A ski resort with terrain for all levels and closeby lodging, lots of apres ski activities and a good ski school make for great vacations on snow.
The Okanagan Valley in southern British Columbia sits in an odd geography. It's one of the warmest locations in Canada, yet piles up with deep dry champagne powder in winter. That means two things for winter visitors: good skiing and sunny skies. But there's a bonus, too. The Okanagan is known worldwide for its wines.
Fly into Kelowna International Airport from Seattle, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, or Vancouver, and you'll find yourself smack in the perfect mix of snow and après ski wine tasting. Six destination resorts within short drives from the airport provide the slopes; over 90 vineyards supply the wine.
All of the destination resorts in the region offer ski-in/ski out accommodations, so you can just let the car get buried under snow in the parking lot. Small towns, such as Vernon and Penticton, scatter across the valley adding the full spectrum of lodging including B & Bs, motels, inns, lodges, and chain hotels.
The slopes of Big White and Silver Star both sit within an hour of the airport on the edge of the Monashee Mountains. Valley-floor vineyards sweep up to lush forests and high peaks, where 24 feet of snow falls each year.
Big White is home to Canada's longest high-speed six-pack lift. It also solves the problem of multi-skilled family members skiing together, for every lift has at least one green run down from the top. It is Western Canada's largest resort for night skiing.
Walk into Silver Star Village, and you'll think you're back in the Wild West. The village sports bright colored store facades and Victorian architecture akin to 19th century mining towns. But its slopes are much more modern, with high-speed lifts, and three magic carpets for beginners.
A 90-minute drive south of Kelowna takes you to Apex, a slightly smaller resort that perches on the ridges above Penticton. The resort is designated as a National Training Centre for both aerials and moguls. But it also has a reputation for buffed out cruisers with nearly 50 percent of its terrain designated as intermediate.
Sun Peaks outside Kamloops gets its name from the 2,000 hours of sunshine that it sees each year. The resort, B.C.'s second largest, caters to beginner and intermediate skiers with a five-mile-long, top-to-bottom green run, and nearly 70 percent of the mountain map covered in groomers.
Revelstoke in the Selkirk Mountains made news last year with the launch of a $1 billion ski area development over 15 years. The resort sees enough annual snow to drown whole buildings with 40 to 60 feet of snowfall each year. Revelstoke runs two high-speed quads, a high-speed gondola, and a magic carpet and has plans to add more lifts. You can heli- and cat-ski right from the resort. It boasts the longest vertical lift-served descent in North America. That's 5,620 feet of turns.
Stretch the car time to 3.5 hours to ski Red Mountain above Rossland. You can also catch a shuttle from the Kelowna airport to leave the driving to someone else. (Rossland is, however, a quicker drive from the Spokane, Wash., airport.) Red throws wide-open groomers and powder glades at skiers and boarders from its six lifts.
Those looking for little hidden day-use nooks can also find them in this region. These little crannies crank up two or three lifts each. Find the smallest vertical at Crystal Mountain in Westbank. Phoenix Mountain Ski Resort outside Grand Forks offers a wee more vertical with 800 feet. Both Mount Baldy east of Oliver, and Harper Mountain outside Kamloops, have lifts that climb around 1,400 vertical feet.
This British Columbia region around Kelowna lures skiers to its varied slopes. But don't forget to save some time to savor wine country. Spice up your après ski with a little wine tasting from the local region as you plan your next day's runs.