Silver Star a place to shine

COFFEE BREAK on Silver Star Mountain offers great views of the Okanagan Valley.
-- Photos by Anita...

COFFEE BREAK on Silver Star Mountain offers great views of the Okanagan Valley. -- Photos by Anita Latner

SUE-ANN LEVY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 4:40 PM ET

On the first morning of my five-day cross-country ski camp I bumped into Olympic gold-medalist Beckie Scott out on the trails. Gliding along the gently rolling Meadow Trail -- her arms and long legs perfectly synchronized -- Scott looked more ballet dancer than Nordic skier.

"Hello! I'm just taking one final run before I have to catch my (airport) shuttle," beamed the 30-year-old Alberta native, not appearing the least bit out of breath considering she'd probably polished off 15 km in less than an hour.

I watched in awe as she sped away, making the high endurance sport look effortless.

A cross-country skier for more than 15 years, I'd come out to Silver Star for the five-day boot camp to fine tune my classic ski technique and to learn how to skate ski -- using short light-weight snow skis in a rapid, skating motion.

Located in the Monashee Mountains one hour's drive from Kelowna, this combination Alpine and Nordic resort offers one of the top three cross-country trail systems in North America with its 60 km of Nordic trails at perfect training altitude -- 1.6 km above sea level.

Due to a curtain formed by the Monashees and average winter daytime temperatures hovering around -5C, the champagne powder snow falls fast and early here.

Silver Star's Nordic Manager Glenn Bond, who competed in the 1994 World Cup, says by mid-October there's usually enough snow to cross-country ski (it snowed every day our week). Christmas lights twinkling, Silver Star's Victorian Village looked like a winter wonderland.

What makes the trail system really special for Bond is that visitors can ski right from the door of their hotel or condo in the resort's village.

"Very few areas offer that or the quality of terrain or the variety of trails and all the amenities too," he says, noting about 50% of their Nordic trails are considered novice, 35% intermediate and 15% advanced.

Bond says their Nordic numbers have been growing by about 10% every year because more aging baby boomers are taking it up.

"Where we're seeing the biggest growth is people in their 40s and 50s who've Alpine skied for years and now want the fitness benefits," he says.

Norman Kreutz, Silver Star's director of snow sports, says the resort is really a "hidden paradise" with 107 uncrowded downhill runs, many of which are integrated with the cross-country trails. Parents do one sport and their kids another -- and meet up a few hours later.

"What sets this apart from many Alpine resorts is that it has world-class Nordic skiing with a big focus on the family experience," adds Bond.

Since 1983 the National Ski Team has trained here and in recent years the resort has been the early season training ground for every provincial Nordic team. Next December, Silver Star will host its first World Cup since 1991.

Scott, who spent 2 1/2 weeks at Silver Star preparing for this season's European World Cup circuit, considers the resort one of her "all-time" favourite places in the world to train.

"You won't find snow conditions like this anywhere in the world," she says over coffee in Bugaboo's Bakery, a favourite Village hangout.

The camp -- now in its 17th year -- is separated into Long, Slow Distance (LSD) clinics for the more seasoned skiers and Technique clinics for recreational and novice skiers.

Camp director Norm Crerar (aka Nordic Norm) says he wants the novices to have fun and feel comfortable and if they learn to ski better that's a bonus.

Instructor Tom Hansen, who competed on the World Cup circuit for seven years, skied with his elite LSD group about 40-45 km per day.

I'd have to be on LSD to ski that much. But Hansen says these super fast skiers -- most of them top marathoners -- didn't need a ton of coaching.

"They want to find efficiencies in loppets (ski marathons) that they wouldn't learn from their everyday clubs," says Hansen, 36. "We give them the icing on the cake."

Crerar cautions the camps are not for the faint of heart.

"The more fit you are, the more fun you have," he says.

Even Joe Strecker, a Seattle bond trader who's competed in 13 Ironman competitions and finished 11 of them, found the workout intense.

"If it were a camp for a day or two ... but a five-day camp with four or five hours on your skis, it's not (for) people who are out of shape," he says.

Our days quickly take on a rhythm. On the first day I ski 20 km up and down the mountain in my classic skis in Nordic Norm's group. Although I'm far fitter than in the past, having taken up running in the fall, 73-year-old Allen Johnson still leaves me in his dust.

After learning to skate ski the second day with the beginners in 61-year-old coach Jack Smith's group, I'm ready to eat everything on the buffet table. Over lunch, during a talk on nutrition, I ask how many calories I've burned off.

"You can burn off 1,000 calories per hour," the lecturer contends. I stuff two Nanaimo bars in my mouth without a second thought.

By afternoon I've hit the wall and am way behind my skate group. My inner thighs are burning. When Smith isn't looking, I lapse into my classic technique.

"Skating is more a power sport -- you use your quads more," he assures me later.

Besides skiing and improving our techniques, we get talks on proper dress, post-ski exercises and racing. Each night the marathoners dashed off to the National Altitude Training Centre to learn more about waxing their skis (with a special iron) or to watch World Cup videos.

We novices have had enough. We preferred to wax poetic over copious amounts of Okanagan Valley wine.

By Friday I've covered a total of 80 km. I was able to skate ski and keep up with my travelling companion while she skied on her classic equipment.

Phyllis Berck, who works for the city of Toronto, skied about 30 km a day in her LSD clinic.

"It's a great place to come," she says. "There are not many camps like this for adults."

Anne Massey and Maxime Evans, pals from Surrey, B.C., said Silver Star is one of the only places in Canada that offers such a focus on cross-country technique.

"We improved," says Massey. "I'd come back for sure."

Erica Buck, an E.R. doctor from North Bay, came with her son Aidan Kehoe, 6, and daughter Emma Rose Kehoe, 4.

Mornings, she'd ski with her LSD group, then downhill with her children from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m., then return to her group at 3 p.m.

I was pooped listening to her schedule. Not so for the marathoner, who was invigorated by Silver Star's beautiful trails.

"Skiing is one of my passions," Buck says. "The white snow, the quiet, the rhythm -- it was meditative to be out there.

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BOTTOM LINE

GETTING THERE: I travelled to Silver Star through Skican. Package prices, which include non-stop flights to Kelowna, transfers, seven nights' accommodation, six-day dual area lift ticket (with Silver Star's sister resort Big White) and taxes (excluding GST) range from $1,085 to $2,250 per person. WestJet also starts non-stop flights to Kelowna from Toronto in January.

The cross-country ski camp will be offered the first two weeks of December in 2005. The price for the five-day technique camp, which includes accommodation, three meals a day and instruction, is $1,195 per person. The six-day LSD camp is $1,495 per person.

Prices for Van Ee's snowshoe tours, including equipment, range from $29.95 to $69.95 (with dinner).

MORE INFORMATION: For Alpine or Nordic skiing at Silver Star, contact skisilverstar.com or 800- 663-4431.

To contact Skican check out their Web site at skican.com or call 888-4-SKICAN.

For more information on the camps, check out xccamps.ca or contact Crerar at 1-250-545-9400.

Van Ee can be contacted at outdoors@bcgrizzly.com.


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