Kelowna and the Okanagan are perfect for your next winter getaway in British Columbia, including these favourite local activities. Learn more!
Ski Big White
Canada’s best-kept ski destination beckons.
We will start with the obvious and likely the most well-known winter activity in Canada, downhill skiing. British Columbia is world-famous for its skiing, best known for Whistler Blackcomb and possibly Kicking Horse Mountain Resort or Revelstoke Mountain Resort for real powder-hounds.
The Okanagan Valley has no shortage of alpine venues, with prime ski destinations scattered throughout the valley. Sun Peaks Resort resides outside of Kamloops in the north, and in the Okanagan, we feature SilverStar Mountain Resort, Apex Mountain Resort, and the big guy, Big White Ski Resort.
Big White is perhaps best known for the incredible, powder-like snow that comes in significant quantities, despite the warmer valley floor. Located 50 kilometres and approximately an hour southeast of Kelowna, easily accessed via good roads, the mountain resort totals 7,355 acres and 777 meters of vertical drop, 119 runs, over 50% of which are intermediate, and Western Canada’s largest night skiing area at 38 acres. Big White also features a gondola, modern express chair lifts, typical mountain amenities, and an entire mountain village with accommodations, restaurants, bars, and a little shopping. And it’s all nestled amongst many fancy ski cottages and cabins frequented by visitors and locals, typical of any self-respecting, premium ski destination worldwide.
Some local companies offer winter shuttles between Big White Ski Resort and Kelowna, including service to Kelowna International Airport. Wicked Tours offers shuttle service year-round and tour packages throughout the year, but we have intentionally chosen not to provide service to ski resorts.
Wicked Tours takes pride in our fleet, boldly displaying the Wicked pitchfork. We intentionally selected black in contrast to our competition because our founder has that black sheep vibe. (It is not lost on us that a competitor has adopted a rather stark duplication of our branding. How flattering.)
While the roads to Big White Ski Resort are decent, winter driving in Canada is hard on any vehicle, and ski shuttle service in the heart of winter over mountain roads would not treat our fleet kindly. Our team wants Tommy, Vic, Logan, Eddie (we name our vans), and their latest, incoming siblings to be in immaculate condition at all times, and heavy winter driving would make this problematic.
Wicked Tours is a premium tour company, not a transportation company. We aim to provide an immersive and engaging tour experience far better than your average bear. We proudly offer shuttles for charitable events, including the annual Canucks Autism Network Ride for Kids, and larger groups, such as conference and convention delegates. Wicked Tours always aims to be the best tour company in Kelowna and the Okanagan, first and foremost.
The mountain village at Big White does offer a lot, and many visitors naturally enjoy the convenience of ski-in/out service that staying on the mountain affords. While waiting on the hill is convenient, we often encourage guests to consider staying in Kelowna when they visit to take full advantage of the other unique winter activities in Kelowna and the Okanagan.
Ice Skating in Stuart Park
Skate with boats and a well-positioned bear.
If skiing isn’t our greatest winter passion in Canada, then strapping on the blades and hitting the ice is! Canadians are often on skates soon after learning to walk, so it’s natural that every Canadian village, never minds a town or city, has an ice rink, if not several. Many are purpose-built for our greatest of pastimes – ice hockey – of course, but most are merely there for a good skate, be it kids playing shinny, families spending time together, or aspiring figure skaters. Many Canadians convert their entire backyards into rinks: such is our obsession with ice and skating.
Some rinks are more picturesque than others, and nowhere in the world does this perhaps hold more true than in Canada. Regardless of our obsession, Canada also features some of the most beautiful locations globally. Notable areas where this writer has enjoyed the memorable ice skating experience include the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, Ontario, Lake Mildred at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge in Jasper, Alberta, and Lake Louise at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, both Canadian Pacific Hotels & Resorts properties back then! Dropping a picturesque little skating rink in the foreground of these naturally beautiful venues draws visitors from all over the world to experience just that – skating in Canada.
More petite yet alluring and inviting, Stuart Park is located on the waterfront of downtown Kelowna. Easily accessed and serviced daily by the city, the brightly lit rink for night skating often has local vendors selling warm treats. The rink is lovely at night, with the city lights all around and the sparkling, lit bear statue adjacent to the rink, so chosen for our city’s namesake in the Okanagan language, a Salish language: the grizzly bear. Oh yeah, Kelowna is a badass name, baby.
