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Originally published Wednesday, January 5, 2011 at 7:00 PM

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Beyond Whistler, a trio of B.C. ski resorts worth the drive — for days of fun

Want to get away from familiar Whistler? Sun Peaks, Big White and Silver Star ski resorts offer some of the best snow fun to be found in British Columbia.

Seattle Times travel staff

If You Go

Skiing South-Central British Columbia

Lift tickets

A Sun Peaks adult single-day ticket is $73 Canadian (the U.S. and Canadian dollars are nearly equal in value). Big White and Silver Star both charge $71 Cdn. B.C.'s 12 percent tax (called the HST, harmonized sales tax) is additional.

There are discounts for seniors and youths, and multiday tickets reduce the cost, as do packages with lodging/tickets.

Major British Columbia ski areas remain open until early or mid-April.

Traveler's tips

Weather: Expect significantly colder weather at Big White, Silver Star and Sun Peaks than at ski resorts on the warmer, west side of the coastal mountains in B.C. (and Washington). Big White also can get some fog in winter.

Road info: Get B.C. road conditions at www.drivebc.ca or phone 800-550-4997.

Border-crossings: Get information on U.S.-Canada border crossings at www.wsdot.wa.gov/traffic/border/For ID requirements, see www.getyouhome.gov

More information

The B.C. tourism office has ski-resort information at www.hellobc.com/ski

Big fans for little Apex Mountain

The Apex ski resort in B.C.'s Okanagan is significantly smaller than Sun Peaks, Big White and Silver Star, but it has big fans, especially of its black-diamond chutes.

Apex offers four lifts and 1,112 skiable acres of terrain with 67 marked runs, and more than a third of the runs are rated for advanced/expert skiers. A terrain park by the base of the lifts lets riders show their stuff. And kids of all ages can go snowtubing, or ice skate through the woods on an "adventure loop."

Many day-skiers come from Penticton, 21 miles to the east, but there's also a ski village at the base of the lifts with hotel rooms, condos and vacation homes.

Get more information at www.apexresort.com or 877-777-2739.

— Kristin Jackson

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Want a drive-to ski vacation beyond Washington's Crystal Mountain or Whistler, B.C.?

Head to the other side of the coastal mountains in South-Central British Columbia, where a string of resorts beckon with good snow (think powder) and cozy ski villages.

The ski resorts — Sun Peaks, Silver Star and Big White in the Thompson-Okanagan area — are each roughly a seven-hour drive from Seattle, and each has enough runs to keep skiers and boarders happy for days. All are family-friendly, with ski schools, beginner runs and lots of après-ski fun. Intermediate and expert skiers have a wide choice of runs, from black-diamond chutes to glade skiing and powder bowls. Terrain parks at each resort, with rails, pipes and more, will make kids of all ages happy.

Stay at one resort or combine several for a ski or snowboarding safari. Here's a sampling:

Sun Peaks

What and where: The Sun Peaks village nestles at 4,117 feet in a narrow valley, with skiing and boarding on three surrounding mountains. The village centers on a two-block-long pedestrian walkway at the base of major lifts, with ski-in, ski-out hotels, condos and restaurants. Nearby are clusters of vacation-rental homes, many also ski-in, ski-out. Sun Peaks is 30 miles north of Kamloops.

What it's got: Sun Peaks is the second-biggest ski area in B.C., after the giant Whistler-Blackcomb, with 3,678 skiable acres. Eleven lifts (including five quad chairs) serve 122 runs. A big choice of expert runs will make advanced skiers happy, although there's plenty of intermediate and easy skiing.

Beyond skiing, the resort's Adventure Centre can book rides in snow-grooming machines, snowmobile tours, heli-skiing, dog-sledding and more.

What it lacks: The village, tucked between the mountains, lacks the wide-open views of the other resorts.

A good extra: Canadian champion skier Nancy Greene, who won Olympic and World Cup races in the 1960s, was instrumental in developing Whistler and later Sun Peaks (which blossomed in the early 1990s) along with her husband, Al Raine. The 67-year-old Greene lives at Sun Peaks — when she's not busy in Ottawa, Canada's capital, where she's a senator — and gives free ski tours most Saturdays and Sundays.

Special deals: A "4 for 3" package offers four nights of accommodation and four days of skiing or snowboarding for the price of three. Valid throughout the ski season, but with holiday blackout dates.

Special event: Jan. 15-23, Sun Peaks and the Okanagan Wine Festivals Society offer the annual Winter Festival of Wine, with seminars and special tastings spotlighting B.C. wines. Special ski, sip and stay packages.

More information: www.sunpeaksresort.com or 800-807-3257.

Silver Star

What and where: Silver Star's small ski village is perched mid-mountain at 5,280 feet and is done up in a Victorian architectural theme with boardwalks and brightly colored wood buildings along a pedestrian-only block. Most lodgings are ski-in, ski-out, from hotels and condos to luxury vacation homes and an economical slopeside youth hostel. Silver Star is about 14 miles east of the town of Vernon.

What it's got: Six chairlifts (including a "six-pack" six-person chair), a T-bar and three "magic carpets" for beginners serve 115 runs within 3,065 skiable acres. There's also snowtubing, ice-skating and other après-ski fun.

What it lacks: Silver Star has less terrain and fewer long, black-diamond runs than Sun Peaks (but offers miles-long cruiser runs, such as the popular Eldorado run).

A good extra: For nordic skiers, Silver Star has excellent cross-country trails (so good that Canada's and other national teams train on them). Combined with the adjacent Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre, there are more than 60 miles of well-groomed trails. A Silver Star nordic ticket is valid on both trail systems.

Special deal: For those booking a three-night lodging/ski-ticket package in certain weeks, Silver Star offers a free fourth night's stay and ticket within Jan. 28-Feb. 4; Feb. 4-11, and March 12-18.

More information: www.skisilverstar.com or 800-663-4431.

Big White

What and where: Big White, set in the rolling Monashee Mountains, is lauded for its powder and family-friendly fun. It has a wide choice of ski-in, ski-out lodging, from a slopeside hostel and comfortable hotels to luxury condos and big vacation homes centered on the pedestrian-friendly ski village at 5,757 feet. Big White is 35 miles south of Kelowna; it's the big-sister resort to Silver Star, with shuttle-van service between the two resorts for those who want to take a day ski trip.

What it's got: Big White stretches over 2,765 skiable acres with 16 lifts (including its "magic carpets" and snowtubing lifts). There are 118 designated runs, including the 4 ½-mile Around the World route from the top of the Alpine T-bar. Advanced skiers and boarders can swoop through glades and bowls.

There's lots of après-ski fun in Big White's Happy Valley area, a 10-minute walk down from the main village, or you can ride the short, free gondola that connects them. Skate at an outdoor rink; snowtube on a hill with two special tubing lifts; ride a horse-drawn sleigh; take a snowshoe tour or snowmobile tour.

What it lacks: The nordic skiing is limited. And for such a big resort, the grocery store is small (and pricey). If your lodging has a kitchen, bring groceries with you or stock up in Penticton or Kelowna.

A good extra: Happy Valley has a big day lodge with a cafeteria offering tasty, and relatively economical, breakfast, lunch and dinner; a 250-person warm-up room/lunchroom; a pub and steakhouse.

Special deal: Get a fourth night in select accommodations and fourth day of skiing free if you book a three-night/three-lift ticket package through Big White Central Reservations. Book five nights between Feb. 4 and March 26 and get two more nights free. See website for discount codes.

More information: www.bigwhite.com or 800-663-2772.

Kristin Jackson: kjackson@seattletimes.com

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