As I gingerly stepped onto the ice, I could see frozen air bubbles and fissures beneath my feet.
As a California girl, this was my first time experiencing a frozen lake. The sun behind the windswept clouds cast a beautiful pastel yellow hue throughout the sky. I was standing on Lake Windermere's The Whiteway, the world's longest ice-skating trail at nearly 20 miles in length.
The track was built by Toby Creek Nordic to connect the lake towns during the winter. People were walking their dogs, pushing strollers, and even driving on the ice to small outhouse-looking structures for ice fishing. There are also cross-country skiing and skate skiing paths, as well as areas for ice hockey and curling. Benches are strategically placed along the path for visitors to take a rest and enjoy the breathtaking views, which is what I did, unsure of my skating skills on the less-than-smooth ice.
This is just one stop on British Columbia's legendary Powder Highway, a 630-mile loop in the Kootenay Rockies. The region lies on the unceded traditional homelands of the Ktunaxa Nation, which is shared with the Secwépemc, Sinixt, and Syilx nations. Although it is renowned for its powder-covered slopes, it's also the charming ski towns, enthusiastic locals, and plenty of off-piste activities that make this a must-visit winter wonderland with activities that can last well into spring.
Here are just three of the eight main communities and alpine resorts along the Powder Highway.
Invermere: Hot Springs, Heli-Skiing + Skating the Whiteway
Radium Hot Springs is among the many spots to enjoy a warm natural soak near Invermere.
Endless Outdoor Adventures
Invermere on the Lake is as it sounds: a small lakeside town with a quaint downtown and, bonus, plenty of nearby hot springs. This is also where you'll access The Whiteway. Just 20 minutes from town is the Panorama Mountain Resort, with a slopeside village, open-air gondola, on-mountain lodging and dining, a Candy Cabin, and expansive hot pools adjacent to the slopes.
The mountain has 3,000 acres of terrain with two on-mountain snow cats that provide access to nice double-black diamond runs. Serious adventures won't want to mis Panorama's signature offering: heli-skiing and snowboarding, a more extreme downhill adventure with approximately 750 runs accessible only via helicopter.
In between runs, refuel with bratwurst, Swiss raclette, homemade soups, and warm drinks at one of the European-inspired dining huts on the mountain. Have a seat on the outdoor dining decks to appreciate the expansive views of the surrounding Canadian Rockies' snow-covered peaks.
Are your legs sore from too much powder? Try a snowmobile excursion with Toby Creek Adventures for an exhilarating ride on a private groomed trail through the pristine Kootenays. Wind up an eight-mile trail to arrive at a warm alpine cabin, located at a historic silver mine site, for snacks and warm drinks with epic views. On the way back down, stop for a short hike to a hidden treasure, Marmot Falls.
Check In + Chow Down
For a luxurious night in Invermere, check into the Copper Point Resort which has large rooms with upgraded amenities, indoor and outdoor pools, a fitness center, on-site restaurant, and full-service salon and spa. Or, for ski-in/ski-out lodging at Panorama, the Taynton Lodge offers condo-style units with private hot tubs, ski lockers, kitchen and laundry facilities. On a budget? Book a room without frills at The Approach, which has recently undergone a multimillion-dollar facelift.
In the village, dining options range from breakfast sandwiches and coffee at Fireside Café and casual bar food and drinks at T-Bar & Grill to fire-baked pizza at Alto Kitchen & Bar and fine dining at the upscale log cabin-inspired Chopper’s Landing at RK Heliplex.
Kimberley: Go Night Skiing + Après in the Bavarian-Style Platzl
Kimberley's pedestrian-only downtown Platzl.
