Have you ever had one of those vacations where everything just sort of clicks? You’re with great friends, everything’s on time, the weather surprises you, the food is good, the drinks are even better… this is the best way I can think of to describe my recent trip to Sun Peaks Resort for the Winter Okanagan Wine Festival. As if snowboarding in spring-like conditions under bluebird skies weren’t enough, we wined, dined (and wined again) with some of BC’s best wineries. We hiked through a frost-covered forest to a frozen waterfall, and then watched the sun set from the back of a dog sled. Oh, and did I mention we drank some wine? This is probably redundant at this point, but: this was a really great weekend.
But let’s start at the beginning: getting there. I’m not ashamed to admit that I can’t drive in the snow (cut me a little slack – I was born and raised in the rainforest of Vancouver). Most winters, this rules out my safely driving the Coquihalla Highway between Vancouver and Sun Peaks. Thankfully, there are other options: you can fly directly from Vancouver to Kamloops (about 60 km/37 miles from Sun Peaks), but we decided to go with the more economical Greyhound bus option. (note: I AM a bit ashamed to admit how excited I was when I got to the terminal and found out Greyhound buses are now equipped with wifi. That four-hour ride has never passed so quickly).
Upon arrival in Sun Peaks that afternoon, we wasted no time – it was wine’o’clock and we had a date with the Voyageur Bistro. Although not technically a part of the wine fest, this Thursday night event was the first in the Voyaguer’s new “Explorer” series, which featured a BC wine lesson from BC Wine Shop‘s Gerrit Van Staalduinen and a BC history lesson from Voyageur owner Kevin Tessier, paired with five amazing courses from the Voyageur’s kitchen (related note: I feel like I would have enjoyed history class much, much more in the past if it had been accompanied with a 5 course, wine-paired meal of this caliber).
I know my craft beers pretty well, but when it comes to wine I’ll admit I’ve got a lot to learn – which is why it was so much fun to pick the brain of wine expert Gerrit as he topped up our glasses. I learned more about the BC wine industry in one night than I could ever have imagined. I also discovered a couple of new favourites: the Cabernet/Syrah from Misconduct Wine Co. was fantastic, and Harper’s Trail Late Harvest Reisling was surprisingly good (coming from someone who typically doesn’t do dessert wines).
Full to the brim from our meal and nicely warmed by the wine, we walked home in the snow, with the standard for the rest of the weekend set pretty high (spoiler alert: it lived up).
The next morning, the sun was shining and we headed to the slopes to enjoy the spring-like conditions. I will admit, I have a soft spot for Sun Peaks; it’s where I first learned to snowboard as a teenager. As BC’s second-biggest alpine ski area (after Whistler Blackcomb), it’s tough to get sick of the terrain, and the snow has never disappointed (it’s that sweet, sweet Okanagan champagne pow). And as a bonus, on this unusually clear and warm January day the views from the hill were fantastic.
After countless sunny laps (another thing that I love about Sun Peaks: the lack of crowds), we had managed to work up a thirst once again – which was great timing, as the wine fest’s pinnacle event, the West Jet Progressive Tasting, was set to begin shortly.
What’s so progressive about this tasting, you ask? Well, you take nearly 700 thirsty wine drinkers, and instead of packing them all into one giant room to sample wines, you set them loose upon the snowy alpine village to sip their way from hotel to gallery to restaurant and back again. More than thirty BC wineries are ready and waiting in these fine establishments to fill your glass, and as you wine your way through the village, it’s buzzing, but the crowds are spread throughout the village rather than packed into one venue, and you realize what a genius concept this really is.
This was the perfect event for a wine newbie like me, as I was able to try a huge variety of BC wines in one evening. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of wineries making sparkling wine (including Bella, a new winery that makes nothing but bubbles) and by the quality of the reds (the Tantalus Vineyards Pinot Noir, for example, really stood out for me). We capped off the evening back at the condo with a pie from Mountain High Pizza and a bottle of Misconduct Wine Co.‘s The Big Take from the bottle shop. Perfect.
We awoke with clear heads the next morning (praise that mountain air!), and so decided to start off the day with a walk to a frozen waterfall, led by our local friends. The hoar frost was out in full force, coating the trees and everything else in a delicate white layer of ice crystals, which made for a stunning hike.
We hadn’t planned to do anything but relax on our final afternoon at Sun Peaks, but luckily for us, we managed to score a spot with Mountain Man Doglsed Tours at the last minute (after Tourism Sun Peaks and several locals had hinted at what an amazing experience it would be). And are we ever glad we did; it was probably the highlight of the entire trip.
Having never experienced dogsledding before, I really didn’t know what to expect. In my mind, I had images of stern, fur-clad drivers cracking a whip behind a team of fierce-looking huskies. As it turned out, I was way, way off.
Our tour started with meeting the team of dogs who would be pulling our sled. Owner Chris Schwanke, who would be riding with us, introduced the dogs by name and told us a little bit about each of them (adorable!), and we had a few minutes to visit with the pups before we set out. And by set out, I mean burst out of the (imaginary) gates: the dogs were visibly excited about the journey ahead, leaping and raring to go, and any fears I had about them not enjoying what they do were put to rest instantly. It was very clear that this wasn’t work to them, so much as play. Chris affirmed this statement wholeheartedly; and, since he spends practically 24 hours a day with the dogs (they all live with him and co-owner/operator/wife Taryn on their nearby farm/bed & breakfast), he should know. As soon as he said the word (no whips involved!), we flew out of the Mountain Man basecamp and into the snowy forest.
For the next 90 minutes, we glided through the trees, stopping a couple of times so that we could try out driving (the grin on my face in these photos is too embarrassing to share). At about the halfway point, we hit McGillvray Lake, where we took a break on the ice and watched the sun set behind the trees. And at that moment, thinking back over the last 48 hours, I couldn’t have been much more content.