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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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Author Hike Bike Travel

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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Join the discussion 27 Comments

  • Freya says:

    WoW I love those landscapes and I also love hot springs. I have always been thinking about visiting once during summer time, you might have changed my mind now it looks amazing during winter time.

    • @Freya These mountains feel very different than the ones in the Banff area and the Columbia valley feels wilder and more remote – in a good way. There is so much to do in the winter that I wouldn’t discount a visit in the colder months.

  • Just like picture postcards and paintings, Leigh. Gorgeous! I recently enjoyed the thermal waters of Budapest, and would love to experience the ones at Radium Hot Springs — what an awesome setting. Love the million dollar view from your room, too.

    • @Cathy We loved our room – extra big, super comfortable and the big horned sheep added a nice touch. I mentioned to John when we were in the hot springs about Budapest – and I will definitely be including a trip to the baths when we finally get there.

  • Rob Dunn says:

    I moved to the Columbia Valley 11 years ago and it was the best move of my life. It is a great place to visit but an even more incredible place to live and/or work.
    The last 3 weeks have included Outdoor Curling, Snow Golf, Fishing Derby, Pond Hockey and much, much more.
    The golfing and fishing in the summer are unbelievable.
    And the year round hiking is out of this world.
    It is an outdoor paradise.
    I am glad you enjoyed it.
    You can follow the events and activities in the valley at http://www.valleypeak.ca.

    • @Rob Thanks for your great comment. I am very impressed at how much is going on in the Columbia Valley in the winter. I’d like to come back and skate the entire Whiteway and of course have several more blue sky days up at Panorama. I have yet to make it to Fairmont Hot Springs so I’d also like to include that place on my next visit. My husband made the same comment you did – about what a fantastic part of the world it was.

  • Gorgeous view of the surrounding mountains. I love ski resorts that have both downhill and cross-country skiing. I agree that a jump in the hot springs is just the ticket after skiing. I will be doing some of that this weekend in southern Wisconsin training for a cross-country ski marathon. The hotel I have booked has an indoor hot tub.

    • @Ted Panorama does have a lovely Nordic ski area that we tried a few years ago – but the lake is a 20 minute drive from the resort – not far really. I love anything that warms my core after a cold day outside – and wish I had a hot tub outside my back door in Calgary.

  • Those hot springs are amazing! It must feel so thrilling to be swimming in warm water while the air is so frigid!

    • @Kae Lani I have become a huge fan of hot springs. We did a similar outing last year – skied in -25C temperatures at Mt. Norquay and then immersed ourselves in the Banff Hot Springs which I think are hotter than the Radium Hot Springs.

  • Absolutely beautiful winter wonderland! I’m not a big fan of frigid weather but I’d go outside just to enjoy this scenery. The hot springs looks so neat with that backdrop. I didn’t even know this part of BC existed. I love ski resorts that are not crowded and this looks like one we’d actually enjoy. Gorgeous winter photos, Leigh!

    • @Mary Trust me I don’t love the frigid weather either but if I dress really warmly – and especially if there are hot springs awaiting then I feel happy. The Columbia Valley is super pretty and not nearly as well known as other areas in the Rockies.

  • Disha Sharma says:

    Very Nice post with useful & important summary. I do appreciate this very useful post. All are most Beautiful & gorgeous pictures.

  • I love winter! But winter in the mountains is absolutely fabulous: the snow is white and clean, the temperature is stable and in sunny days with blue sky there is not better place to be. Amazing pictures and watching them was such a good start of my day! Thanks!

    • @Agata Thanks for your enthusiastic comment. I love winter too as long as it’s not too cold for very long. We had such a good time this past weekend. A three day weekend would have allowed us to see a few more things that I missed in the area.

  • Absolutely gorgeous, Leigh – makes me want to take up winter sports to visit destinations such as this!!

  • Jackie Smith says:

    A picture-postcard post, Leigh. Beautiful shots!

  • What an adventure!!! I really need to get out west and experience this sublime scenery! Your photos are exquisite too!! Looks like you had an amazing time!!

  • Marcia says:

    This is now I love to see snow – when it’s pristine and has few footprints.
    Thirty-two kilometers? That Whiteway is impressive!
    Thanks for the tour, Leigh.

    • @Marcia The community seems to have really gotten together to support the Whiteway and the Nordic Ski Club has had almost a five fold increase in members since the Whiteway opened to skiing.

  • Laurel says:

    Despite previously being an avid skier, I’ve never skied at Panaroma, have heard good things about it though. The skating rink sounds incredible – that’s good exercise!

  • Those views from your condo look unbelievable! Love the mountains and the hot springs must have been such a treat after being out in the cold!

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