There are 4 Ski Resorts in the Okanagan Valley:
- Silver Star Mountain Resort, Vernon
- Crystal Mountain, Westbank
- Big White Ski Resort, Kelowna
- Apex Mountain Ski Resort, Penticton
There are 3 Ski Resorts in the Similkameen/Boundary Country:
Silver Star Mountain Resort and Vernon Area
Silver Star Provincial Park in the Shuswap Highlands is home to Silver Star Mountain Resort, the most northerly winter playground in the Okanagan Valley. The park and resort are located north of Vernon on Hwy 97, then east on well-marked Silver Star Road, for a total distance of 14 miles (22 km). Skiers and snowboarders will find a year-round resort here, built on a 1890s Gaslight Era theme in keeping with architecture found in the north Okanagan Valley a century ago. Hotels, restaurants, a saloon, lounges, and a grocery store are all clustered at the base of the resort’s chairlifts. There’s no need for a vehicle once you arrive here, as everything is within easy walking (or skiing) distance.
The resort expanded its ski operation up the slopes of Silver Star Mountain (elevation 6,280 feet/1915 m) in the 1980s, and when it wanted to expand in the 1990s, there was nowhere to go but down. Fortunately, Silver Star Resort sits high enough up the mountain (village elevation 5,280 feet/1,584 m) that it could afford to create a new set of trails between the village and Putnam Creek (3,780 feet/1,155 m). As a result, skiers and snowboarders here have 2,500 feet (760 m) of vertical drop in which to defy gravity. The 115 designed trails are designated as 20 percent easy, 50 percent intermediate, 20 percent most difficult, and 10 percent extreme. In addition to the trails, there are 400 acres (162 hectares) of open bowls and lightly forested glades. The mountain is serviced by 12 lifts.
Cross-country skiers receive just as much welcome here as do other winter enthusiasts. Beginning from the trailhead at the entrance to the resort, the 63 miles (100 kms) of tracked and groomed trails fan out through the park, including groomed trails that lead through the adjacent Sovereign Lake area. The trailhead for the Sovereign Lake cross-country area is located just west of the entrance to the resort and has its own parking area. A fee is charged for cross-country skiing here and at the resort.
The National Altitude Training Centre, a world-class sport and recreation facility, is also located at Silver Star. The centre, in addition to being a professionally equipped facility with a weight room and a wax room (bring your own waxing equipment), has been host to a number of downhill and cross-country ski and mountain-bike competitions, and is the year-round training base for several ski, bike, and luge teams. Connector bus service is available to Silver Star Mountain Resort from the Kelowna airport, about 60 miles (100 km) south of Vernon.
Crystal Mountain Ski Resort and Coquihalla Highway Area
Crystal Mountain north of Westbank offers downhill skiers and snowboarders some awesome terrain, a friendly staff, and affordable prices that allow the whole family to ski within their budget. Crystal Mountain is located 9.5 miles (15 km) northwest of Westbank and 19 miles (30 km) west of Kelowna.
The Kane Valley, about 11 miles (17 km) east of Merritt, has been a paradise destination for cross-country skiers for more than 30 years. Portions of the valley have been farmed since the 1890s and selectively logged since the 1960s. The more than 25 miles (40 km) of trails, some of them groomed, follow old roads and skid trails through open timber and across natural grassy slopes. These ski trails (beginner to intermediate) are accessible even during colder weather because they are sheltered from the winter wind. They are managed co-operatively by the BC Forest Service and the Nicola Valley Nordic Ski Club of Merritt. A map of the trail system is available from the Merritt Forest District office or at many local hotels. The Kane Lake Recreation Site is maintained by Recreation Sites and Trails BC.
Although there are no developed cross-country ski trails at Lac Le Jeune Provincial Park, skiers willing to cut their own tracks use the park in winter. The network of informal trails and old roads that circle the lake total about 70 km, and connect to the groomed Stake Lake Cross-Country Ski Trail system (160 km – user fee charged) located 2 to 3 km to the north. Note that there is no accommodation or vehicle access to the park during winter. Mountain bikers and hikers use these trails during summer.
There are also no developed cross-country ski trails at Walloper Lake Provincial Park, but cross-country skiers do cut their own tracks.
Big White Ski Resort and Kettle Valley Area
Big White Ski Resort on Big White Mountain, one of the highest peaks in the southern Monashees, truly lives up to its name, with well over 100 marked runs fanning out from the summit of Big White. There is tremendous bowl skiing on top, wide-open glades at mid-mountain, and great fall-line cruising virtually everywhere. You can also enjoy scenic helicopter tours, mush a dogsled, explore snow-covered hills by snowmobile, tour the backcountry on snowshoes, or treat yourself to a massage at one of the two full service spas.
