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Silver Star a little bit cross country

Resort combines alpine, Nordic skiing through agreement with Sovereign Lakes

By Andrew Mitchell

At Silver Star Mountain Resort, the only difference between alpine skiing and cross-country skiing is $5.

Earlier this month the resort announced an agreement with the Sovereign Lake Nordic Club to link up Nordic trails, creating a combined trail network of over 105 kilometres that will be shared by visitors, locals and club members for the first time ever. All of it accessible from the village with the same access to restaurants, hotels, and other amenities as alpine skiers.

As part of the agreement, Silver Star now offers guests the option to combine their passes — $5 extra allows them to use the cross-country trails as well as alpine lifts. Over 500 alpine season pass holders have also purchased a $129 upgrade that also allows them to use the cross-country trails, an $80 savings over buying a separate Nordic pass.

“People can go for powder runs in the morning, and switch to cross-country in the afternoon to get their cardio fix,” said Glenn Bond, the Nordic manager for Silver Star.

“Alpine skiers here can’t believe the number of cross-country skiers at the resort, because the two activities are so integrated. The cross-country trails are on the same mountain as alpine, they use the same restaurants, the same shops. Cross-country skiers can even head up the mountain to the Paradise Camp restaurant around the back of the mountain and meet up with alpine skiing friends.

“There’s nowhere in North America where the two activities complement each other at this level.”

Signing an agreement with Sovereign Lake Nordic Club was a major step for Silver Star, expanding its trail network from 60 km to 105 km. The club itself is the largest in the province with roughly 1,700 members and world class facilities.

Silver Star will also be the largest competitor for Whistler’s Nordic centre when it opens next winter.

Bond says combining cross-country and alpine experiences enables the resort to market itself to active people that ski, snowboard and cross-country ski, as well as families where some members are into Nordic skiing, and others into alpine. With the Silver Star village built at the base of the mountain, both groups can access trails and lifts outside their doors.

“Nordic skiing is marketed the same as alpine skiing, just in Nordic magazines and there is a large number of Nordic skiers — like the Pacific Northwest, Seattle, Spokane, Bellingham, Vancouver,” said Bond. “We do some marketing separately of alpine, but the core message is that Silver Star offers both kinds of experiences.”

The response so far has been positive from both locals and tourists, and Bond expects Silver Star’s reputation for both sports to grow just as the area’s reputation for Nordic skiing continues to grow.

In the recent Forbes Traveler Magazine, members of the U.S. cross-country ski team were asked to rank their favourite resorts in North America. Silver Star was first on the list, followed by Mont-Sainte-Anne Cross Country Centre in Quebec and the Craftsbury Outdoor Center in Vermont — both on the east side of the continent.

According to Bond, the Canadian Nordic team has also trained at Silver Star for the past nine years, while the Norwegian team — the best in the world — has trained there since 1987. The top-ranked German team also trained there before the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

There are several reasons so many national teams choose Silver Star, but the biggest attraction is probably the snow. With a base elevation of 1,609 metres (3,780 feet), Silver Star typically enjoys the longest Nordic season of any resort in North America or Europe. The first trails open in late October or early November, and skiing is usually good through April. This year Silver Star was once again the first resort to open in North America.

“We’ve had international teams here since 1987, when the trails were first built,” said Bond. “The reason is that we focused on building trails for elite skiers first, and then added the recreational trails for training and the general public soon after that. We also have some longer trails for athletes who are training long distance.”

Last year Silver Star held the first World Cup cross-country competitions in Canada in decades. Although the race moved on to another resort this year, Silver Star used the opportunity to showcase its facilities to dozens of national teams — many of which have made inquiries about using the resort for training in the lead-up to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, as well as for World Cup races planned for Calgary and Canmore.

Bond says they will do their best to accommodate national teams.

“It’s not just that we offer cross-country skiing, people are also blown away by the quality of that experience and the investment we’ve put into our trails,” he said. “Alpine skiing is generally bigger dollars, no question, but there’s been no compromise on our Nordic facilities. Without question it’s world class, at the very highest quality level possible for a resort.”