The dot on the “i” of wine country in the Okanagan Valley and the cross on the “t” of lengthy Okanagan Lake, Kelowna’s popularity peaks in the summer. Unsurprisingly, water and wine make an intoxicating combo. But spend a few days there in early February and British Columbia’s third-biggest city proves she’s pretty cool in the winter, too.
Some of that coolness is literal. The average temperature hovers around -5°C, which is a plus if powder is what one is after, and a concentration of that is found a 50-minute drive away at Big White Ski Resort. The mountain tops out at an elevation of 2,319 metres, a smidge higher than Whistler Blackcomb, and offers 2,765 acres of skiable terrain. Skiing and snowboarding are the obvious choices, but the family-focused resort doesn’t rely solely on those. Their Happy Valley Adventure Park, which includes a five-lane tubing run, a 60-foot ice-climbing tower, and an outdoor Olympic-sized skating rink, offers multi-day amusement on its own.
Dog sledding is another activity, one that could eclipse anything accomplished further up mountain. Below the bunny hill, Tim Tedford keeps his motley crew of Alaskan huskies, most adopted or rescued, every one of which erupts in a discordant chorus of howls and barks whenever he readies a sled. On the 20-to-40-minute ride, he leads first, then shares the reins, and on the return trip offers the willing a chance to drive it alone. The grin given by that thrill remains afterwards as he introduces his pack of 35. The ones bestowed with those arctic blue eyes are magnetic, but it’s brown-eyed Toad, blind because of an untreatable genetic disease, who’ll melt the coldest heart. He sleds just fine, and he’ll likely shake a paw to say hello.
Insides gooey and extremities frozen, après beckons—and fittingly, two of the village’s most popular options involve fire. The Tabletop S’mores for two at Globe Café & Tapas takes a campfire classic and tinges it gourmet by way of chocolate ganache, housemade marshmallows, and a doll-sized firepit. At Gunbarrel Grill, the Gunbarrel Coffee comprised of brandy, crème de cacao, coffee, whipped cream, and Grand Marnier delivered down a flaming hot shotgun is equal parts cocktail and spectacle.
Alternatively, there’s a bigger blaze to be had for those who stay in one of Sundance Resort’s Explorer cabins. Furnished with wood-burning fireplaces of floor-to-ceiling stone and encompassing armchairs, it provides a cozier setting for sampling more treats through Shalyn Syrjanen-Ross’s Wine Your Way Home service. The Kelowna-based sommelier totes her two-to-four-hour wine tasting and pairing experiences to any rental property. She doesn’t bring any pretentiousness; there’s no whiff of it in her intro course, which walks participants through glassware and straightforward flavours, such as lemon and chocolate, to discover what works and what doesn’t.
Any knowledge gleaned from an evening with Syrjanen-Ross is then put to good use at the Canadian Culinary Championships, the culminating event of Gold Medal Plates which recognizes the country’s best chefs while fundraising for Olympic athletes. Before the final two-day competition in Kelowna (the city is committed to hosting until 2020), Big White kicks things off. The mountain is a fitting place to start, as its runs are what Sochi ski cross silver medallist Kelsey Serwa grew up carving.
There’s the outgoing champion’s swan song, a four-course meal dubbed The Last Supper set in White Spirit Lodge, a 10,000-square-foot, $9.2-million home (it’s for sale) crafted out of old-growth cedar logs. It’s not the humble set-up Jesus and his disciples had, but everyone’s brought down a notch having to remove shoes at the door and shuffle around in stocking feet. The casualness of socks is an entertaining contrast to the artfully-plated dishes, which will be the work of Westin Edmonton’s chef Ryan O’Flynn for the 2016 event, and varietals from local vintners.
More 100-mile fare follows at the Kettle Valley Steakhouse’s long table Legends Dinner. Showcasing local producers, the restaurant’s chef de cuisine Ben Overland and executive chef Chad Miller prepare four communal-style courses paired with Okanagan Valley wines. Back in downtown Kelowna, three challenges decide the winner, two of which provide attendees further amounts of food and wine. Another few days of skiing Big White are in order to work that gluttony off.
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