Silver Star, with its unique village, is an award-winning family resort in British Columbia's Okanagon region.
SILVER STAR, BC — The ski industry has changed dramatically since I started skiing; on a dare, riding without poles in a one-piece snowsuit. Leaving Alberta at an early age, my family settled in Armstrong, just outside Vernon, British Columbia in the Okanagan Valley. In those days, the Okanagan’s main industry was not tourism or wine, but logging. The people were all hard working and homes were not strictly used for vacationers from Calgary, Alberta.
The move to Armstrong showcased many differences between my old home and my new one, the biggest being in vertical feet, and the many ways to ski them. The valley contains a high density of ski resorts: Apex, Big White, Sun Peaks, and Silver Star. My first time at Silver Star – best family rated hill in Canada at the time – was on a Wednesday night, or “Ladies Night.”
It wasn’t called Ladies Night because of dancing ‘entertainment,’ or feminist rallies; it was called so because women skied for absolutely free. My family would pack into the car and head up the hill. Dad would play pool with his friends and Mom would head out with my sister and I for a few runs down “The Milky Way.” Growing up in a town containing a bowling alley and a cheese factory, free night skiing was a Red Letter event.
Fifteen years later, the Silver Star I remember - and the mining town style it was originally designed after – is only a memory, preserved in sepia-tone photographs and old injuries. A new ownership brought with it a new town, filled with private hot-tub condos, several high end eateries, and no less than five new Poma high-speed chairs. In addition to the complete overhaul, however, the Schumann family, who bought the hill in 2001, improved upon the one element that originally made Silver Star great - family.
Unlike other hills, Silver Star didn’t begin as a high mountain pass, Swiss trekking getaway, or heli-ski terrain; Silver Star began in 1958 when a group of locals had a common interest to have their kids have a great place to ski. After 17 years working at the hill, Sales Manager Robin Baycroft agrees that through all the updates, Silver Star has only improved upon its original family orientated mandate.
“We’d still like to improve from 5,000 to 7,000 on hill beds as we develop the Silver Queen, Alpine Meadows, and Attridge areas,” said Baycroft. “That way, even more families will have a chance to experience our varied terrain and after ski activities like Tube Town and ice skating.”
Silver Star even has an on-hill school for families wanting to spend the whole season on the slopes.
With all the new changes, both Baycroft and I were sad to seen the original bunny hill torn out. But the new Snow Bird Lodge, taking over the spot, gives the village a new flagship accommodation. Moreover, to replace the lost beginner terrain, a magic carpet was installed on a more forgiving gradient, allowing beginners to progress without the steep learning curve of a T-Bar.
Fortunately, for anyone feeling nostalgic, the Summit Chair – or green chair as I new it – still remains and packs its familiar punch. If you’re not careful, the centre bar can deal out quite a knock. With all the new lifts, the Summit chair does little to access terrain, but Silver Star wouldn’t be the same without it. The mountain even managed to adopt other mountain’s unwanted lifts, as Sushine Village's old Wawa T-bar now shuttles skiers from the back side to the front.
Some people might gawf at having to take two lifts from the back side; however, by eliminating the long tow cable, Silver Star was able to add more chairs and reduce power cost. This translated into a reduced lift line and a profit surplus that paid entirely for the brand new Silver Woods area. I don’t know about you, but having to ride the old Wawa in exchange for a shorter line and a completely new area and lift is a price I am willing to pay.
While riding up the Summit chair, listening to its familiar squeaks, creaks, and frosty groans, I realized Silver Star is a perfect example of how the more things change, the more they stay the same. The chair takes me over the new magic carpet where an equally new generation of no-pole snow plowers learn to pizza.
I glide past the new Snow Bird Lodge and see a family enjoying their hot-tub, and then the chair takes me past the Face, reminding me of my first black diamond run. I glance over at the new Comet high-speed six pack and wish it was that fast when I was a kid. Finally I come to the offload station, lift the bar, and get ready to make some new memories.
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