As one of the largest on-mountain villages in Canada, Big White is the place to be for a soak in a hot tub, a skate on an outdoor rink, or a sleigh ride through the village. Big White Ski Resort is located 34 miles (54 km) southeast of Kelowna via Hwy 33 and Big White Road on the western perimeter of the Monashee Mountains.
There are many reasons to go exploring but none more compelling than to see extraordinary natural phenomena. Imagine standing atop a mountain near sunset as the winter sky turns orange and the ground turns blue. Although such a sight might be commonplace in New Mexico, finding it on a ski hill in the Okanagan places it – and you – in the realm of the fantastic. When this occurs in a subalpine meadow, where you are surrounded by bowed treetops draped in mantles of snow, you are transported from the mundane into the zone of the truly sublime.
In the Okanagan, you will most likely find this phenomenon at Big White Ski Resort. You may have come here simply for the skiing and snowboarding, but when witnessing a sunset such as this, it seems as if you also made an unspoken appointment with nature to have your consciousness altered. The hoodoo-like bestiary that form each winter near the top of the snow-domed mountain are a distinctive feature at Big White. Once the snow has layered the exposed treetops, the wind begins its chiselling, and features emerge that resemble frozen creatures from the Jurassic period. Then you begin your final descent of the day, turning through the trees, leaving your mark on the untracked powder snow for which the Okanagan is renowned.
One of the advantages of staying here in the mountain village that boasts the highest elevation – 5,450 feet (1661 m) – of any winter resort in the province is being able to ski right to the door of your accommodation, whether it be a condominium, a lodge, or your camperized vehicle. Once you’ve arrived at Big White, there’s no choice but to leave your wheels behind, but this doesn’t mean you have to hoof it around the village. Some streets are rather steep, so when the horse-drawn wagon that serves as the local transportation trots by, hop on. In return for a contribution, you can park yourself on a hay bale and let the team of vapour-snorting Percherons do the rest.
With the growth of nearby Kelowna fuelling expansion on the mountain, Big White now sports over 100 runs that create an intricate network of routes to explore. Although there are a handful of extreme runs – particularly the double-black diamond free-fall slopes in the Parachute Bowl – the mountain is predominated by pistes designed to challenge snowboarders and skiers of intermediate ability. Big White Mountain (elevation 7,601 feet/2317 m) boasts one of the greatest snowpacks of any mountain in North America. From its peak, when the skies above the Okanagan clear up, it seems as if you can look halfway across the province, from the Cascade Mountains far off in the west to the Selkirk Mountains in the east. Visitors will enjoy the night skiing, but those with any reserves left after attacking the slopes may find nightlife somewhat limited on the mountain.
The 16-mile (26-km) network of cross-country ski trails around the forests and glades of Big White’s lower perimeter should keep Nordic skiers busy. There is no charge for use of the Nordic trails, all of which can be reached from the village; Nordic skiers can also use the Plaza quad chairlift to return to the village free of charge.
Nordic Cross-Country Ski Club, Kelowna: Take Highway 33 from Kelowna to 6.3 km past the Big White turnoff. Follow Nordic Cross-Country Ski Club signs west on McCulloch Road for 4.5 km to the large trailhead parking lot. This brings you to an excellent facility for recreational classic and skate skiing for all ages and abilities – just 40 minutes from Kelowna – open 7 days a week. There are 50 km of double tracked trails groomed daily with a Piston Bully 170, and 15 km of single track and untracked trails, all well signed. A snowshoe trail (with a shelter) and a K9 trail also get much use. There are two heated cabins, one at the trailhead and one on the Upper Meadow trail. This is a non-profit society supported by memberships and donations.
Apex Mountain Resort and South Okanagan Area
Apex Mountain Ski Resort near Apex Mountain Provincial Recreation Area is located 20 miles (32 km) southwest of Penticton off Hwy 97. Justly renowned in western Canada as one of the three prime ski and snowboard destinations in the Okanagan Valley, it’s fast becoming a popular destination for summer hikers and mountain bikers. The provincial recreation area covers Mount Riorda and Beaconsfield Mountain.
From the summits of these mountains, you will enjoy the vistas of Manning Provincial Park and Cathedral Provincial Park, Peachland Hills, and the rolling Okanagan Highland. More than anything else, skiers and snowboarders will love the fluffy powder snow that accumulates here. Powder fills the gun barrels of twelve steep chutes that lead skiers down from the peak of Beaconsfield Mountain (elevation 7,187 feet/2178 m), reached by the high-speed quad Westbank chairlift.
The mountain is also served by a triple chair and a T-bar. Total vertical rise from the base to the peak is 2,000 feet (605 m). The 50 trails at Apex are divided between 16 percent novice, 48 percent intermediate, 18 percent advanced, and 18 percent expert ability levels. Almost anything’s possible when you have ideal conditions, and light crowds to boot. Apex Alpine also offers 7.5 miles (12 km) of cross-country trails. The trailhead is located beside the resort’s RV park. Skiing is free on the cross-country trails.
