Travel

Snow, stars and schnitzels in the British Columbia interior

After a challenging ski season as a result of warmer weather, winter is alive and well at SilverStar Mountain Resort, along with a few surprises

  • Feb 29, 2024
  • 1,444 words
  • 6 minutes
SilverStar's compact village. (Photo courtesy SilverStar Mountain Resort)
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It’s always fun to show off Canada, especially to out-of-towners who don’t know what they’re in for. When my New Yorker brother-in-law and his wife expressed interest in visiting the West Coast to “do a little skiing,” I extended an invitation with the caveat that “little” and “Canada” don’t usually go together. That said, it’s been an unprecedentedly warm winter, and snow has been in short supply. Ski resorts in B.C. and Alberta have been in the news with bare slopes, early closures, and the undeniable impact of our warming world. 

Following the news might well have persuaded the couple (financial analysts who literally live on Wall Street) not to bother visiting Western Canada at all. For that, my response was: make a wish upon a SilverStar.

SilverStar boasts 3200 acres of skiable terrain and 132 marked runs. (Photo courtesy SilverStar Mountain Resort)
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Tubing is another popular activity at SilverStar Mountain Resort. (Photo courtesy SilverStar Mountain Resort)
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B.C. has 13 major ski resorts, and I’m on a bucket list mission to visit them all. High on my list is SilverStar Mountain Resort, located a short drive from the city of Vernon in the B.C. Okanagan. I’d long heard about SilverStar’s ideal size for families, the quality of its champagne powder, its spectacular views, and its diverse terrain. This includes over 100 kilometres of Nordic trails (the largest network of groomed trails in the country), which is perfect for Werner, my skate-skier brother-in-law who was born and raised in Austria. As for downhill skiing, 15 per cent of the runs are for beginners, 40 per cent are intermediate, 35 per cent are for experts, and 10 per cent are considered “extreme.” But this means nothing if there’s no snow on the mountain.

SilverStar pictured at night. (Photo courtesy SilverStar Mountain Resort)
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It poured cats, dogs, geese and beavers on our drive up from Vancouver. Thick fog and plummeting temperatures stole the views, robbing the joy of a typically beautiful drive into the B.C. interior. We couldn’t see the dense mountain forest morph into the arid hills and orchards. We could barely see the road. Fortunately, with SilverStar’s village base at 1609 metres above sea level, the storm delivered 17 centimetres of much-needed snow, restoring the season’s base to within historical range. All 3200 acres of skiable terrain and 132 marked runs were finally open for business. We checked into the centrally located Snowbird Lodge, grateful for the fully-equipped kitchen and dining area ideal for family visits, and picked up ski rentals and passes. The crowds were thin, and the friendly staff was efficient, which is just the way I like it. All I had to do now was let Canada spin its magic.

“This is definitely not like Vermont,” exclaimed Werner. We’d joined him on cross-country skis to tackle the Bridal Path, a groomed route that cut from the village into the surrounding forest. Bathed in sunshine under a deep bluebird sky, the distant Monashee Mountains were so clear I could cut my finger tracing its sharp peaks. Accustomed to rough, single-track XC trails, Werner was delighted with the extra-wide paths and extraordinary views. He’s not the first visitor to be dazzled by a lesser-known Canadian mountain range. We left Werner to his trails, swapped out our ski boots, and headed up the gondola to take on the downhills. After a challenging season, local skiers were beaming at the fresh snow and clear conditions.

Staff hockey night at SilverStar Mountain Resort. (Photo: Robin Esrock)
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Minisleds, an unusual mountain activity, putting smiles on kids faces. (Photo: Robin Esrock)
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“SilverStar is just the right size and just the right amount under the radar,” a local from Vernon tells me on the Comet Express ski chair a few runs later. I explained that I was visiting from Vancouver, and she implored me not to tell too many people about how great this mountain is. You really need to be careful about who you talk to on ski chairs.

It might not have the glamour of Whistler or the expansive terrain of Sun Peaks, but SilverStar has everything you’d expect from one of Canada’s longest-running ski resorts. The compact village has more than a dozen restaurants, pubs and cafes, spanning a range of budgets and tastes. There are a few boutiques, a small but well-stocked grocery, and a wide variety of Victorian-inspired, brightly painted accommodations including hotels, condos and vacation homes. Judging by the quiet evenings in the village, guests are here for the mountain, not the nightlife. SilverStar also bundles its mountain activities into the affordable My1 Pass, which includes access to a large open-air skating pond, a thrilling tube park, snowshoeing, fat-biking, mini sleds, and the Nordic trails. Highlights of the week, according to my kids, were doing laps through the woods on the mini-snowmobiles and hurtling down the tube slopes with their aunt and uncle. Watching the competitive staff pond hockey game from the ice was also pretty cool.

Wine tasting at Peak Cellars. (Photo: Robin Esrock)
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World-class cross-country and alpine terrain had already sold my out-of-towners, but there were more surprises in store. Werner, a foodie and wine aficionado, had no idea the Okanagan is a wine-producing region. A short drive outside of Vernon, we stopped for a memorable tasting and meal at Peak Cellars and a fantastic sun-lit tasting at 50th Parallel Estate. My photos looked like we had stumbled into a tourism commercial, but in this part of the world, it was just another Thursday afternoon. I had one more surprise for the Austrian foodie, who treated me to a memorable schnitzel when I visited New York a few months ago. 

“What if I were to tell you there’s a 16th-century Austrian farmhouse serving authentic Austrian cuisine nearby?” I ask him. He thought I was joking.

Gerni’s Farmhouse, located inside the glitzy, adult-only Sparkling Hill Resort outside of Vernon, is named after the resort’s owner, Austrian jewelry magnate Gernot ‘Gerni’ Langes-Swarovski. Built in 1587, the large wooden chalet – complete with intricate carvings and balconies – was disassembled in the Austrian countryside, shipped to Canada in six containers, and carefully reassembled at Sparkling Hill. The menu features familiar dishes like bratwurst, schnitzels and rindsroulade, along with more exotic fare like leberknödelsuppe (beef liver soup), gebratenes forrellenfilet (roasted trout) and germknödel (plum sauce infused yeast dumpling). Sipping his fine Grüner Veltliner from Peak Cellars, my brother-in-law might well have been the most elated, satiated, and bewildered Austrian on the planet.

Yes, it’s always fun to show off Canada: our natural beauty, outstanding food and wine, and unexpected quirks. Our all-season adventures, welcoming locals, and for American visitors, our surprising affordability too. The five-hour drive home to Vancouver presented clear sunny skies and delivered those sensational views hidden by the storm on the way in. Undersell, overdeliver and let the experience do the talking: regardless of the weather, this is the Canadian way. Prost!

Gerni's Farmhouse, a 16th-century Austrian log house becomes a restaurant in the Okanagan. (Photo: Robin Esrock)
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Sunrise hits the village. (Photo courtesy SilverStar Mountain Resort)
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