Per­fect pair­ings

Ski, sip and spa on a win­ter tour of Bri­tish Columbia’s Okanagan Val­ley

Canadian Geographic - - CONTENTS - By Les­lie An­thony with pho­tog­ra­phy by Katie Goldie

Ski, sip and spa on a win­ter tour in Bri­tish Columbia’s Okanagan Val­ley

SNOW HERE IS LIGHT AND FLUFFY, meted out in tol­er­a­ble doses, some­thing a coast-dweller like my­self — used to heavy dumps fresh off the Pa­cific — can ap­pre­ci­ate.

Only steps away from Sil­ver­star vil­lage, I duck into tow­er­ing white spires of hem­lock and spruce. Grow­ing in that pointed, per­fect, moun­tain way, their rad­i­cal ta­per­ing at this al­ti­tude is an adap­ta­tion to shed snow and rain di­rectly to the roots; life is tough in the alpine, and or­gan­isms com­mand ev­ery ad­van­tage they can. Bi­ol­ogy aside, mov­ing among these “snow trees” is sub­lime, clad as they are in the sound-ab­sorb­ing splen­dour of yet an­other snow­fall. They are sen­tinel, so­lace and sanc­tu­ary on the win­ter land­scape. These snow trees are a hall­mark of Sil­ver­star Moun­tain Re­sort in Bri­tish Columbia’s Thomp­son Okanagan re­gion, and you can ex­pe­ri­ence them on a range of trails in var­i­ous ways, in­clud­ing fat bik­ing and cross-coun­try or down­hill ski­ing. But for this short evening jaunt, min­utes af­ter check­ing into the Snow­bird Lodge, I’ve cho­sen snow­shoes. In the for­est, snow­shoe­ing de­liv­ers a slow-mo­tion ap­pre­ci­a­tion and in­ti­macy that the speed of skis can blur. You see the myr­iad an­i­mal tracks criss-cross­ing un­bro­ken snow, the tiny birds dash­ing be­tween snowy skirts, the moss-sicles swing­ing on pine-scented zephyrs. Snow here is light and fluffy, meted out in tol­er­a­ble doses, some­thing a coast-dweller like my­self — used to mas­sive, heavy dumps fresh off the Pa­cific — can ap­pre­ci­ate. In this In­te­rior snow­belt, win­ter starts early and is re­freshed fre­quently with mod­er­ate amounts; the trees get flocked, then flocked again. Even­tu­ally, in a good win­ter such as this, they be­come gelid cones, an­chored to the snow­pack. As I wend my way through, a break­ing storm re­leases a molten sun­set to the west, flush­ing the tree­tops am­ber and salmon as gun­metal gath­ers be­tween them. Con­sid­er­ing it’s only my first hour of a four-day ski and wine tour in the North Okanagan, na­ture has done an ex­cep­tional job at ar­rang­ing some­thing worth toast­ing. LO­CATED LESS THAN AN HOUR from Kelowna In­ter­na­tional Air­port, Sil­ver­star is one of Bri­tish Columbia’s largest ski ar­eas, with 1,300 hectares of ter­rain, a 760-me­tre ver­ti­cal drop and an­nual snow­fall of more than 700 cen­time­tres. Lauded as in­ti­mate and colour­ful, the unique mid-moun­tain base and slope­side ac­com­mo­da­tions are a vi­brant con­cate­na­tion of ameni­ties, from ice rink, tube park and a kids’ snow­mo­bile track, to the afore­men­tioned snow­shoe, fat bike and cross-coun­try trails. The im­pres­sion is of more to do than you could ever have time for. Es­pe­cially if, as I am, you’re mostly here to ski. My haste on that front in­creases when morn­ing brings an­other 16 cen­time­tres of fresh snow. Af­ter a quick crois­sant and cof­fee at Bu­ga­boos Bak­ery Café, I click into my skis out­side its door and glide down to the Comet Six Pack Ex­press chair just as it opens. Pow­der is ev­ery­where on the frontside Vance Creek area, yet peo­ple are not. In fact, I see more of

them out for a morn­ing cross-coun­try skate than jump­ing onto lifts to en­joy un­tracked bliss. Keeping ahead of the crowd, I head to Put­nam Creek, a steep and gen­uinely deep back­side black­di­a­mond play­ground where pow­der streams up the front of my jacket to oc­ca­sion­ally plug my un­con­scious grin. Seek­ing a bit of respite af­ter sev­eral thigh-burn­ing runs, I duck into Par­adise Camp, Sil­ver­star’s only on-moun­tain restau­rant, lo­cated at the in­ter­sec­tion of its alpine net­work and the 105 kilo­me­tres of groomed-daily Nordic trails it shares with its fa­mous neigh­bour, Sov­er­eign Lake Nordic Cen­tre. De­spite be­ing so far back in the re­sort, Par­adise is open for break­fast, lunch and din­ner (by snow­cat), and com­prises a great meet­ing point — es­pe­cially if part of your fam­ily wants to ski cross-coun­try while oth­ers ski alpine. Ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a new moun­tain in the best pos­si­ble con­di­tions is what skiers live for, and for the next cou­ple hours I range across Put­nam’s ridges and gul­lies, plumb­ing snow-tree glade af­ter snow-tree glade.

