Making a life on the mountain
As Sun Peaks has grown from local ski hill to international destination, a constant that has remained is the presence of Sue Elder and her humble and positive presence in the community. Elder arrived in Kamloops in 1982, she and her then-partner came from Ontario after searching for a new, small city with good snow nearby.
“We came for a week, said ‘the city is fine, let’s go skiing’, and skied the rest of the time,” she said. “It was one of those hot March days with fabulous snow on Hat Trick and that did it for us.”
Then a teacher early in her career, she struggled to find full time work but taught on call for a few years before landing a full time gig teaching physical education in Logan Lake.
Elder had joined the Canadian Ski Patrol (CSP) for five years as a volunteer at home on Mt. Baldy, Ont., but with no CSP at Sun Peaks when she arrived she became heavily involved in the racing scene.
In her free time she coached racers and entered whatever races she could.
She became a regular competitor at the Over the Hill Downhill in Vernon, took on the Iron Legs competitions at Sun Peaks and raced in the penguin races of Tod Mountain. She eventually took home the gold in the Velocity Challenge speed skiing event after borrowing skis and deciding to give it a shot on a whim.
CSP soon started on the mountain but she was consumed with racing and her two children. Jamie, born in 1990 and Kelly, born in 1992, were active kids and soon became involved in racing too.
The family would visit often and in 1990 built a home at the far end of Burfield Dr.
With the kids racing, Elder said, she faced a decision.
She could buy a pass and volunteer on the course or volunteer on patrol with CSP, get her pass and be more active. The choice to rejoin in 1998 was easy.
“It was awesome,” Elder said. “It was like coming home. I found myself asking why I waited.
“We had and still have a very good relationship with paid staff. It was really fun though, less regimented, very free spirited.”
It was at on the mountain she met her current partner Lyle Whitmore.
“There was this tunnel jump…Lyle did it and totally exploded. I was skiing with the kids and they asked if that patroller needed helped so we picked up his gear.”
Years later the two connected and realized the first time they met was on the snow.
Soon after she started patrol at Sun Peaks she began competing in first aid competitions, regularly placing with her team. Competing evolved into using her professional skills to train.
“I am a teacher, it’s in my blood.”
She rose through the ranks from assistant instructor to instructor and instructor trainer, eventually taking on the vice president of education, zone president and division training officer roles over the years.
Elder still patrols and is heavily involved in education with CSP. Both of her children went on to patrol at different times, Jamie for nine years as both a volunteer and paid member.
“They grew up as patrol rats. If I went to an accident they’d cross the skis and help out or if it was nasty I could flick them a toonie and they’d go get a hot chocolate…The whole patrol took care of them when I was busy doing stuff.”
She also heads to Blue River every fall to teach first aid to guides at Mike Wiegele Heli Skiing and provides the same service to other cat and heli operations.
Her work with CSP has also opened opportunities to provide first aid at the World Cup in Lake Louise every December, at the 2010 Olympics and Paralympics and three Canada Winter Games events.
In 2018 she attended the national CSP meeting in Quebec and taught the first women’s clinic at a national level, Her Turn.
Recently she applied to travel to China in 2020 to teach patrollers ahead of the 2022 Olympics in Beijing and was accepted. It’s an opportunity that will combine her passion for teaching with her love of the ancient Olympics and experience patrolling.
After retiring from teaching in 2016 she hasn’t slowed. She completed training and licensing to become a paramedic and was hired by the B.C. Ambulance Service (BCAS) in Logan Lake in 2015 before transferring to Chase.
She’s still a paramedic and one of many patrollers to shift into the BCAS.
“Sun Peaks gave us a fabulous background in trauma,” she said. “Sun Peaks’ training really pays off…it’s a really good fit.”
Through it all she’s made time for another passion, singing. A local choir member on a patrol call as a patient reignited her long-forgotten passion. For two years she’s travelled to Vancouver weekly to practice with an exclusive female acapella show choir, the Lions Gate Chorus.
In October, the group travelled to the world women’s singing competition in New Orleans and won silver.
“It’s been phenomenal, I’ve enjoyed it immensely.”
Elder has been a constant on the mountain, the mountain has remained in her life through many years and professional and personal peaks and valleys.
“Sun Peaks has given me friendship and a feeling like I belong…I feel proud of Burfield Dr. too. We’re working together with neighbours to make it better and take care of it. I just feel like it’s my home there.”
Being a local in the community, she said, really comes into focus when she’s on patrol shifts.
“It feels like I’m a small piece of a big picture. Of a big, beautiful, amazing mountain that feels alive to me. I feel protective of it, I feel like I want to help it out and take care of it and see it survive for a whole other generation and beyond.
“I just feel like I need to continue and volunteer my time and be part of the community. Being a local is taking care of both the people and the environment and being a good friend to those in need…It also means that I always have someone, if I wanted to I could walk down the street and knock on anybody’s door.”
She still volunteers, sings, works with BCAS and spends as much time as she can in her home on the mountain whether it’s spending time with her children and grandchildren or watching the New Year’s Eve fireworks display.
Being a patroller has given her an outlet to participate and take care of her home for more than 20 years.
“When I joined…it was not altruistic. It grew into something way bigger.”