Our skis seem to brush the tops of partly trimmed pine trees as we ride up the triple seater chair. Offloading at the top we are greeted by a small hut where ski patrollers warm up fireside and seemingly endless possibilities.
Despite Harper being visible from West Bowl in Sun Peaks, living at one of my favourite ski
resorts, I don’t ski elsewhere often. I have my favourite runs, my secret stashes and a routine. But from the moment I clicked into my skis at Harper Mountain near Kamloops, B.C. I was having the most fun I’d had all season.
It’s all part of the outdoor magic Harper has made since 1973. The same family has always owned and operated the small mountain and is still deeply involved in day-to-day operations.
Manager Lisa Darbuger said that atmosphere comes from a traditional feel, a variety of terrain, and a welcoming and cozy lodge.
Arriving in the morning we were welcomed by that lodge with a roaring fire that filled the room with warmth and a perfect campfire smell. As we geared up locals joked with ticket sellers and concession servers while snow fell thickly outside.
Once in our skis it was straight to the t-bar, loading with zero wait. Riding the lift was something neither of us had practised in some time which led to a lot of laughing on the ride, trying not to knock one another off.
One graceful dismount later and we found ourselves on Midway, partly groomed and partly soft powder, where we warmed up. Our second lap, on Little Bend, led to endless giggles and shouts as we were launched off rolls, bumps and hills.
Considering ourselves thoroughly limber we received instructions on the best route to the chair from the friendly t-bar operator and were off again.
As we reached the top of the mountain the snow was coming down even harder, coating us in a thick layer by the time we offloaded and were faced with choosing which run to hit first.
In the end we tried everywhere we could find, ducking between trees, making clouds of powder in untouched snow on the sides, speeding down steep, mogul covered pitches and flying some more on our favourite run, Little Bend.
As snow turned to rain at the lowest elevations we ducked back into the lodge to dry our clothes by the fire and enjoy a quick lunch. When our jackets stopped steaming we switched from ski boots to snow boots and met Darburger who sized us for snowshoes.
She carefully highlighted a map with her recommended trails but it was replaced by her friendly dog, Shadow, who expertly led us to the trailhead and impatiently waited for us to secure our equipment and guided us through the woods.
Within minutes all the noise of the hill had disappeared except an occasional whoop from an excited tube park slider. The walk up the mountain was just challenging enough to feel accomplished but not so hard we couldn’t enjoy the moss and snow covered trees surrounding us.
Returning to the base with rosy cheeks, Shadow quickly found a family of Nordic skiers to lead through her home trails and we were on our own again.
In addition to providing local families with, as Darburger put it, “big mountain skiing at affordable prices, great grooming and an awesome day lodge,” Harper regularly gives back to the community.
They employ more than 50 staff, have donated more than $15,000 to Royal Inland Hospital, and support the school district’s Learn to Ski and Snowboard program.
It’s a focus on people that makes them stand out.
“We love our customers, and have many loyal customers that have been coming back over the years,” Darburger said.
“We also have several staff that have been here for over 20 years. Norm’s (owner/operator) mom still does the books, (that’s) 45 years, and Cam has been teaching skiing since the first day, and still teaches five days a week! Forty five years teaching guests to ski and he still loves it!”
After a day of adventure it was clear what has kept them at the mountain so long; Harper has the skiing magic it’s easy to forget elsewhere.