Cold Season Getaway: A Guide To Big White

Take a chance on that other Canadian ski resort while the snow is good.

Big White is not as common a name as, say, Whistler, when it comes to Canadian ski resorts, but then why have I been to Whistler twice and Big White (which is a longer commute) four times in the same period? Legitimacy, my friends, legitimacy.

There’s something to be said for simplicity and Big White has it in spades. Although the resort is flush with ski-in-ski-out chalets and condos, the mountain’s village area is confined to a 300-yard stretch haloed by funnel-shaped runs. As the runs slow down, options for warmth and food are presented in linear fashion, from The Bullwheel and its stomach-warming menu (cheeseburger with bacon marmalade and crispy onions – yes, please) to Snowshoe Sam’s, North America’s top ski/snowboard bar (according to “Ski Canada Magazine”).

The highlight of Snowshoe Sam’s — other than the raging nightlife and epic live bands — is the saloon’s trademark drink, the Gun Barrel Coffee. All one needs to know is that the finishing touch of the cocktail is blue, flaming Grand Marnier poured down a warmed shotgun barrel. Incredibly, the warm, rummy flavor is better than the show once a dollop of whip cream enters the mix.

Not to be outdone are Okanagan-grown wines, featured in various eateries around the resort. Luckily, I was able to try a few. Ex Nihilo’s 2009 Merlot was my favorite of the weekend, alongside the Kettle Valley Steak House’s elk tenderloin and roasted duck with raspberry emulsion. The wine and course paired so well that the only better combination I could find in the surrounding area was cold weather and alcohol.

The next question is: what’s a ski resort without a gondola? Big White can check this off the list, but once the gondola reaches its lower destination the resort elevates above the competition. Waiting at the bottom of a five-minute ride over many of the mountain’s living quarters is an open-air skating rink, ice-climbing wall (with proper equipment and supervision, naturally) and North America’s largest inner-tubing facility with swaths wide enough for you and four friends to float down.

Within a 10-acre space, the potential to overcome fear, feel the exhilaration of cold wind on your face and sit next to a warm fire after skating during a sunset is all possible. For those with children (or looking to act like one), these activities are truly a must.

Of course, all this requires lodging — because a day trip to Big White just wouldn’t be long enough. Should you care to reenact the scene in every ski movie where the lead swoops on top of a picnic table, snakes their lunch from unsuspecting extras, and continues gliding into a lodge — it was most likely filmed at the White Crystal Inn.

Plush with all the amenities (hot tub, sauna, free parking, kitchenette, functioning toilet) the WCI is a no brainer for shacking up, especially with Sante — one of the mountain’s top eateries — just a brief elevator ride away. Show your server a room key and 20 percent will be taken off the bill. The WCI is simple and gimmick-free, leaving the only task at hand to be enjoyment of one’s surroundings.

Whether you travel with family or lady-friends (the resort offers a ski package for a group of six that includes lift ticket, massage and a private shopping experience), or you’re looking for another wild weekend spent carving during the day and drinking away the soreness at night — Big White can provide an idyllic weekend. With Kelowna just an hour away, flights (with shuttle) are readily available if travel by car is not an option. However you choose to arrive, the cold and (more so) visions of the mountain will easily take your breath away.

Visit Big White online for up-to-the-minute snow and road conditions.