This postcard-perfect lake town is nestled in Canada's Okanagan Valley, home to more wineries than Walla Walla and better snow than Whistler. And you found it first.
Author Jacqueline Detwiler Photography Michael Hanson
DAY ONE It’s a powder day when you wake up in your luxury Stonebridge Lodge apartment at Big White Ski Resort, so you don’t bother turning on the fireplace or the hot tub while you toss back a cup of coffee. You’ve stored your skis and boots in the lockers downstairs, and in less than 15 minutes you’re out the door and hoofing it to Beano’s Coffee Parlor in Big White Village. On the way to breakfast, you accidentally take a step off the path and sink into a snowdrift up to your hip. It’s gonna be a good morning.
With a fortifying ham-egg-and-veggie bagel in hand, you secure the services of a spunky British ski instructor named Fi, and the two of you head for the slopes via the Snow Ghost Express. As you peer out at a panorama of droopy, haphazardly snow-dusted Dr. Seuss trees, the powder comes down so softly it glitters in the air like a holiday store display. With each hundred-foot rise up the mountain, the trees gain another layer of snow, until they could be mistaken for contorted yeti reaching up for your feet. These are the fabled “snow ghosts” of Big White, Fi says, and the lift you’re riding is named in their honor.
You soon find out why. Tree skiing is Big White’s showpiece—the fluff between the trunks is thick and airy, staying soft for weeks. You have so much fun slashing through the snow ghosts that your quads don’t call for a break until well after noon.
When they do, you stow your skis and wander over to the west side of the village, where the après parties are already beginning at the ice bar behind Carvers. Inside, you order a hearty plate of vindaloo poutine, an Indian twist on a French-Canadian classic that combines sweet potato fries, braised lamb and cheese curds. It’s so delicious you wonder why there isn’t an Indian restaurant on every ski mountain; in fact, you ponder the financial viability of such a venture while skiing circles around snow ghosts the rest of the afternoon. When the light finally starts to fade, you call it a day and return to Stonebridge for a shower.
Warmly clad in an abundance of flannel, you walk back into the village to find a lively crowd at The BullWheel, a sporty burger bar with hockey on several TVs. You’ve heard the bit about Canadians being friendly, but here the patrons are so personable that within minutes nearly everyone at the bar has leaned in to smell the maple-finished Crown Royal you’re drinking. “I think they age it in maple syrup barrels?” ventures one patron as a friendly debate erupts about how it’s made. (A quick check with Google shows that it is finished in maple-toasted oak barrels.)
Before long, The BullWheel’s famously gregarious and well-traveled manager, Al, is regaling the assembled company with the story of the time he drove a three-wheeled mototaxi across the Peruvian Andes (the jersey Al wore on said trip, along with a few of his other sartorial artifacts, can be found on the bar’s walls). Although you would love to stay and hear more, your stomach has started grumbling. So you take a gondola over to Kettle Valley Steakhouse, where your waiter suggests a local wine to pair with a 11/2-inch cowboy-cut rib steak in Madagascar peppercorn sauce. The result is a meal befitting someone who skied 20,000 vertical feet today (namely, you).
Because skiers are notoriously early to rise—and therefore early to drink—it’s still barely evening when you’ve finished eating. There’s no way you’re getting to bed without a nightcap. You opt for the legendary Gunbarrel Coffee—decaf, of course—at the Gunbarrel Grill. Working from a cart in what looks like the lodge of an exceptionally talented hunting family, your waiter heats a sugar-rimmed glass and fills it with brandy, coffee and cream, then pours flaming Grand Marnier down the barrel of a shotgun into your drink. The other patrons clap in awe as this process is completed; within minutes, similar carts bearing shotguns appear at many of their tables. Launching the evening’s drinking festivities, you decide, is enough of an accomplishment to merit hanging up your ski beanie for the day.