As we approached the top of the mountain, we expected that the options for travelling the mountain with a beginner in tow would be restrictive but not at Silver Star. With 115 runs spread across three mountain faces there is suitable terrain for all levels, but even the more expert runs are approachable. So I let Dylan decide where we’d go. We tackled a few trails down the front side of the mountain like Milky Way and Constellation, which bob and weave through tree-lined terrain. We then made our way to the terrain park. Wow! A whole new world and whole new level of skiing which have launched many World Cup careers.
Next I ventured solo to Silver Star’s forested back side, where the skier traffic is lean, cell phones don’t work and the world slows down. My shoulders dropped. But not for long as steep gully chutes, like Three Wise Men and Kassanova, are mini adventures in themselves. I had to pay attention. And while I was back there, I reacquainted myself with an all-time personal favourite cruiser run (I can’t think of a better one anywhere) – Gypsy Queen. If you’ve ever been a ski racer, or just enjoy the feeling of a perfect carve, this run will make your day.
As afternoon snack time approached, we snaked our way back to the Village and somehow, skiers and boarders back every square inch of the boardwalks, café’s and stores. Where did they all come from as I didn’t see many on the hill? We chose Bugaboos, the classic and nostalgic stop at Silver Star, a must-visit … their gourmet baked goods (see sidebar) are to die for.
The snow quality, which is predictably good here in the Bugaboo Mountains, is usually a safe bet for vacationers. A typical stop to Silver Star is fronted with dry, light snow but for our timing in late March, heavy spring snow weighed us down a bit. But the sunshine and blue-bird days made up for it. The mountain’s overall terrain mix is well balanced, with a broad selection of advanced and expert terrain rivaling that of any of Silver Star’s family-friendly neighbours, including Big White and Sun Peaks.
Along with our travel partners, friends Pearl and Folkert van Dijk and their children Oliver and Allyson, we explored most of the resort’s kids activities over the course of four days. The MY1 Pass gave us the freedom to move fluidly with the various interests and nuances of a big group, without having to shell out a wallet at every turn. One pass covered it all (nordic trails, snowshoe trails, tube park and outdoor skating, free learn-to-ski lessons for first timers, on mountain discounts and so on). Even the Sovereign Lake Nordic trail system, which was like entering a time warp to a more peaceful time, is included in the all-in-one pass. Even though we weren’t able to squeeze in a cross-country ski this time, we spent some time admiring the perfectly-prepared trails (there are over 100 kilometres of trails and three trail-side warming cabins). Note to self: plan this in the next trip, it would be the perfect way to spend a few hours.
For our two families, it was a bit of a whirlwind to pack it all in but the opportunity to share this time with friends and family at the same time is a ton of fun.
Where to eat
For a more adventurous culinary offering, take the privately run horse-drawn sleigh to Paradise Camp for gourmet fare in the woods. And I mean, in the woods! Apres options in the village are plenty, ranging from the rowdy Long John’s Pub and the more genteel Allora Tapas Bar.
Make a side trip to the new Sparkling Hill Resort, built by the Swarovski Crystal family. There are saunas and steams, a spa, lakeview rooms and excellent food in Peakfine restaurant.
Treat your family
Put away the fat skis and embrace the skinnies. The Sovereign Lakes Nordic Centre has introductory cross country programs to give you a taste.
The Gold Medal Baker
It was one of the strangest phone calls he could recall. About one year before the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, the Norweigan ski team called the resident baker at Silver Star, Frank Berkers, owner of Bugaboos Bakery. “Can you bake for the team at our Olympic training camp?” echoed an accented Norweigan on the other end of the phone. It was 4 a.m., when Frank arrives at the bakery each morning.
“Sure, send me the recipes,” replied the ever-smiling Dane who first landed in Silver Star nearly 18 years ago.
After deciphering and translating the three recipes Frank was still scratching his head trying to figure out this odd mix of seeds, grains, yoghurt and many other items. And the volume of the baked demands was enormous. “I couldn’t believe how much of this bread they wanted, I think it was a loaf for each skier a day.”
Today, you can find the “Gold Medal” loaf proudly displayed (and sold often) in the bakers showcase as you enter the well-established and perfectly located café.
“We grew slowly, if you grow too rapidly you’ll lose your identity,” Frank explained. “But I’ll never forget the first time my wife Caroline and I arrived at Silver Star in 1996, we looked at each other and said ‘this is it, this is the place’.
The mountain didn’t have a bakery at the time and so they planted roots. His biggest challenge was cooking at high elevation. “My recipes didn’t work at this altitude,” he explained. But after learning about French culinary techniques to baking in the high-altitude Pyranees mountains, he applied a new approach, one that is enjoyed by hundreds of people daily.
The Bugaboo has been smartly renovated over the years but keeping the charm of the original hotel which was made up of small compartmentalized rooms to an open café style which oozes charm and character. Not to mention aromatic bliss with the European-inspired pastries and Italian Lavazza espresso. Yum, yum.