February 9, 2018

Travel: On the trail of calm

Gliding through the snow with a cross-country ski supercamp near Vernon

By Joanne Sasvari

I didn’t think you were ever going to come back,” someone said to me the other day. Truth be told, I was tempted not to.
I’d just spent three days at a XC Supercamp just outside Vernon, and it was such an exhilarating experience, I never wanted it to end.
XC, for the uninitiated, stands for cross-country, as in skiing. Also known as Nordic skiing, it is one of North America’s fastest growing outdoor activities, one that is accessible to just about everyone, young and old, rich and poor, fit and not-so-very. And Vernon, as it turns out, is home to the biggest and best cross-country ski area in North America, a combined 105 kilometres of groomed trails that swoop through the serene, snow-clad forests of Silver Star Mountain Resort and Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre next door.
Both areas host the XC Supercamps, which were started in 2011, growing out of the professional master camps that began at Silver Star in the 1980s and ’90s. Three, five or seven days long, the XC Supercamps are intense training experiences for skiers of all fitness levels, led by some of the best Nordic coaches in North America. Skiers learn new skills, hone existing techniques and have fun socializing in Silver Star’s charming and colourful village.
And then they slip on the skinny skis and head out on the trails that cut through the region’s famous champagne powder, skiing either classic-style in the groomed tracks or skate-style in between.
“Classic is the mother of all skiing,” says Denys Lawrence, the president of CANSI, the Canadian Association of Nordic Instructors, who was one of our group’s leaders. Classic is the more sedate of the two techniques, akin to a hike in the woods, while skate or free skiing is a constant adrenaline rush. Both are among the best workouts you can have: They work every muscle group, develop the core and focus the mind. And even a gentle run will burn more than 400 calories an hour. So go ahead, have that second cinnamon bun.
Most of all, for busy, stressed-out urbanites, cross-country takes you deep into the silent, snowy woods where the air is pure and the mood as peaceful as can be.
“It’s a neat confluence of being out of doors, getting exercise and that sense of adventure,” says Guy Paulsen, Silver Star’s Nordic manager, member of the Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance national hall of fame and our group’s other fearless leader. “It’s a very positive lifestyle, that’s for sure.”
It’s also a much more stylish one than it was back in the day. Forget the bulky wool sweaters, goofy knickers and bulky bindings that would always jam with snow. Today’s gear is sleek and functional, comprising layers of high-tech, close-fitting garments that move easily with you. As Lawrence says: “If you look at what I’m wearing, I could easily wear this to cycle and hike and run.” Not to mention, après. But before the après, the skiing. Our group was all pretty green and, on Day 1, terrified. We started by learning how to put on a ski. It took a while. By Day 3, though, we were gliding happily along the trails and showing off our new skills: the weight-shifting sashay that moves you forward, the tuck that propels you downhill without tumbling, the duck walk that gets you back up the slope again.
And then there was that moment when a couple of us stopped, waiting for the rest of the group to catch up. Beside us were ghost trees with their sculpted-snow burdens. Above, a bluebird-blue ski. All around, silence, as sweet and pristine as the untracked snow. On our faces, the biggest grins you could imagine.
Others can head south when the snow flies. Me, I’m heading back to the 105 kilometres of snow-covered trails near Vernon.

If you go

Getting there: Both Air Canada and WestJet fly daily into Kelowna International Airport; from there, it is a 45-minute drive to Vernon, and a further 25 minutes to Silver Star Mountain Resort.
Staying there: You can, of course, get a room right on the mountain at Silver Star, but staying in the city of Vernon lets you enjoy the best of both worlds.
Best Western Pacific Inn (bestwestern.com) and Holiday Inn Express & Suites (ihg.com) both have bright, modern properties—­and a pool!—right down the road from Silver Star; Best Western is also set to open an upscale Premier property in Vernon soon.
If golf and outdoor yoga is your thing, check out Predator Ridge Resort (predatorridge.com); for spa, head to Sparkling Hill Resort (sparklinghill.com).
Dining there: In Vernon, you can find everything from perogies to pizza to pho. Head to Eatology or Diner on Six (dineronsix.com) for hearty and wholesome breakfasts, Marten Brewpub (martenbrewpub.com) for craft beer and casual fare, and The Phoenix Steakhouse for fine wine and fantastic steaks in an old bank building (phoenixsteakhouseandbar.com).
Silver Star also offers a number of great culinary options, including burgers at the Red Antler or exceptional fine dining with a view at Silver Grill.
Also: XC Supercamps run from November through February and start at $455 for a three-day package with half-day instruction each day. xcsupercamp.com.
For more information: For info on Silver Star Mountain Resort, including accommodation, dining, rentals and trail costs, visit skisilverstar.com; for Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre, sovereignlake.com.
To learn about Vernon and the surrounding area, including the Tasting Trail and Scenic Sip group of wineries in Lake Country, check out tourismvernon.com.


The writer was a guest of Tourism Vernon. No one from the tourism board read or approved of this article before publication.


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