Vernon knows winter: snowshoe, sip, play in snowy Okanagan
Twenty headlamps bob through a shadowy forest, illuminating the way to Black Prince Cabin at Sovereign Lake Nordic Club near Vernon. The group of outdoor enthusiasts passes conifer trees covered in a mantle of downy white, the snowy weight bowing them into whimsical shapes.
“It’s a gift to be out here doing this,” says Edna Lising-Eeltink, who grew up in the snow-free Philippines but began embracing the season when she immigrated to Canada. The rest of the group feels the same way, and their determination to get outside and explore Vernon in winter is rewarded with a three-course catered dinner at the cabin, the first of four this season.
When the snow flies, a dinner snowshoe tour is just one winter activity to do in Vernon, a North Okanagan city with a small-town vibe.
WATCH: Vernon knows winter
A lot of people know Vernon in summer, but you might be asking yourself, how is winter in Vernon? The Okanagan Valley has a reputation as a summer destination thanks to its wineries and distilleries, hiking and mountain biking trails, and warm bodies of water like Kalamalka Lake.
But more people like Edna and her husband Barend Eeltink are starting to visit Vernon during the colder months, with good reason.
Vernon was recently named the Trails Capital of BC, with hundreds of kilometres of pathways for outdoor recreation.
In winter there are 105 kms of maintained Nordic trails between SilverStar Mountain Resort and Sovereign Lake Nordic Club, plus 30 kms of snowshoe trails. Closer to town, Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park, the Okanagan Rail Trail and Predator Ridge boast even more multi-use pathways.
If skiing, snowshoeing and fat biking aren’t your thing, you can still indulge in seasonal comforts around the city. Vernon is a community that comes alive in winter, with arts, food and creative experiences. It might even turn you into a winter lover!
Seasonal spirits and decadent dining
For an experience that will warm you from the inside out, you can sample local spirits all season long at Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery on a Farm-to-Flask Experience inside the distillery’s flagship tasting room.
“It’s a family run business, and the oldest craft distillery in BC,” says tasting host and tour guide Jodi Kokonis. She leads participants through the history of orchards in the valley, and how the Dyck family began turning fruit waste into a range of award-winning spirits and liqueurs.
After watching apples turn into alcohol in a funky copper still, it’s time to sample everything from Haskap Liqueur to BRBN, a bourbon-style corn whiskey that’s aged in pre-charred American oak barrels.
“I think I can taste the barrel!” jokes Barend Eeltink, who’s celebrating his wedding anniversary on a Vernon winter getaway with his wife.
If you need some eats to offset your drinks, Vernon has fun winter dining experiences, from eclectic menus at winery restaurants, to adventurous snowcat dinner tours to the top of the mountain at SilverStar.
Vernon arts thrive in winter
Ok, so you’ve got the snowshoe and apres down; what else is there to do in Vernon in winter? Next stop: the local arts scene. Vernon is well known for the 28 murals that add splashes of colour, culture and history to downtown buildings.
While professional artists have created these public pieces for everyone to enjoy, regular residents and visitors can try their hand at painting, pottery and glass making through a series of adult art classes at the Vernon Community Arts Centre.
“We let students design their own work,” explains Patricia Doyle, a warm glass instructor. “The classes are extremely popular, especially since the pandemic.”
During a Fused Glass class, five students including Edna and Barend Eeltink, get to work scoring opaque and transparent panes with a glass cutter before snapping them in half with glass-breaking pliers.
Soon, the cut glass pieces and panels are transformed into abstract plates and one-of-a-kind bowls, a meditative and inspiring activity on a winter afternoon.
Indeed, between creating original art, sampling craft spirits, and experiencing the city’s numerous trails and festivals, spending a winter weekend in Vernon is a win.
When you go
Vernon is a winter-connected city, with local winter activities on lakes and trails, and up at Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre and SilverStar Mountain Resort.
Check out this Tourism Vernon feature on transformative winter experiences you can have in Vernon this winter.
Calgary to Vernon can be done in a day's drive that will take you through spectacular scenery. Kelowna (with the nearest major airport) is less than an hour away by car, with daily shuttle service.
things to do
Book in to some of the experiences in this story:
Dinner & Snowshoe tours at Sovereign Lake
Tour & tasting at Okanagan Craft Spirits Distillery tour and tasting
Art classes at the Vernon Community Arts Centre
If you can, be sure to attend the Vernon Winter Carnival this February, with all kinds of events to warm your winter.
Share your experience, use the #ExploreVernon hashtag and tag @ZenSeekers so we can engage with you while on the road and possibly feature what you uncover.