Stuart Park is also located near our friends at the Tourism Kelowna Visitor Centre and overlooks the city’s main harbour and scenic Lake Okanagan, which does not freeze over due to its size and depth. The rink is minutes from nearby hotels, or better yet, many downtown pubs and restaurants for Happy Hour after your skate, yet another hidden feature of winter in Kelowna. Skates and supplies are available for rent.
Adventures in Dining
Enjoy incredible food on the cheap.
If you are anything like us – and you probably are because we talk to you all day and every day on our tours – you love food just as much as wine, craft beer, cider, or the other tasty local beverages the Okanagan is making. Food goes hand-in-hand with wine, and with any good wine region, so, too, follows a quality food scene.
Kelowna and the Okanagan feature excellent eateries and dining, though it might take some homework. Take it from us: we take pride in knowing our local Okanagan community and take equal pride in selecting perfect local venues for our tours that showcase the best of the Okanagan – the best food, the best drink, and the best people. Because no matter how good the wine or food is, if there are jerks behind the bar serving it, we aren’t going.
As with any destination that thrives and bustles in the summer, so do the restaurants. Favourites, new kids, and trendy spots fill quickly, especially during peak periods, and this has become even more so in the age of social distancing and coronavirus. Restaurants and bars are often reduced to half capacity to allow for social distancing, and tourism demand remains high through the summer. Diners, foodies, and locals have difficulty accessing their favourite joints or choice venues our team enjoys recommending throughout our tours.
And in the winter, or spring or fall, for that matter? It’s wide open, friends! A typical decline in visitors in October after the Fall Okanagan Wine Festival opens the floodgates to shrewd visitors and residents, who now enjoy the pick of the litter and easy access to most any venue which remains open, which is most. First-time visitors often assume we roll up our sidewalks in the offseason, but not so! While most businesses close briefly at some point for deep cleaning, renovations, or a much-needed vacation after a hectic summer, virtually every food and beverage venue in the Okanagan remains open the majority of the year in some shape or fashion. A trip to the Okanagan, planned by a food enthusiast, might include a visit during February for Dine Around. Local restaurants typically feature very reasonably-priced menus showcasing guest favourites. We make it a point to visit as many local spots as possible during Dine Around, as evidenced on our Instagram and legitimate research for our Food Tours. Favourites this year included Bouchon’s Bistro, Central Kitchen + Bar, and the best steak in town (yet a vegan-friendly menu!) at The Modest Butcher in Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery.
Snowshoeing & Hiking
Myra Canyon is one of the unique places in Canada.
It is well established that Canada is a Winter wonderland, and Kelowna and the Okanagan Valley are part of many great regions in our nation. And anywhere there is winter and snow, one can snowshoe! Snowshoeing is winter hiking made more manageable, and the Okanagan Valley has no shortage of trails, parks, and mountains to explore with or without snowshoes. Summer visitors often preclude their wine tour with a zesty morning hike before their afternoon wine tour. The winter is equally dazzling for exploring beautiful British Columbia and all it offers, especially Myra Canyon.
A feature of the Kettle Valley Railway, another local Okanagan attraction, the Myra Canyon trestles are 18 wooden trestle bridges (and two tunnels) spanning the Myra Canyon, south between Kelowna and Penticton. Typically accessed from Kelowna via June Springs Road near our friends at Meadow Vista Honey Wines and Spearhead Winery, we regularly tell our guests that Myra Canyon is a must-see when staying a few days. Access during the winter is more complicated and may not be possible during severe weather. Still, when it is, a wintery hike down the trail and purposely re-built bridges is a remarkable and soulful experience.
Wicked Winter Wine Tours
Mellow, delicious, and a bit chilled.
If skiing Big White was the lead, wine tours had to be our close, yes? It is what we do best, after all!
Indeed, winter wine tours are readily available and are fantastic. Most wineries in the Okanagan Valley, particularly around Kelowna, remain open all year, albeit with adjusted and typically reduced operating hours. Many Naramata Bench wineries near Penticton and other venues close to Oliver close for portions of the winter, and our seasonal offerings reflect that availability. Only minor winery services, such as physical venue tours or weather-dependent events, are limited. Still, most standard and enhanced tasting experiences are available, particularly when scheduled in advance by seasoned professionals. Many wineries and breweries also feature seasonal events and items, such as menus like Dine Around and newly-released, winter-friendly red wines, hearty ales, and tasty, spiced ciders.
We continue to sing the virtues of winter wine tours, including the seclusion, unexpected meet and greet opportunities with owners and winemakers, and the peaceful serenity of winter wine tasting in a previous article. We take pride in staying informed on the best visitor experiences year-round and remain committed to providing a safe and immaculate tour experience.
You know what to do: #getwicked