By Gerry Furseth
VERNON, B.C. – Both Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre and Silver Star Ski Resort had a ‘soft-opening’ for cross-country skiing on Thursday, Nov. 7. By Saturday, there were classic tracks and 75-kilometres of trails set. FasterSkier’s Gerry Furseth spent Saturday on the Sovereign Lake side, where 100 of some 1,700 club members picked up their season passes and 236 visitors bought day passes.
Although most were local, skiers came from as far as Saskatchewan. A good collection from the neighboring clubs, Larch Hills and Telemark, made the roughly one-hour drive to kick off the season. About 15 skiers drove five hours from Vancouver, representing at least three of the coastal clubs.
To the East, Canmore has Frozen Thunder and about half of the national team. On the opposite side of the country, La Forêt Montmorency neighbours the epicentre of Québec skiing with another large group of national team members. Of the early skiing destinations in Canada, Sovereign Lake and Silver Star comparatively fly a little under the radar.
Like most nordic areas in the region, Sovereign Lake is operated by the local ski club. The day lodge staff and the track setters are paid, but a large amount of volunteer work makes the system and events possible.
There is a definite family feel with trails named for founding members (i.e. Wylie Loop, for Carl Wylie) and founder’s grandsons (Lars Taylor, a local star, long retired from racing). A photo of Matt Wylie racing at the Canmore World Cup last season is featured on the wall of fame, putting him one up on his cousin Alysson Marshall. A perennial NorAm destination, the club hosted World Masters in 2011 and hopes to bid for nationals in a few years.
Farther up the hill, Silver Star is a major alpine destination, known for champagne powder and 7 metres of annual snowfall. The resort maintains 50-plus kilometres of trails without a need for snowmaking. The main street of the village is groomed, but not set for classic.
A fun way to end a long day is to ski up to Long John’s and order a pint of liquid carbohydrates – local and organic, of course. The community has a mandatory gingerbread-house colour scheme, which sounds tacky but somehow looks great once the snow arrives.
For the last decade, skiers have stayed at Silver Star while racing at Sovereign Lake.
The dual-area pass is changing the way visitors see the area. Pat Pearce, the chair of Sovereign Lake Nordic, said “it has gotten much more popular … the idea of skiing across [to Silver Star], having lunch and skiing back.”
“We are in a real evolution and growth of the programs right now,’ said Sovereign Lake head coach Darren Derochie, who moved to the area in 1987 to try to make the Olympic team in 1988. He represented Canada at the 1992 Games.
“Our junior development program is around the two dozen range, whereas a few years ago we only had a handful of kids of that age,” Derochie explained.
The club executive and staff excitedly announced “mid-winter conditions on November 9th.” Seeking truth behind the claim, FasterSkier carefully inspected 15 k of the system, and while there were twigs sticking up through some of the trails, there wasn’t a single rock or dirty patch.
The classic tracks were good, but after two consecutive nights of heavy snowfall, it was a bit soft for skating in some areas. The end result of the two-hour inspection: “mid-winter” is a good description, as long as your idea of mid-winter includes heavy snowfalls. Don Wylie, part of the track-setting team, said a night of packing without new snow would get the skating lanes up to their usual standard.
Saturday night brought only 5 centimetres of new snow, allowing the track setters to catch up and create firm skating lanes. Another 15 k of trail opened Sunday, including Upper World Cup, which in this author’s opinion, is in better condition than the last five Decembers. For Furseth, this is the earliest ever switch from rock skis to race skis: most years he’s still on rock skis during early season NorAms. Classic was trickier Sunday, with a high of -2 degrees Celsius and some glazing in the tracks.