A Winter Weekend in BC’s Columbia Valley

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I’m just back from a winter weekend in BC’s Columbia Valley.

Although it’s only a three hour drive from Calgary – and an unbelievably scenic drive at that – I had only visited the area once before and that was a few years ago. Thanks to an invitation from the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce, John and I were able to get a real sense of what the Columbia Valley has to offer in the winter.

"Driving through Kootenay National Park en route to the Columbia Valley"

Driving through Kootenay National Park en route to the Columbia Valley

"The Columbia Valley unfolds on the other side of the rock cut"

The Columbia Valley unfolds on the other side of the rock cut

We elected to stay at Bighorn Meadows - a luxury condominium complex in the town of Radium Hot Springs. From the comfort of our room we enjoyed awesome views of the Columbia Valley.

"Another fantastic sunrise"
Another fantastic sunrise
"A view from our condo of the sunrise on the mountains"

A view from our condo of the sunrise on the mountains

We also had a chance to get up close to the bighorn sheep. There were plenty of them around the condo complex and many of them were busy licking the salt of the cars. We’d hoped for a thorough cleaning of our car but it wasn’t one of the chosen ones.

"Big horned sheep licking the salt off the car"

Big horned sheep licking the salt off the car

We found that the weekend went by way too fast as they always do when you’re having fun.

On Saturday morning we drove up to Panorma Mountain Village for a day of downhill skiing. It was a decidedly cold start to the day – about -21 C at the base. Fortunately after lunch it warmed up – and on the sunny slopes it could almost be described as warm.

It was the first time I’d downhill skied at Panorama and what a treat it was. Granted it was a bluebird kind of day but nonetheless I’d rank the mountain scenery in the top 10 of all ski resorts that I have downhill skied (at least 30 of them). Vistas were exceptional and the hill itself offers lots of vertical – 4000 feet in total – and a wide variety of runs. There is a bowl you can climb to if you’re into hard core double blacks.

"The view from about two thirds of the way up at Panorama Mountain Resort"

The view from about two thirds of the way up at Panorama Mountain Resort

"The hills were never very crowded even in the afternoon when it warmed up"

The hills were never very crowded even in the afternoon when it warmed up

"More great Panorama Mountain scenery"

More great Panorama Mountain scenery

After skiing we decided to head right for Radium Hot Springs.

The 14 kilometer drive down from the ski resort (and up for that matter) to Invermere is a very scenic one. On a snowy day it could be treacherous – so don’t even think about driving it without good snow tires.

From Invermere it’s another 20 minutes to reach the Radium Hot Springs. They are actually located in Kootenay National Park.

"Heading down to Invermere from Panorama Mountain"

Heading down to Invermere from Panorama Mountain

I always get chilled after a workout no matter what the temperature is outside, and looked forward all day to the thought of immersing my body in a very warm pool.

We spent about an hour lounging in the water – looking for hot spots and checking out the 43.3 C/ 110 F hot tub for 10 minutes – the maximum time suggested. The outside temperature in the shade late in the afternoon was about -17 C (1.4 F).

The Radium Hot Springs are in a beautiful setting"

The Radium Hot Springs are in a beautiful setting

"The wonderful Radium Hot Springs"

The wonderful Radium Hot Springs

We were cooked by the time we left the hot springs. 

Next up was a meet and greet event where we had a chance to meet some of our fellow travel bloggers and a whole mess of radio and TV people from Calgary. Held in the beautiful Pynelogs Cultural Center in Invermere, the building featured a lot of local artwork. After chatting and eating some delicious appetizers including a divine blueberry goat cheese tart, we were fried and ready to spend what little time was left of the night relaxing.

The next day was another fun one. This time we traded downhill skis for cross-country skis. The plan was to meet up with Penny, the owner of Columbia Kayak and Canoe for a guided tour of the Whiteway.

Both John and I were very impressed with the Whiteway. It’s a skating rink for one – and about to put the boots to Winnipeg and Ottawa to become the world’s largest and longest skating rink (they plan to get certified by the Guinness Book of World Records). It boasts 32 kilometers of cleared ice; basically it’s a giant loop around the entire lake with some shorter loops you can do as well. Alongside it are track set ski trails. The snow removed from the ice is piled up on one side to allow for cross country skiing. So not only can you skate but you can ski for 32 kilometers. A lot of hard work went into the planning of it but it’s become hugely popular.

"Walking to the Whiteway on Lake Windermere"

Walking to the Whiteway on Lake Windermere

"Cross country skiing on Lake Windemere"

Cross country skiing on Lake Windermere

After a few hours spent skiing a 12 kilometer loop it was time to call it a day and head for home.

We both loved the Columbia Valley and can definitely see many more trips here in our future. The hiking sounds like it would be superb and after chatting with Penny I know I’d also like to canoe from Invermere to Radium Hot Springs and perhaps even on to Golden in the summer or fall.

What about you – have you spent any time in the Columbia Valley?

Disclosure: John and I were guests of  the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce but all opinions are my own. Thanks to everyone in the organization that made the trip such a success.

Leigh McAdam

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