Back on the front side, I en­joy a sig­na­ture elk burger at The Red Antler, whose el­e­vated pub of­fer­ings in­clude the moun­tain’s largest beer se­lec­tion. Din­ner that evening is at Sil­ver Grill, an in­ti­mate, pan­elled en­clave that floats above a jig­saw of restau­rants in the same build­ing, in­clud­ing the Den Bar and Bistro, a ski-in/ski-out han­gout that reg­u­larly fea­tures live mu­sic. The food at Sil­ver Grill is top grade, the Bri­tish Columbia wine its match, and win­dows fronting the sin­gle, cosy room look out onto a rag­ing snow­fall the en­tire evening. To­mor­row, Sil­ver­star skiers will dine again on ethe­real pow­der, while I de­part to sam­ple the North Okanagan’s earth­ier oeno­log­i­cal charms.

THE LINK BE­TWEEN

these two seem­ing soli­tudes is the town of Ver­non, a mere 20-minute drive from Sil­ver­star. Cir­cled by rolling hill­sides, snowy parks and siz­able lakes, Ver­non has out­grown its role as a util­i­tar­ian hub for agri­cul­ture, forestry and min­ing to be­come a stag­ing ground for fun and ad­ven­ture, food and wine, ski­ing and spas. “We know we’re not pretty, but we’re full of sur­prises,” a cit­i­zen puts it to me. I’m not sure I’m on­side with the for­mer as I em­bark on a walk­ing tour with his­to­rian and sto­ry­teller Gabriel New­man, who traces the area’s his­tory and iconic char­ac­ters, aided by dozens of wall mu­rals that de­liver the town of both hum­ble charm and an un­matched ur­ban aes­thetic. As it hap­pens, the 58th Ver­non Win­ter Car­ni­val is un­der­way, with the usual panoply of lo­cal arts, cul­ture and sport events. When I chat up a young guy in a hot-air bal­loon bas­ket in­flat­ing his rig, he re­lates how grow­ing up here he was fix­ated by the town’s long-stand­ing car­ni­val bal­loon­ing event. When I ask whether this in­stilled in him a de­sire to fly, he says not re­ally, he’s just into bal­loons. Though Ver­non’s main drag fea­tures any num­ber of in­no­va­tive new restau­rants, I aim for the Naked Pig Bar­beque & Smoke­house, which spe­cial­izes in low-and-slow, ar­ti­san-style smoked cook­ing. Lever­ag­ing its sis­ter re­la­tion­ship with neigh­bour­ing Marten Brew­ing Co., the airy bistro also fea­tures Ger­man-style craft beers that pair per­fectly with brisket, pulled pork and ribs. Af­ter lunch, I fol­low a rec­om­men­da­tion to stop in for a tast­ing at Okanagan Spir­its Craft Dis­tillery, whose di­verse port­fo­lio spans vodka, gin brandies, fruit liqueurs and Canada’s first genu- ine fruit-based ab­sinthe. A sin­gle malt whisky pro­duced once a year in small batches us­ing Bri­tish Columbia malted bar­ley is good, but the win­ners for me are the Scan­di­na­vian-style aqua­vit (car­away is the dom­i­nant flavour) and ab­sinthe. Di­lut­ing the lat­ter with ice water to cut the 60 per cent al­co­hol con­tent

Les­lie An­thony ( @do­cleslie) writes reg­u­larly for Cana­dian Ge­o­graphic Travel, ex­plore and Moun­tain Life. Katie Goldie ( @goldiehawn_) is a pho­tog­ra­pher who spe­cial­izes in travel and the out­doors.

has the wel­come ef­fect of also mak­ing it go milky and aro­matic. With a driver on hand, I per­haps sam­ple more than I nor­mally might, know­ing I have a health­ful place to re­cover be­fore to­mor­row’s wine tour.

