Stay and Play in Kelowna, Ski at Big White
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Rebecca Bollwitt for #OkanaganExploring
There’s nothing like feeling like a total rockstar when you land at a destination for a few days of wintertime fun. I arrived at the Kelowna International Airport, directly from Vancouver, and was met by Chad Haller, co-owner of the Kelowna Concierge. Within minutes I was whisked through the city and up to The View Winery where I met my group for a sunset snowshoe in the vineyard.
“Wine tasting in the past has been very seasonal in the valley and there’s really no reason for that,” The View’s President, Jennifer Molgat, told me as I scooped up some fondue cheese with a slice of baguette in her tasting room. “We thought we needed to open up in the winter because it’s a really interesting time to be here.”
Jennifer says that during the day you’ll see the winemakers actually making the wine, and it drives home their mandate about being authentic. As for opening in the winter, she added it’s not good enough to simply open their door, they needed to have fun, engaging events and offerings - including some awesome Instagram photo ops.
“Get together with your friends, it’s very informal, keep your coat on in the cellar, this building has so much character.” Not to mention - it’s also very romantic, the vineyards are beautiful in the winter.
From my snowshoe fondue experience I hopped back into the Kelowna Concierge shuttle and headed to one of Downtown Kelowna’s hottest new spots: Skinny Duke’s Glorious Emporium. It’s a rumpus room straight out of your grandparents’ basement with orange fringe and plush decor, a jukebox, and velvet paintings. The old Sturgeon Hall space was updated and re-opened in August with decor that’s intentionally dated, and the food is unique, hot and fresh. Think Mission Chinese and the Tonga Room in San Francisco, a fusion of flavours with bold Okanagan flare.
Some of Skinny Duke’s delicious share plates include Thai Dim Sum (steamed pork, shrimp, & crab shumai, Thai dumpling sauce, crispy potato hickory sticks, scallions, fried garlic, red chili oil) and Scallop Crudo & Crab (Dungeness and rock crab salad with yuzu and seaweed, crispy rice cake, avocado & wasabi mousse, miso honey dressing, burnt citrus, ginger ponzu sauce, pickled radish).
Wash it all down with a Grave Digger cocktail (a blend of dark, over-proof and demerara rums, almond orgeat, anise liqueur, grapefruit, lime, angostura bitters, charcoal rose water) served up in a Tiki cup.
We also ordered a Louis pizza (prosciutto cotto, grilled green olives, Italian asiago, warm truffle honey) and the Barbara (House preserved peach BBQ sauce, pulled jackfruit, pickled jalapeno, red peppers, red cabbage curtido, garlic aioli, fresh cilantro Black Sheep herbed mozzarella, cashew parmesan). It sure ain’t your grandpa’s pizza parlour but I did expect to see the kids from Stranger Things burst through at any moment.
In the morning, after a complimentary breakfast at the Fairfield Inn and Suites by Marriott Kelowna, we hopped in the car and drove up to Big White (the Fairfield is ocated right on the corner of Hwy 97 and Hwy 33, the road to the resort). Within an hour I was meeting one of my favourite people on the planet: A Big White Snow Host. These volunteers are super insightful, engaging, enthusiastic, encouraging, and they love what they do.
The Snow Host program is a complimentary offering at Big White, where you basically meet up with a buddy at 10:30 a.m. and you take in some runs. They know the terrain like the back of their hand and are always so excited to share it with guests.
“When you spend this much time on the mountain, it’s nice to be connected to a network of people, and I love to show off the mountain,” says my Snow Host, Donna Daines-Hibbitt. She grew up skiing in the Laurentians and after visiting Big White from Ottawa about a decade ago, she and her husband bought a condo and never looked back.
Donna showed me a run that was suitable for my skill level (at my request, and it was amazing) then we sat in the village and sipped hot chocolates from Clocktower Coffee. I asked her where she likes to go when she’s not hosting. “Some of the real magic is off the groomed trails here and if you don’t like the trees, you can go up to the top of the T-bar where you’ll be in snow ghost country and the enchanted forest area where it’s wide open, not a huge pitch, and you can go back and forth, and never have the same run twice. You’ll find yourself saying ‘where did I go last time?’ but it doesn’t matter because it’s all great.”
The best part about my ski, stay and play trip in Kelowna was that you can have it all: Snowy city adventures just minutes from your downtown hotel, or a natural winter wonderland experience in the mountains at Big White. As Donna says, “it’s all great.”
When You Go
Check out the Tourism Kelowna website to start exploring the area.
Bluebird days and wine tours go hand in hand. Don't believe us? Read this story.
Where to Stay
More winter winery ideas
Check out the Tourism Kelowna website for a listing of all the wineries in the area that offer winter activities and tastings.
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