Silver Star’s 3,065 skiable acres, easy-skiing snow and Painted Lady-inspired village perch on the very northern end of British Columbia’s wine country, just 20 minutes from the small, unpretentious city of Vernon. Taken together, the ski resort, the city and the leisure-friendly North Okanagan wine region offer a rare mix of quality experiences for a broad array of ski vacationer tastes and budgets.
Are you travelling high-end and wanting to be pampered – or are you on a shoestring and needing to get back down to earth? Planning a family reunion on skis, a romantic getaway or down-and-dirty ski bum road trip? Amazingly, it’s all here.
At the mountain, Snowbird Lodge’s roomy and fully-equipped condo-apartments are true ski-out, ski-in; ask for slope-view rooms on the 2nd, 3rd or 6th floor (some even boast private rooftop hot tubs); from $303, skisilverstar.com. Silver Star Accommodations (a private company unconnected to the ski resort) offers well-maintained and Victorian-inspired luxury private home rentals alongside the slopes and Nordic trails; ask for Dream Catcher or similar; from CK$799; staraccom.com.
Visitors planning to nestle into Silver Star for the duration of their vacation will not need a car; instead, take the Silver Star Shuttle from the Kelowna airport (okanaganairportshuttle.com) – and arrange for the driver to stop at the big box stores in Vernon on the way so you can stock up on groceries for your stay. Or, breakfast at Bugaboos for Italian coffee and fresh pastries; lunch at Bulldog Café for Dutch poutine or Dutch pea soup; and dinner in the village at Isidore’s for Swiss with a Western Canadian twist.
In Vernon, an appealing and historic downtown core (think Main Street circa 1950) rubs shoulders with abundant small-city amenities – including pleasant yet deal-ready lodgings. Best are Vernon’s Holiday Inn Express (from CK $139; hiexpress.com), Prestige Hotel Vernon (from $150; prestigehotelsandresorts.com) and Village Green Hotel (from $79; villagegreenhotel.com). Whether lodging at the mountain or in town, stop at the local visitors’ center for a free City of Vernon parking pass, good for the duration of your stay. When downtown – perhaps after tasting absinthe at the Okanagan Spirits Distillery -- be sure to take a stroll through the man-friendly Surplus Herby’s (perfect for those sudden needs for gas mask, camo gear and small electric motors).
Vernon intently watches every move of its Junior A Vipers hockey team (after all, this is Canada) and lively weekend games at the Wesbild Centre include goofily entertaining diversions like “pizza toss,” mascot antics and a cappella singing contests between periods. (vipers.bc.ca or wesbildcentre.ca). But downtown Vernon in winter has no shortage of other diversions, from movies at the multi-plex to hot air ballooning at the Vernon Winter Carnival. Now in its 52 year, the third largest winter carnival in North America features more than 115 wide-ranging events (such as a Ukrainian food showcase, ice sculpting and live performances, to name a few) and is held for ten days each February (vernonwintercarnival.com).
Vernon is bounded by three lakes – Okanagan Lake, Swan Lake and Kalamalka Lake – and its summertime lakefront resorts are a serene option in winter. Best are the Strand Lakeside Resort (from CK $255; strandresort.ca) and the Outback Resort (from CK $179; theoutbackresort.com), which nestles on 60 private, forested acres.
About 40 minutes from Silver Star stands the literally dazzling Sparkling Hill Resort, an Austrian-style “wellness” hotel encrusted with more than 3.5 million Swarovski crystals. While it may sound gaudy, the resort, which was built on a lake-view hilltop by the Swarovski Crystal family, is actually clean-lined, tasteful and wholly pampering to the senses. Access to the seven distinctive European steam and sauna rooms (each of which has visual, olfactory and sound effects), three indoor and outdoor pools, Kniepp water therapy walkway and meditation room is included for every hotel guest. Chilling out for three minutes at -166 F in the KurSpa’s therapeutic cryo-sauna – North America’s first true cold sauna -- costs an additional $40, but is well worth it, especially during one of the hotel’s signature detox programs. But it’s bathing suits only in the cryotherapy room. Save the high tech base layers and puffy jacket for Eagle Pass Heli Skiing, which flies from Sparkling Hill’s back door (sparklinghill.com; eaglepassheliskiing.com/packages/sparkling-hill-resort-luxury-private/).