WORDS — Dan Kasper
Sixty years ago, a group of explorers from Kamloops, British Columbia, founded Tod Mountain Ski Resort. One of those early pioneers, a construction industry entrepreneur named Gilbert Marini, was the first to venture into a specific area of steep and deep terrain on Mt. Tod. Today, Tod Mountain Ski Resort is known as Sun Peaks Resort and that high-elevation zone that Marini first skied is called Gil’s—named after the man who first linked turns in that interior BC powder.
Sun Peaks, the second largest ski area in Canada, has earned the reputation of a community-minded resort with a family-friendly vibe—but we’re here to let you know about a lesser-known side of this gem in the heart of British Columbia. Sitting at an elevation of 4,117 feet, the base village holds snow for most of the season and the main street is regularly groomed, making it easy to skate-ski directly to après or back to your hotel at the end of the day.
Lift lines are practically nonexistent at Sun Peaks, and just a five-minute line on the busiest holiday weekends causes consternation and grumblings from locals. While the buffed-out green and blue runs and European-style village are perfect for families, we don’t want the smooth exterior of this place to fool you. Situated just a short 10- to 15-minute hike from the top of the Burfield and Crystal chairs, sits the aforementioned Gil’s—a wind-loaded, eastern facing aspect that produces the deepest turns at the resort.
While Sun Peaks averages over 230 inches of snowfall annually, the snow totals in this hike-to zone are usually much higher. Featuring its own micro-climate, it’s a powder playground filled with pillow drops, a couple of easy-to-navigate cliff bands and gladed stashes hidden amongst the “ghost” trees covered in rime. “Gil’s is the highest point on the mountain, [sits] off to the side and is nicely sheltered along the trees,” local big-mountain freeride and self-proclaimed ‘powder hound’ Jan Glowczynski says. “It stacks up pretty deep back there thanks to its location and it holds snow for days because it doesn’t get over-skied.”
SKIER: Andreas Massitti
PHOTO: Reuben Krabbe
LOCATION: Sun Peaks, BC
After a short skate/hike along a groomed cat track, visitors to Gil’s are presented with an option: point your tips down and start exploring the abundance of rolling benches or boot pack up to Skunk—a wind lip above Gil’s—for some extra turns chock-full of cold smoke. On a clear day, you might find a group of locals sipping tallboys and enjoying the panoramic views of nearby Dunn Peak from atop the hike. While you can’t go wrong exploring either area, it might be worth introducing yourself and linking up with those locals to find one of the few hidden snow caches like Miss Piggy’s or Elevators.
But, even if you don’t have the benefit of your newfound friends guiding the way, you’re bound to find plenty of untamed terrain. Head all the way out to the boundary line to ski Offset—the longest run in the zone—which features a small cliff drop, if you choose to hit it. Main Face is a bit shorter, but provides a combination of wide-open and gladed turns and, we’ll tell you straight up that it holds the deepest snow on the mountain.
“Every line in Gil’s has a little something different to offer,” Glowczynski notes. “You can’t go wrong back there. It’s a powder zone without many rocky features, so you can go fast and not worry about a thing.”
One of the best parts? Getting out of Gil’s is just as easy as getting in. Easy Out or Rollers returns you to the base of the Elevation Chair; spin Elevation and the Crystal Chair to re-access the entrance for more free pow refills or, if your legs are burning, consider some steep fall line turns down Freddy’s Nightmare below the Burfield Chair. Another option is the top-to-bottom terrain park under the Sundance Chair that finishes with a 60-foot booter. Just be sure to stomp the landing: après revelers from the patio at Bottoms Bar and Grill will be watching.
Speaking of Bottoms, it is definitely your best bet for a cold beer and a burger. If you ring the après bell there, come prepared with more than just Loonies and Toonies: House rules say you have to buy a shot for anyone touching the bar if you dare ring the infamous bell.
Or maybe you prefer java and pastries over PBRs and poutine? Glowczynski’s parents’ spot, the Bolacco Café is a longtime locals’ favorite serving up Polish classics and one of the best espressos in town. Another Sun Peaks institution is Mountain High Pizza—dishing out pizza by the slice, it was one of the first businesses to commit to staying open year-round.
Regardless of where you grab beers, borscht or cold brew, the stoke will certainly be high knowing you just cut up one of the best kept secrets on British Columbia’s famed Powder Highway. Sun Peak’s uncrowded, easy-to-access terrain is sure to keep a grin on your face.