IF YOU NEED A BASE

for a wine jun­ket in the Okanagan, it’s hard to do bet­ter than Sparkling Hill Re­sort, the province’s premier in­ter­na­tional des­ti­na­tion for well­ness travel. Set high on a bench above Okanagan Lake, the 3,600 square-me­tre Kurspa built by the Aus­trian Swarovski crys­tal com­pany is the em­bod­i­ment of Euro­peanin­spired health, well­ness and in­ex­pli­ca­ble ar­chi­tec­ture. Its crys­tal-draped atrium leads into a spa area of seven unique steam and saunas, four ex­pe­ri­en­tial show­ers, a Kneipp walk­way (al­ter­nat­ing hot-cold im­mer­sion for the lower limbs), out­door in­fin­ity pool, hot pool, salt­wa­ter pool, seren­ity room, tea room, fit­ness stu­dio and well­ness clinic of­fer­ing a range of treat­ments. As I cy­cle through the re­lax­ing of­fer­ings of this fu­tur­is­tic fa­cil­ity, it feels like walk­ing through a spa on an­other planet — or a hologram on the star­ship USS I al­most ex­pect the robed clien­tele I pass to speak Klin­gon. Af­ter a Euro-style buf­fet break­fast the next morn­ing, I spend more time ex­plor­ing the spa be­fore head­ing out to visit a few winer­ies along Okanagan Lake’s “Scenic Sip” wine trail. First up, The Chase Wines, opened in June 2016 by wine­maker Adrian Baker, a Kiwi with a knack for aro­matic whites. In its Gar­den Bistro, I join a group for an amaz­ing dis­play of ad hoc cook­ery; given to­day’s de­mand­ing mix of di­etary re­stric­tions, the young chef is ex­per­i­ment­ing with a seven-course ve­gan feast — in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult when it comes to wine pair­ings (which turn on fats and strong flavours) — but he pulls it off with panache, link­ing de­li­cious dishes and bril­liant pre­sen­ta­tions with Ries­ling, Gewürz­traminer, rosé and chardon­nay. Later, I’ll find In­trigue Wines light on the palate but ac­ces­si­ble in price while Ex Ni­hilo (“out of noth­ing”) is the epony­mous theme of a win­ery that of­fers big, bold reds and dar­ing whites, the lat­ter an area tra­di­tion pi­o­neered by the place I fin­ish up at. Ge­orge and Trudy Heiss’s Gray Monk Es­tate Win­ery has blazed the trail for wine­mak­ing in the Okanagan since 1972. With two gen­er­a­tions work­ing the vine­yards, the legacy con­tin­ues, an en­tire wall of their tast­ing fa­cil­ity scaled with the an­nual awards for their sig­na­ture pinot gris. My in­for­ma­tive tour ends in a “wine li­brary” where ref­er­ence bot­tles of ev­ery­thing pro­duced here are archived. Scan­ning these his­toric and in­trigu­ing la­bels is de­noue­ment to a long day.

BACK AT SPARKLING HILL,

I ease into the out­door in­fin­ity pool for a night-time dip. The day’s grey skies have fi­nally cleared and I imag­ine skiers at Sil­ver­star look­ing for­ward to a sunny day. Gaz­ing into the night, moon­light ap­pears to pool like quick­sil­ver on dis­tant moun­tain­tops. It’s an odd ef­fect that doesn’t make sense un­til I rec­og­nize why: it’s those snow trees again, hog­ging all the alpine glory in a farewell salute.

IT FEELS LIKE WALK­ING THROUGH A SPA ON AN­OTHER PLANET — or a hologram on the star­ship USS En­ter­prise. I al­most ex­pect the robed clien­tele I pass to speak Klin­gon.

With your sip, ski and spa des­ti­na­tions for win­ter in Bri­tish Columbia sorted, start mak­ing plans for the sum­mer equiv­a­lent by read­ing about the Spirit Ridge re­sort in Osoy­oos, B.C., at can­geo­travel.ca/fw18/spir­itridge.

PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY KATIE GOLDIE

Clock­wise from ABOVE: Lights cast an ear­ly­morn­ing glow over the snow­bound vil­lage at Sil­ver­star Moun­tain Re­sort; a cross-coun­try skier pre­pares to hit the trail at Sil­ver­star; a fresh layer of snow blan­kets one of the many snow­shoe trails at Sil­ver­star. PRE­VI­OUS PAGES: The view of Lake Okanagan from a room at the Sparkling Hill Re­sort, just south­west of Ver­non.

ABOVE: Cop­per stills and fer­menters at the Okanagan Spir­its Craft Dis­tillery in Ver­non. Among the dis­tillery’s of­fer­ings are Canada’s first fruit-based ab­sinthe, plus vodka, whisky and a car­away-flavoured aqua­vit. TOP: A lone down­hill skier carves through the pow­der on a run at Sil­ver­star Moun­tain Re­sort.

A copy of Michelan­gelo’s The Cre­ation of Adam adorns the ceil­ing in a sauna room at Sparkling Hill Re­sort and Spa.

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