Giddy from an evening spent sipping small-lot, Okanagan Valleywines paired with Canadian scallops, duck and lamb, I buckle my ski boots, affix a headlamp to my helmet, and prepare to ski from the mid-mountain Sunburst Lodge back to the base at Sun Peaks Resort. Using only the dim glow emitting from my head and the bobbing light cast by the skier in front of me, I swoop exhilarating turns down the inky slope, my fear firmly on hold thanks to the liquid courage innervating my bloodstream.
This wine-fuelled night-skiing adventure is a memorable initiation into the inaugural Savour the Sun Festival, a collaboration between Sun Peaks Resort and Oliver Osoyoos Wine Country. We schuss by day and, like all good apres-skiers, drink wine by night; in this case, hard-to-find bottles (unless you visit the winery) from vineyards in the South Okanagan, such as Black Hills Estate’s Syrah and Fairview Cellars’ Madcap Red, a robust blend.
In addition to the ski-in, ski-out reception with winemakers, there’s a Savour Bubbles event that showcases sparkling wine, and a cornucopia-style evening where guests mingle between 12 winery stations while eating B.C.’s and Alberta’s bounty (Japanese-style wild salmon, roasted banana leaf-wrapped rockfish, and spicy tacos made from Beretta Farms’ beef cheek, for example). My husband and I soon make new friends who have travelled from as far away as Penticton, Vancouver and Seattle.
“I saw that Lariana (Cellars) was going to be here, and we thought we could try some nice wine and ski at the same time,” says Alli Frame, visiting with her husband from SilverStar, near Vernon.
Savour the Sun is the brainchild of longtime friends Julie Planiden, president of Oliver Osoyoos Wine Country, and Hans Stierli, Sun Peaks Resort’s executive chef. The ski area wanted to host an early season event to draw people to the mountain, and the wine region — where many of the smaller producers close their tasting rooms during winter — was eager to trot out its sun-kissed varietals in the snow.
“We feel we don’t get the traffic in the winter so we have to come to our customers,” Planiden explains.
Sun Peaks plans to make Savour the Sun an annual pre-Christmas event (Dec. 6-8 in 2019) that will replace the Winter Okanagan Wine Festival, which takes place at the resort for the last time this January.
It’s not just Sun Peaks reeling in would-be skiers and snowboarders with promises of wining and dining — resorts in Alberta and B.C. are serving up skiing with a side of everything from ice sculptures to outdoor concerts. Here are a few of our favourite winter festivals to help you plan your ski weekends accordingly.
Jasper in January: Skiing with a side of affordability
This winter, Jasper is celebrating 30 years of Jasper in January, an annual festival that fetes Old Man Winter and makes it easy to experience his charms thanks to savings on lift tickets at Marmot Basin and accommodation deals around town. Jasper in January has grown to include outdoor activities beyond skiing such as snowshoeing with Walks & Talks Jasper, and the not-to-be-missed Maligne Canyon Icewalk Tour, where you strap on ice cleats and walk down an impressive gorge to see frozen waterfalls and ice caves. Fat bike races, wine and whiskey tastings, and a chili cook-off round out the 17-day event that runs through Jan. 27.
Ice Magic: Skiing with a side of ice sculptures
Carve turns at Lake Louise Ski Resort all day and then repair to the frozen shore of the actual lake for an apres-ski cocktail from an ice bar, followed by a skate around an ice castle with an unsurpassed view of snowy peaks and icy sculptures. The man-made frozen wonders are part of the Ice Magic Festival, which takes place during Banff National Park’s annual SnowDays Jan. 16-27. You can watch professional ice carvers from around the world create the sculptures on the grounds of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise between Jan. 16-18, or simply ogle their impressive efforts after the fact. Pair your viewing with sleigh riding, snowshoeing, cross-country or downhill skiing, or skating, of course.
Fernie Griz Days: Skiing with a side of axe throwing
The annual snowfall at Fernie Alpine Resort is so legendary, it comes with a myth explaining why the Lizard Range of the Canadian Rockies gets so much powder. Turns out (wink, wink), it’s because a grizzly-bear-coat-wearing man named The Griz regularly fires his musket into the clouds, which answer back by dumping fluffy flakes atop all of Fernie’s terrain. Naturally, Fernie Griz Days (March 1-3) celebrates its powder patron with a festival that includes a pancake breakfast, opportunities to ski with The Griz mascot, a parade, fireworks, lumberjack show and a dummy downhill. The best tradition by far, in my opinion, is the Extreme Griz Competition, where strong women and men compete for the title of Griz by throwing axes and engaging in other feats of endurance.
Beer Goggles Craft Brew Fest: Skiing with a side of suds
Touted as a weekend of “fun and foam,” the annual Beer Goggles festival brings in craft brews to the base of Red Mountain Resort in the West Kootenays near Rossland, B.C. March 15-16. It’s a chance for beer-loving snow bombers to sample IPAs, saisons and sours from breweries in the Kootenays and as far away as Victoria. The suds sipping takes place after the lifts close, so hopheads can stow their real goggles before donning their beer ones after a few bevvies.
High Notes Music Festival: Skiing with a side of outdoor concerts
The Jerry Cans, Lion Bear Fox, and Tiger Moon join the all-Canadian lineup of emerging bands at the High Notes Music Festival at Panorama Mountain Resort from March 22-24. Live music at ticketed and free gigs brings the toe-tapping sounds of throat singing, blues, rock, folk and country music to the mountains, and lures riders who’d rather rip it to the real thing than a playlist. Most concerts are in the afternoon, evening and into the night, leaving plenty of time for spring skiers and snowboarders to get their shred on at this B.C. resort known for its corduroy cruisers and the powder-filled Taynton Bowl.