Just 3.7 miles (6 km) from Apex Mountain Resort is the Nickel Plate Nordic Centre in Nickel Plate Provincial Park. Access to the 18.6 miles (30 km) of groomed and track-set trails here is from Hwy 97 in Penticton on the Apex Mountain Road or northeast of Hedley via a 20-mile (30-km) gravel road off Hwy 3A. The weather conditions that make downhill skiing at Apex such a joy provide light powder snow at Nickel Plate.
There are more than 20 miles (33 km) of interconnected loops for cross-country skiers of all levels at China Ridge, just west of Princeton. Follow Tulameen Road a short distance north from Hwy 3 in Princeton, then west on Snowpatch Road to reach the trailhead and skiers’ chalet, a total of more than 4 miles (7 km). These trails are popular with hikers and mountain bikers in the summer. In winter, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are favourite pastimes in the Kettle River Recreation Area.
Shuswap and Area
Larch Hills Cross-Country Area, near Salmon Arm, has an impressive 87 miles (140 km) of cross-country trails, about 25 miles (40 km) of which are groomed. To reach the trailhead, drive 11 miles (17 km) south of Salmon Arm on Hwy 97B, turn left on Grandview Bench Rd and go 3 miles (5 km), and turn left on Edgar Rd and drive 1 mile (2 km) farther. The club maintains a chalet, which is open to all, the site of the annual ‘loppet,’ or cross-country ski race. A map of the Larch Hills trails is available at the Salmon Arm and District Visitor Centre, on Hwy 1.
Mount Baldy and Oliver Area
The Mount Baldy ski village east of Oliver in the Okanagan Similkameen region of BC is a growing community of privately owned cabins and condominiums, offering the luxury of complete ski-in and ski-out accommodation. In addition to great downhill skiing and snowboarding in the fabulous “Okanagan Powder”, other winter activities offered at Mt. Baldy include cross-country skiing on ungroomed but well marked trails, and day and night ice skating. Mount Baldy is located northeast of Osoyoos, and 25 miles (40 km) east of Oliver.
In winter, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are favourite pastimes in the Kettle River Recreation Area. Just over 3 miles (5 km) north of Rock Creek on Hwy 33, the Kettle River Provincial Recreation Area (open May through September), is named for the river that runs through it. It also contains the abandoned right-of-way of the Kettle Valley Railway, which makes an excellent hiking trail.
Phoenix Mountain and Grand Forks Area
Phoenix Mountain Ski Resort is a community ski hill in the Phoenix Interpretive Forest of the South Okanagan, run by the Phoenix Alpine Ski Society. Phoenix enjoys some tough downhill runs along with a mild climate, good snow during the season, and a north facing slope that provides excellent late season conditions. Phoenix Mountain is located north of the British Columbia/Washington border between the southern Okanagan towns of Greenwood (7 miles/11 km to the east) and Grand Forks, 19 miles/30 km to the west.
Manning Provincial Park and Area
Manning Park Resort in the Cascade Mountains near the British Columbia/Washington border offers downhill skiing and snowboarding, and is the premier cross-country and snowshoeing destination in southwestern British Columbia. The resort is accessed off the Crowsnest Highway 33 on the border between the tourism regions of Thompson Okanagan and Vancouver, Coast and Mountains, and offers more than 62 miles (100 km) of ungroomed beginner, intermediate, and advanced cross-country ski trails, as well as snowshoeing opportunities.
For downhill skiers and snowboarders, the Gibson Pass Ski Area, a private operation located in the park, offers a variety of slopes and runs with its two chairlifts, T-bar and beginners’ handle tow. It also features a ski school, groomed and track-set cross-country ski trails, equipment rentals, a day lodge, and day care. Total vertical drop here is 1,417 feet (431 m). Manning Park Resort is located in Manning Provincial Park on Highway 3, 40 miles (63 km) east of Hope and approximately 140 miles (220 km) east of Vancouver (3 hours).
Winter camping for self-contained units is available at the Lightning Lake day-use area, and for tenters there is the Lone Duck winter camping area. The extensive trail system of the Cascade Provincial Recreation Area, which is accessed from Hwy 3 in Manning Provincial Park, provides the opportunity for ski touring, but no huts or shelters are available.
There are more than 20 miles (33 km) of interconnected loops for cross-country skiers of all levels at China Ridge, just west of Princeton. Follow Tulameen Road a short distance north from Hwy 3 in Princeton, then west on Snowpatch Rd to reach the trailhead and skiers’ chalet, a total of more than 4 miles (7 km). These trails are popular with hikers and mountain bikers in the summer.