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Pique n' your interest

The pleasures of not being number one

A perplexed liftie shook his head and, slowing down the chair for us to get on, said in amazement: "I can’t believe how busy it is today."

The four of us looked back at the line.

There were seven people standing there.

Eyebrows raised, unsure whether or not to laugh, we all sank into the chair.

Was he joking? Was he being sarcastic? Was he serious? We debated the comment during the 25-minute chair lift ride to the top and decided that he was pulling our legs. There were seven people standing there for crying out loud.

As it turns out, the liftie was totally sincere. When there are seven people standing in line for the Burfield Chair at Sun Peaks Resort it’s smokin’ busy.

It’s funny how when you get out of Dodge for a weekend, things suddenly gain a whole new perspective.

That’s what last weekend’s trip to Sun Peaks did for me. It was my first time to Sun Peaks and my first time skiing at another resort in B.C.

And the journey put Whistler in a whole new light.

First of all it made me realize that Whistler really is in a class of its own. Nothing can compare to its sheer size, the amount of vertical drop, the bowls, the powder chutes, the cliffs, the length of the runs, the speed of the lifts, the snowmaking, the terrain parks, the nightlife, the sense of community.

Where Whistler has 7,071 acres of skiable terrain, Sun Peaks has jut under 3,500. Where Whistler has 33 lifts, Sun Peaks has 10. Where Whistler has more than 200 marked runs, Sun Peaks has 114. Where Whistler has tons of bars, nightclubs and apres joints, Sun Peaks has MacDaddies and not much else.

You get my point. I don’t need to provide a long list of Whistler’s attributes and Sun Peaks’ supposed shortfalls to convince anyone. Besides, we already know that we’re number one by a long shot.

But of all the things that Whistler has to offer, there are some things where Sun Peaks has it beaten hands down. And it was only after this trip that I truly understood what it means to be a victim of your own success.

Let’s take our frazzled liftie for example. At some lifts in Sun Peaks, lineups are simply unheard of. Lifties and locals alike expect to be able to ski to the bottom of the run and just keep gliding till the green line where they sit down.

There’s no waiting around. There’s no merging with clueless tourists. There’s no chairlift rage. It's just non-stop sailing. It’s amazing how many runs you can ski on any given day when you’re not standing around twiddling your thumbs in a lift line.

And when there’s no one standing in the lift line you have to know what that means. There’s no one on the runs too.

I have a very vivid image of Sunday morning around 10 a.m. standing at the top of an untouched run. Six of us spread out across the top of that run looking down on untouched powder.

There was no one else around. Totally quiet. I think most of us were in shock that we could gorge ourselves on all this powder, not having to worry about someone swooping down from behind and poaching our lines.

Spreading out across the width of the run, each of us had our own separate line down to the bottom. We didn’t come close to each other. We didn’t come close to anyone else.

Similarly the ski outs at Sun Peaks seemed like empty Indy 500 raceways. They were fast and wide and so much fun.

I kept looking around for the merge signs, expecting at any moment to join 15,000 people on the way down to the bottom. They never appeared.

It was a far cry from the cat track out of the Blackcomb Glacier, which merges into a handful of different runs, putting beginners and experts on the same narrow track, making for a very tense ski out most of the time.

I fall more on that cat track than anywhere else on the mountain.

But above all else there’s the Sun Peaks powder.

Our first day of skiing was on Saturday. There hadn’t been any fresh snow falling for a least a couple of days. We did a few fast groomers and after a conversation or two with some locals we had unstrapped and were off on a hike. After 10 minutes we were staring at a powder field stretching as far as the eye could see. There were maybe three lines there. I think we thought we had died and gone to heaven, knowing we had found our weekend playground.

As luck would have it the snow came on Saturday night. This was real snow, not just a trace.

I woke up to "Oh my God it’s puking outside, get up, get up, get up." I haven’t heard that since Christmas day.

I wasn’t allowed to do anything that morning expect have a singular focus of getting up on that mountain.

We know that if there’s any lollygagging on a Whistler powder day then it’s all over – you might as well go back to bed and wait for the next big dump. A small coffee pit stop could mean no fresh lines down Harmony. A mini bathroom break could mean missing the first chairs on the Peak and giving up powder to others.

We’re tracked out here within hours.

I tried to explain to my boyfriend that if we could find powder five days after it fell, surely we wouldn’t have a problem finding fresh lines today. He was not to be convinced. Gear on, checked out of the hotel, a few morsels of food and within minutes of waking up I was already on the chairlift.

We really didn’t have to rush because that powder lasted all day. I guess old habits die hard.

Riding up the chairlift near the end of my trip I told a young teen that he was so lucky to ski at Sun Peaks.

When I told him I lived in Whistler, I got a scathing look and that was the end of the conversation.

I think he thought I was crazy. Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t trade Whistler in for a second but man, that Sun Peaks powder was fun!