Saturday, January 05, 2013

Waking up to a New Year in the Columbia Valley

We have a family tradition of ushering in the New Year in Radium Hot Springs, across the border in beautiful British Columbia.  Located two and a half hours west from Calgary, it's the perfect distance to drive for a long weekend away and we always enjoy the scenic drive through Kootenay National Park.  Once we settle into our condo, a winter wonderland of activities awaits us from skating on Lake Windermere to skiing at Panorama Mountain Resort, shopping in Invermere, or visiting the Hot Springs in either the village of Radium or Fairmont. One of these years we are going to have to stay longer and explore opportunities for snowshoeing or winter hiking as well.

New Year's Eve at the Hale Hut, Panorama Mountain Resort

The Lake Windermere Whiteway

The Not.To.Be.Missed activity each time we visit Radium Hot Springs in winter is a visit to the Lake Windermere Whiteway.  The Whiteway is a shared project between the Columbia River Greenways Alliance and the Toby Creek Nordic Ski Club and features a 15-20km groomed ski and skating track circling Lake Windermere (conditions permitting).  Along with the ski and skate tracks connecting the towns of Windermere and Invermere, there are also cleared rinks for pond-hockey and curling.  The centre of the Whiteway is left uncleared for ice fishing, winter hiking, and other recreational use.  It's a fabulous project that unites the whole valley and encourages families to remain active throughout the winter.

Skating on Lake Windermere

Our Little Hockey Player on Lake Windermere

Moms Being Goofy on the Lake

We always visit Invermere too early in the season to witness the full Whiteway in action but we do get out skating each time we visit and last year we were able to skate clear across the lake in any direction due to lack of snow covering the frozen lake.  It was a definite top ten moment in my life as I pushed my son in his Chariot across the 18km long lake with no border or track to limit me.  I really want to visit the Whiteway later in winter one of these years so that we can ski and skate the full loop around Lake Windermere; It's not often after all that you can skate or ski from one town to the next.

Skating across Lake Windermere in  December, 2011 - Clear Skating as Far as the Eye Can See

Panorama Mountain Village Resort

The next thing we love doing when we travel to the Columbia Valley in winter is skiing at Panorama Mountain Resort, located 20km west of Invermere.  While primarily known as a downhill ski resort, we always visit the Greywolf Nordic Centre for a 4km ski to the Hale Hut Warming Cabin.  The Toby-Barbour Trail takes you within a kilometre of the hut and  is rated intermediate.  Most of this trail would be easy enough for novice skiers with the exception of the first hill which could be walked in a pinch.  The crux of the trip is the final kilometre on the advanced Delphine trail.  The hut is perched up on a very scenic hill that requires a short stiff climb to reach.  That being said, our friends were able to pull two children to the hut in a double Chariot and managed the hill with a bit of pushing from behind.  Again, should you have to, I'm pretty sure you wouldn't be the only person in history to walk the final hill to the hut. 

Skiing to the Hale Hut at Panorama Mountain Resort

We love skiing to the Hale Hut because it gives us a warm dry place to have lunch and snacks.  You can even light a fire outside the hut and roast wieners and marshmallows should you have the energy for that.  There was a large pile of wood outside the hut and we even found roasting sticks and a lighter inside so obviously it's a popular thing for families to do.  Our kids had a great time playing in the snow outside the hut before bundling back up in their sleds for the ride out.

View From the Hale Hut (Photo:  Brielle Rosa)

Snow Angels!

Enjoying the Sunny Deck at the Hale Hut with Friends

Enjoying the Deep Snow at the Hale Hut
Skiing Back to the Nordic Centre with our Friends

For novice skiers or families with young children learning to ski, the golf course is also track set with about 6km of trails.  You can ski the Greywolf trail out and back for a total 8.4km ski or you can ski the lovely 1.5km Tranquility Loop.  We had a beautiful little ski with our son on the Tranquility Loop and thank God it has a bridge at the halfway mark because I told him we'd ski to the bridge.  (It's always good to have an objective in mind when skiing with young children)

Tranquility Does Exist - the Sign Says So!

Skiing Across the Greywolf Golf Course at Panorama

It's Fun to Ski with Little Ones - for at least a kilometre.

My Pook and I

Radium Hot Springs

No visit to the valley would be complete without a trip to the hot springs.  You have two choices for your soak depending on how active you want to be.  Since we were staying in the town of Radium Hot Springs, it made sense for us that we visit the local hot springs operated by Parks Canada.  If you have an annual park pass make sure you bring it in with you for a discount - a local known secret.

A Photo from my last Girl's Trip to Radium Hot Springs in September, 2012

Radium Hot Springs features Parks Canada's biggest hot springs pool  and is kept between 37 and 40 degrees Celsius over the winter.  The pool felt a little cool this visit but our son certainly didn't notice or care.  He was in heaven when we visited the giant hot tub after skating in Invermere.

If you are staying in Invermere, another option for hot springs is Fairmont Hot Springs, located 20 min. south along the main Hwy 95.  While more expensive, it's a great option for families because of the large swimming pool adjacent to the hotter soaking pool.  The swimming pool is maintained at 32C and you'll see locals swimming laps here every morning.  Meanwhile the soaking pool is maintained at a temperature of 39C  and is where I like to spend my time.

Fairmont Hot Springs Resort, Photo taken from our trip in April, 2012

To read about more of our adventures in the Columbia Valley over the past year, check out the previous posts I've written on the area:

Girl's Trip to Radium Hot Springs last March - Snowshoeing at Panorama Resort

Wow, we've stayed in the Columbia Valley a lot in the last year!!

And incidentally, we'll be back in the area again in a couple of days staying at Nipika Mountain Resort so expect a story on that very soon. 

Cabin at Nipika Mountain Resort (Photo:  Nipika Resort)

For more information on the Columbia Valley in winter, visit the links that I included to most of the destinations above (they will open in a new page for you) or visit the main tourism sites for Radium Hot SpringsInvermere, or the Columbia Valley

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