The Town Platzl
In Kimberley, located in the spectacular Purcell Mountains, visitors can learn about the town's mining history at the Kimberley Heritage Museum, and then browse the pedestrian-only, Bavarian-inspired Platzl. Here you'll find the world's largest free-standing cuckoo clock, a mix of restaurants, bars and cafes, and locally hand-crafted products. Stop by Moody Bee for beeswax lip balm in a wide array of flavors, get your candy fix at La Lune Candy Shoppe, score vintage finds at My Best Friend's Closet, or climb the walls at the indoor Spirit Rock Climbing Center. Start your day with a cup of joe at Kickturn Coffee Roasters and end your day with beer and barbecue at The Shed, locally sourced meals made with premium ingredients at Biscuit, or a seasonally inspired menu and craft beer at Pedal & Tap.
The Kimberley Alpine Resort has 1,800 acres of terrain with 80 runs and small lift lines. It is also home to one of North America’s longest illuminated night skiing runs. If downhill skiing is not your thing, you'll find 18 miles of groomed double track trails for XC skiing at Kimberley Nordic Club, as well as trails for skate skiing. After wandering through the scenic wilderness in solitude, warm up in the 1,200-square-foot day lodge.
For an upscale overnight stay, book a room at The Larix, a new boutique hotel just off the Platzl. The rustic-chic vibe of this 20-room stay is warm and welcoming. Help yourself to unlimited snacks, drinks, and coffee, cozy up on the leather couch by the fire, and snuggle in for a good night's sleep under a Canadian goose down duvet.
On your way out of town, stop for gas at Centex, where you'll also find the specialty grocery store Stoke Market. Stock up on gourmet snacks, organic produce, fresh pressed juice, pre-made meals, coffee drinks and more.
Fernie: Alpine Fun + a Cool Ice Bar
Bundle up and throw back some Stoli shot at the Ice Bar at Lizard Creek Lodge.
In the historic town of Fernie, you'll want to leave time to wander the charming main street lined with century-old brick buildings and picturesque Rocky Mountain views. Here you'll find artisan food and drinks, specialty stores and boutiques, art galleries, and more. Pop in to the Fernie Museum to learn about the town's heritage. Grab breakfast at Big Bang Bagels, lunch at Lunchbox, dinner at The Loaf, and a nightcap at Fernie Distillers. Don't miss Beanpod artisan chocolate for a sweet treat.
Head up to Fernie Alpine Resort, with an annual snowfall of 30 feet, for steep and deep skiing and snowboarding. With 2,500 acres of terrain, 142 runs, and five alpine bowls, there's plenty of uncrowded terrain to explore. To fuel up in between runs, grab a snack or meal at the Mountaintop Café or at the base in the plaza at Legends Restaurant. For off-mountain fun, the resort offers fat bike and snowshoe rentals.
Stay + Dine
After a day of hitting the slopes, check into the ski-in, ski-out Lizard Creek Lodge. Conveniently located at the base of the mountain, the hotel's guest rooms feature full kitchens, a fireplace, living room, and balcony overlooking the ski resort. Dine at Cirque Restaurant with open-beam ceilings, a gorgeous river rock fireplace, floor-to-ceiling windows with impressive mountain views, and a menu of dishes like halloumi Caesar salad, bison poutine, Parisian pesto gnocchi, and elk burgers. For a fun and unique experience, end the night by stepping into the newly reopened Ice Bar for Stoli vodka tastings.
How to Get to B.C.'s Powder Highway
Skiing with an epic view at Panorama Mountain Village.
The Powder Highway is a bit remote, but that's what makes it so alluring: It's less crowded and more affordable. To get there from San Francisco, catch a nonstop flight to Vancouver (about two-and-a-half hours), then a catch an Air Canada or WestJet flight to Canadian Rockies International Airport in Cranbrook (about 90 minutes). Car rentals are available at the airport through Budget and Enterprise. From there, it's about a 13-mile drive to Kimberley or 65 miles to Fernie.
Whether you're looking for a bucket-list skiing or snowboarding adventure or enthralling winter excursions, want to explore historic, delightful ski towns with artisan food and products, or meet the friendliest people with interesting backgrounds and captivating stories, the Powder Highway will not disappoint. // For more information, go to powderhighway.com.